Personal Pronouns 101: Basics Every Writer Should Know

How personal are personal pronouns? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

In a previous post, we talked about pronouns, why they are important, substantives, antecedent, and using gender-neutral pronouns, but now I want to take a more in-depth look at personal pronouns and I hope you’ll join me.

Personal pronouns are the stunt doubles of grammar; they stand in for the names of people, places, things, or ideas. These include I, you, he, she, it, we, and they, and they come in different flavours: subjective, objective, and possessive.

First Person

Pronouns of the First Person show the speaker they’re the subjects of the sentence; Such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours.

Singular Plural
Subjective I we
Possessive my or mine our or ours
Objective me us

 

Second Person

Pronouns of the Second Person show the person or thing spoken to; they are: you, your, yours.

Singular Plural
Subjective you you
Possessive your you or yours
Objective you you

 

Third Person

Pronouns of the Third Person show the person or thing spoken of; they are: he, his, him, she, her, hers, sie, hir, hir, ze, zir, zir, hir, xe, xem, xir, it, its (singular) they, their, theirs, them (plural).

Courtesy of Them.

FYI. Personal pronouns don’t use apostrophes in the possessive case. So, it’s yours, theirs. The word it’s is only correct as a contraction of it is.

Gender of Personal Pronouns

Gender doesn’t matter with using ‘I’ and ‘you’ in first or second person.

For the third person in the singular, there are specific forms:

♦ he for masculine

♦ she for feminine

♦ xe, ze, or sie for gender neutral

♦ it for objects or things

However, we use ‘they’ for all people, not just one gender.

Additionally, we use ‘they’ as a singular gender-neutral pronoun for individuals who do not identify strictly as male or female, offering a respectful and inclusive way to address or refer to someone.

But with plural, ‘they’ works for everyone.

Case of Personal Pronouns

As mentioned previously, personal pronouns come in different flavors: subjective, objective, and possessive

Subjective Case

The subject forms of personal pronouns are the same as those for nouns.

Subjective construction

We use certain pronouns in the nominative case when they are the ones doing something.

♦ He eats pizza. (He is the one eating, making it the subject of the sentence. That’s why we use he and not him).

It’s important to pick the right pronoun so everyone knows who is doing the action. Mixing them up can make sentences confusing.

Impersonal

‘It’ is a unique word we can use in different ways when we talk about who or what is doing something. We use ‘it’ for things happening or conditions, such as

♦ It’s raining
♦ It’s snowing
♦ It’s lightning
♦ It’s cold

Even when there isn’t a specific thing causing the action. This is called being impersonal because ‘it’ doesn’t refer to a specific person or thing.

Expletive/Filler

‘It’ can also start a sentence just to get things going, especially when the main point comes after the verb ‘is.’

♦ It’s important to be kind.

‘It’ doesn’t really stand for anything specific; it just helps set up the idea. This is sometimes called an expletive or filler.

Group of Words

Sometimes ‘it’ refers to a whole idea or situation, not just one word. Like, if you say:

♦ Wearing tight shoes is foolish. It deforms the feet.

It means wearing tight shoes.

Imperative Sentences

In commands, we often skip saying ‘you.’ For example:

♦ ‘Shut the door’ instead of ‘You shut the door.’

Possessive Case

We use ‘my,’ ‘your,’ ‘our,’ ‘her,’ and ‘their’ right before a noun, like in ‘my book’ or ‘their apple.’

My brother has arrived.
Our work is done.
♦ I have torn your glove.
Their turn has come.

But ‘mine,’ ‘yours,’ ‘ours,’ ‘hers,’ and ‘theirs’ are used alone, usually at the end of a sentence, and don’t directly follow a noun. For example:

♦ The fault is mine.
♦ Those seats are ours.
♦ This pencil is yours.
♦ That field is theirs.

♦ ‘That book is mine.’ ‘His’ can work both ways, like ‘his bike’ or ‘The bike is his.’

Objects

When you’re talking about different things someone owns, use the possessive form (‘my,’ ‘our,’ etc.) before each item if you want to be clear they’re separate. For example:

♦ ‘I’ll get our secretary and our treasurer.’ means two different people.
♦ ‘I’ll get our secretary and treasurer.’ suggests it’s the same person doing both jobs.
♦ ‘I asked for my bread and my milk.’ means you’re talking about two separate items.
♦ ‘I asked for my bread and milk.’ sounds like you’re talking about bread with milk on it or next to it.

Objective Case

Personal pronouns become ‘objective’ (like ‘me,’ ‘him,’ ‘her’) in a few common situations.

When they follow a preposition:

♦ Take it from him.

As the main target of an action verb:

♦ I will find you.

As the receiver of something because of an action verb:

♦ He gave me a dollar.

When they’re the subject of an action that’s about to happen:

where the pronoun comes before these verbs.

♦ to do
♦ to run
♦ to eat

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Investigating ‘It’ and ‘You’

The words ‘it’ and ‘you’ in English are special because they can do different things without changing how they look, like chameleons that can change their job but not their appearance. This feature makes them versatile and different from other pronouns, which usually have specific forms based on their grammar role.

Subject Role

When ‘you’ and ‘it’ act as the subject of a sentence, they’re the ones performing the action. For instance, in the sentence ‘You are amazing,’ ‘you’ is the subject of doing the being amazing. Similarly, in ‘It is raining,’ ‘it’ serves as the subject performing the action of raining. Despite being subjects here, their appearance doesn’t change.

Object role

These pronouns retain their form even when they become the object of a sentence, meaning they receive the action. For example, in ‘I called you,’ ‘you’ is on the receiving end of the call, making it the object. Likewise, in ‘I fixed it,’ ‘it’ is the object being fixed. Despite their roles flipping from subjects to objects, their forms remain the same.

This rule makes English grammar easier since you don’t have to worry about different pronoun forms. But you need to understand the context to know who’s doing what in a sentence. That they never change emphasizes how essential sentence structure and verb forms are in getting the right meaning across, since the pronouns don’t change to show their role.

Gendered Pronouns and Inclusivity

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness and acceptance that not everyone identifies strictly within the binary categories of male or female. Many people fall outside these traditional categories and may identify as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or with another gender identity that doesn’t align with the binary notion of gender.

So, ‘they’ is now used as a gender-neutral pronoun for people without assuming their gender. Using ‘they/them/theirs’ respects and acknowledges the identity and preferences of those who do not identify as strictly male or female.

Inclusive language is a big deal when writing because it acknowledges and respects people’s diverse identities. Using someone’s preferred pronouns shows respect and recognizes their identity, making everyone feel accepted and included.

It’s not only about being politically correct; As writers, striving for inclusivity means considering the diverse audience your writing may reach and ensuring that everyone feels seen and respected. This way, our writing and interactions improve, leading to a more understanding and inclusive society.

Exercises for Personal Pronouns

Take a few moments and see if you can fill in the blanks with personal pronouns.

  1. _____ am going to the park.
  2. Can you help _____ with this homework?
  3. _____ likes chocolate more than candy.
  4. The book on the table is _____ .
  5. _____ are the best friends _____ could ever ask for.
  6. _____ think _____ left _____ jacket at your house.
  7. Can _____ come to _____ birthday party?
  8. _____ saw _____ at the concert last night.
  9. This is the story _____ wrote.
  10. _____ need to give _____ book back to _____.
  11. _____ are all invited to _____ house this weekend.
  12. _____ is raining outside.
  13. _____ have been looking everywhere for _____.
  14. _____ didn’t realize _____ was so late.
  15. Can _____ believe _____ said that to _____?
  16. _____ was wondering if _____ could lend _____ a pencil.
  17. _____ and _____ are planning a trip together.
  18. _____ think it’s important for everyone to do _____ part.
  19. _____ found a wallet on the ground. Is it _____?
  20. _____ are hoping _____ can join us for dinner.
Click on the + button for the answers

01. _____ am going to the park.
Answer: I

02. Can you help _____ with this homework?
Answer: me

03. _____ likes chocolate more than candy.
Answer: He/She/They (depending on the subject’s preference)

04. The book on the table is _____ .
Answer: yours/mine/his/hers/theirs

05. _____ are the best friends _____ could ever ask for.
Answer: You, I

06. _____ think _____ left _____ jacket at your house.
Answer: I, I, my

07. Can _____ come to _____ birthday party?
Answer: you, my

08. _____ saw _____ at the concert last night.
Answer: I, you

09. This is the story _____ wrote.
Answer: I/he/she/they

10. _____ need to give _____ book back to _____.
Answer: I, your, you

11. _____ are all invited to _____ house this weekend.
Answer: You, my/our

12. _____ is raining outside.
Answer: It

13. _____ have been looking everywhere for _____.
Answer: We, you

14. _____ didn’t realize _____ was so late.
Answer: I, it

15. Can _____ believe _____ said that to _____?
Answer: you, he/she/they, me

16. _____ was wondering if _____ could lend _____ a pencil.
Answer: I, you, me

17. _____ and _____ are planning a trip together.
Answer: You, I

18. _____ think it’s important for everyone to do _____ part.
Answer: I, their

19. _____ found a wallet on the ground. Is it _____?
Answer: I, yours

20. _____ are hoping _____ can join us for dinner.
Answer: We, you

Personal Pronoun Tips

1. Know Your Pronouns: Understand the difference between subjective (I, you, he, she, ze, ze, sie, we, they), objective (me, you, him, her, zir, xem, hir, us, them), and possessive (my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, zir/xir/hir, our/ours, their/theirs) pronouns.
2. Subject-Verb Agreement: Ensure that your pronouns and verbs agree in number. For example, ‘They are’ instead of ‘They is.’
3. Avoid Gender Bias: Be mindful of unintentionally reinforcing gender stereotypes through pronoun use, like associating ‘he’  or ‘she’ with certain jobs or roles.
4. Gender-Neutral Language: Use gender-neutral pronouns (they/them/theirs) when referring to a person whose gender is unknown or when talking about people in general.
5. Use Singular ‘They’: Don’t be afraid to use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. It’s widely accepted and useful for gender-neutral writing.

6. Avoid Ambiguous ‘It’: Try not to start sentences with ‘It is’ or ‘There are’ unless the ‘it’ or ‘there’ clearly refers to something specific.
7. Avoiding Pronoun Shifts: Don’t shift from one pronoun to another when referring to the same subject within a sentence or paragraph, as it can confuse the reader.
8. Reflect Characters’ Identities: In fiction, use pronouns that accurately reflect each character’s gender identity.
9. Consistency is Key: Keep your pronoun use consistent. If you start referring to someone as ‘they,’ continue using “they” throughout your piece to avoid confusion.
10. Editing for Pronoun Consistency: During revisions, double-check that your pronouns consistently match their antecedents in number, gender, and clarity.

Last Words on Personal Pronouns

Becoming a better writer involves mastering personal pronouns. These tiny parts of speech add clarity and flow to your sentences. Don’t hesitate to experiment with your writing and continue practicing.

Happy writing!

Linda

 

Feature Image by Becca Clark from Pixabay.

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