Understanding pronoun usage in English is a very difficult concept to master. Not many native English speakers have to think about using pronouns correctly, as it comes naturally to them. At the same time, certain grammatical situations can even trip out the most fluent English speakers. In other words, usually pronouns are an easy concept to master, but almost everyone makes mistakes with them. Read on to learn more about pronoun usage in English, to learn about some of the rules of pronouns, and to practice with some exercises on your own.
Most students just learning English grammar know pronouns as the little words that can stand for anything. They can make it very easy to talk about complex subjects, because they can replace almost anything. This is why some teachers joke that pronoun means “professional noun,” because pronouns work hard in English to replace lots and lots of other words!
Pronouns are very useful in English because they can clarify communication and can make speaking more efficient. Instead of having to explain how “Sally’s neighbor’s dogwalker’s best friend’s daughter is,” we can just ask how “she” is, and can explain that complex relationship in another sentence. Imagine getting one of those possessive nouns in the wrong order in spoken English – you would confuse the listener even further! But when using English you can very easily use a pronoun to stand for words without worrying about saying lots of complex noun relationships all the time.
The basic pronoun rules are that the pronoun has to match the original noun in number and case. For example, if you are talking about Sally, and she is the subject of the sentence, you must replace her with they. Look at the following example sentences for an explanation:
In the first sentence, there are no pronouns being used. The subject of the sentence is Sally. The following sentences attempt to use pronouns to replace the subject of the sentence, Sally.Do you know which one is correct?
In the second sentence, Sally is replaced by “it.” Does this make sense? In general, it is not a good idea to replace a noun that is a person using “it” because “it” is gender neutral. If Sally was a horse, for example, then this sentence might make sense – but let’s assume Sally is a person. In this case, this second sentence is incorrect.
In the third sentence, Sally is replaced by “her.” Sally is the subject of the sentence, and therefore it has to be replaced by a nominative pronoun. “Her” is not a nominative pronoun - so this sentence does not make grammatical sense. However, if someone said this sentence to you, you might understand what the speaker was saying. You would at least infer correctly that the person the speaker is talking about is female.
In the fourth sentence, we have used “they” to replace Sally. Does this example make sense? In fact, it does not. This is because Sally is a singular noun – we are only talking about one person. This means that we need to use a singular pronoun to replace the word Sally. “They” is a plural pronoun. Even though it is in fact nominative in case, it is not the right number, and therefore, this sentence is incorrect.
The final sentence, the fifth sentence, is the correct one: Sally is properly replaced by a singular, nominative pronoun.
You might not be surprised that pronouns are some of the most commonly used words in the English language. You can replace almost any noun with a pronoun – this is the beauty of how effective these little words are. At the same time, if you do not follow the rules of pronoun usage in English carefully, you might confuse the reader or listener when you use them.