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Ken Ward's Writing Pages
Writing: Grammar: Parts of Speech

Main Page: Writing Contents
Page Contents

  1. Pronouns
      1. Why Pronouns
      2. Identifying Pronouns
      3. Types of Pronoun
      4. Personal Pronouns
      5. Relative Pronouns
        1. Examples of relative pronouns
      6. Restricting and Non-Restricting Clauses
      7. Example Sentences With Relative Pronouns -Restricting and Non-Restricting
      8. Indefinite Pronouns
        1. Any and Some
        2. Gender Problems
      9. Demonstrative Pronouns
        1. Examples
      10. Possessive Pronouns
        1. Examples
      11. Interrogative Pronouns
      12. Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns


A pronoun is a word that stands for a nouns. The words, I, you and he, she or it are pronouns.

Why Pronouns

The following sentence does not have any pronouns, so it seems repetitive:
John drove John's car to John's workplace, where John met John's boss. 

With pronouns we have:
John drove his car to his workplace, where he met his boss.
By using pronouns to stand for John, we replace four Johns with he or his. Readers do not notice the repetition of pronouns as much as they notice the repetition of nouns, so the sentence seems less repetitive.

Identifying Pronouns

If a word stands for a noun, then it is a pronoun. We can substitute a noun for this word (usually a noun preceded with a or the), and the sentence, or the clause, makes sense (with a minor change in the verb). In the following sentence:
He thinks this is true.
we can substitute a noun for he, for instance, substitute the speaker for he, and we get:
The speaker thinks this is true.
which makes sense, and shows that the word, he, stands for a noun, and is therefore a pronoun.

Sometimes, when we apply this test, we need to change the verb so in:
I like to watch films.
We can substitute a noun, such as the speaker, and get (after changing the verb):
The speaker likes to watch films.
showing that the word I stands for a noun.

Types of Pronoun

There are six types of pronoun.
  1. personal pronouns
  2. relative pronouns
  3. indefinite pronouns
  4. demonstrative pronouns
  5. possessive pronouns
  6. interrogative pronouns
  7. reflexive pronouns

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns stand for nouns referring to people, places, objects and ideas.
Personal Pronouns
Singular Plural
Subject Object Possessive Subject Object Possessive
1st Person I me my, mine we us our, ours
2nd Person you you your, yours you you your, yours
3rd Person he, she, it, who him, her, it his, her, its, whose they them their, theirs

Personal pronouns have a possessive form.
We can say:
They are our hats. 
They are ours. 

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns relate a noun to a clause which they introduce. They can be defining or restricting, or non-defining and non-restricting. For instance:
The man who ate the food was hungry.
 If we ask who ate the food, we find who stands for the noun phrase, the man. If we substitute the noun phrase, the man, for who in who ate the food, the resulting sentence, the man ate the food, makes sense. Therefore, who is a pronoun because it passes our test. It is a relative pronoun because it relates the man to ate the food. It defines (or at least identifies) the man we are referring too, and also restricts the meaning of the man to the particular man who ate the food. This use is therefore restricting.

Restricting relative pronouns do not follow a comma. The clauses with a relative pronoun are adjectival in function: they modify a noun.

Examples of relative pronouns

that, which, who, whom, whose, when, where, and why

Restricting and Non-Restricting Clauses

A non-restricting relative pronoun follows a comma, to indicate the clause it introduces is not essential to define the noun. (The clause should, however, be relevant). A restricting relative pronoun does not have a comma.
The report that is most relevant is in the book.
The word that is a pronoun because it stands for the report. Substituting this in that is most relevant, we get: the report that is most relevant. As this makes sense, that passes our pronoun test. It is a relative pronoun because it relates the report to most relevant. It defines the report, and restricts the meaning of the word report to the particular report that is most relevant. There is no comma between the word that and the noun phrase the report. We cannot omit this clause because it is essential to the meaning of the sentence - it tells us which report we are talking about.

The word that is special in that it is never preceded by a comma, and is always used in the restricting sense. It is widely believed and taught that the word which is always used in the non-restricting sense. While it is true that that must never be used in a non-restricting sense:
The Smith Report, that is most relevant, is in the book.
The Smith Report, which is most relevant, is in the book.
The report is defined already by the adjective, Smith, so we do not need a defining clause. So we cannot use that.
Using which without a comma, however, is also correct:
The report which is most relevant is in the book.

It is sometimes better to write:
The report which caused the controversy that brought down the government.
Than to write:
The report that caused the controversy that brought down the government.
to avoid the "rata-ta-ta" of the repeating thats, but this is a question of style, not grammar.

Example Sentences With Relative Pronouns -Restricting and Non-Restricting

Our friend Tom, who likes to sing in the bath, visited the concert today.
The word who stands for the subject of the sentence, our friend Tom, and so it is a pronoun. It is a relative pronoun because it relates Tom to likes to sing in the bath, but it does not define, or restrict the meaning of the word Tom: our friend Tom is a clear definition of who we are referring to, and who likes to sing in the bath does not add any essential meaning to the sentence. In fact, it could be dropped and the sentence would still be understandable (We would still know who likes to sing in the bath). Because this clause is non-restricting, we separate it from the rest of the sentence with commas.

The place where they found the treasure was on a desert island. 
The word where is a pronoun because it stands for the place. It is a relative pronoun because it relates the place to they found the treasure. It defines and restricts the place. There is no comma after place.

The elephant that we saw in the circus has escaped.
The word that stands for the elephant, and is a pronoun. It relates the elephant to we saw in the circus, and so is a relative pronoun. It tells us which particular elephant we are referring to, so it defines and restricts the elephant. There is no comma after elephant, because the clause is defining or restricting.

Yesterday, we planned our journey across the desert. The plan, which is sound, will enable us to make the journey safely.
The pronoun, which, does not define the plan (We know which plan from the previous sentence). It is therefore neither defining nor restricting. We do not begin the clause with that here, but we begin with which, and surround the clause with commas, showing it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence (But it is relevant.)

The reason why they did it will never be known.
The word why is a pronoun because it stands for the reason. It relates, restricts and defines the reason, so it is a relative pronoun. It is restrictive, so no comma.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite Pronouns refer to someone or something that has not been clearly identified. The indefinite pronoun someone refers to a noun, but this noun is not definitely identified. It means a person in general, or any person.

Indefinite Pronouns
Singular another, anyone, anybody, anything, each, either, enough, everyone, everybody, everything, neither, nobody, nothing, no one, someone, somebody, something, sufficient
Plural both, few, many, several

Any and Some

Any is used in negative statement and in questions. Some is used in positive statements. Any can be singular or plural.
Are there any people here?
Yes, there are some.
No, there aren't any.
No, none have arrived.

Is anyone here?
Yes, someone is waiting.
No, there isn't anyone here.
No, no one is here.

Gender Problems

These are in the third person, and so their pronouns are he, she or it. As we do not have a gender-free, third person singular personal pronoun, we get sentences like this:
If anyone replies, ask him his name.
If all those considered are male (or in the equivalent sentence using her and her, are all female), then this is acceptable. However, when the replies can be from either sex, we might wish to be clearer:
If anyone replies, ask him or her his or her name.

We can say:
If anyone replies, ask them their names.
This is what I would say. It is grammatically incorrect, because, at present, anyone is singular, and them and their are plural. (Perhaps in the future this will be allowed).

However, much better in writing:
If there are any replies, ask them their names.
That is, we say it in a different way, retaining correct grammar and good style. The difference, here, between speaking and writing, is that when speaking we are usually present to defend our sentence (and perfect grammar is not expected in speech), but when a reader is reading our sentence we are not usually present so cannot defend it.

Traditionally, he can refer to either a male or a female; however, she is always feminine. When she is used, it definitely excludes males. However, when he is used, it does not necessarily exclude females. It is less sexist to use he than to use she, when both genders are referred to. If she is used in a document to refer to both genders, this should be made clear. (As should the use of he).

Demonstrative Pronouns

We use the demonstrative pronouns, this, that, these and those, when pointing to something or some things, or referring to something previously mentioned.


The pronouns this, that, these and those can be pure pronouns, or both pronouns and determiners. As determiners, they appear before a noun, and tell us which noun we are talking about. For example, that woman refers to a particular woman who is being pointed out or has been mentioned earlier, or otherwise identified.  
Pronoun Comment Determiner and Pronoun
That is the woman who pressed the button. that is a pronoun because it stands for 'the woman over there'. That woman pressed the button.
He gave me this. this is a pronoun because it stands for 'the thing here'. He gave me this report.
Of all the flowers in the garden, these are the ones I like best. these is a pronoun because it stands for 'the flowers here'. These flowers are the ones I like best..
Can I have some of those? those is a pronoun because it stands for 'the things over there'. I'd like those chocolates, please.

Possessive Pronouns

mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs are possessive pronouns. They are also personal pronouns.


The pen is my pen. The pen is mine.
Is this your hat? Is this yours?
His car is in the garage. His is in the garage.
Her money has been paid. Hers has been paid.
Can you see their book? This one is theirs.
Our time has come. Ours has come.

Interrogative Pronouns

These pronouns are part of questions:
Who was there?
The interrogative pronouns are: what, which, who, whom, and whose.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

The following are reflexive or intensive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

Reflexive pronouns are used when the object of the action is the subject. For instance:
I washed myself. (reflexive)
The person washing and the person being washed are the same.

Intensive pronouns, as their name suggests, intensify statements:
I saw it myself.
We created it ourselves.

Ken Ward's Writing Pages

The Last Place in Space
- by Ken Ward

When pilot Philip Turner is accidentally transported by an anomaly and marooned on an unknown planet, he discovers the planet is threatened by a group of ruthless aliens similarly marooned. With the help of a group of young women with superpowers, and a powerful being called a god, he reluctantly uses his advanced knowledge and technology to help the planet's inhabitants, but will he succeed when outnumbered by aliens, opposed by greedy and squabbling kings, and limited by his gentle nature and moral beliefs? Paperback and Kindle:
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The Last Place in Space