Grammar Topics


A pronoun functions as a stand-in for a noun. Like nouns, pronouns refer to people, places, things, feelings, or qualities but without explicitly naming them. For instance:

Barbara has a soft spot for detective fiction. She inherited this trait from her father.

Here, the pronoun she refers to the noun Barbara.

There are four main types of pronouns: personal, relative, demonstrative, and indefinite.

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are used to refer to yourself (I, me, we, us), to those you’re speaking with (you), or to whomever or whatever you’re discussing (he, she, it, him, her, it, they, them):

I like to get up early.

The organization had grown in recent years, but it still required more financial support.

You certainly seem to have an affinity for copyediting, Susan.

Simon and Hasan wrote a novel together, even though their agents discouraged them from collaborating.

Personal pronouns also take on possessive forms (e.g., my, mine; your, yours; her, hers; his; their, theirs):

Sophie’s cake is good, but mine is better.

Tobias’s father is much stricter than yours.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns also refer to nouns. However, they appear in the part of a sentence known as a relative clause, which modifies other elements of a sentence. The three principal relative pronouns are who, which, and that. Of these three, only who varies in form (who, whose, and whom):

James Baldwin, who moved to Paris in his twenties, spoke fluent French.

Last semester, students read The Metamorphosis, which was written by Franz Kafka.

The only book that has ever made me cry is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Allison was the person whose respect I most desired.

The person whom I will always depend on is my mother.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Like relative pronouns, demonstrative pronouns are also dependent on their antecedents—that is, what they refer back to. They too point to earlier words but without introducing a clause. Demonstrative pronouns include this and that (together with their plural forms these and those). In writing, it is important that a demonstrative pronoun refer clearly to a particular word or words. For example:

Avoid overstyling your essay. This will detract from the essay’s focus.

Cookies, cakes, and pies—these are the three baked goods I most enjoy.

Indefinite Pronouns

Unlike other types of pronouns, indefinite pronouns do not require antecedents. They include words such as anything, everyone, none, nobody, neither, somebody, something, each, and either.

Everyone who visited the exhibit was impressed by its design.

It would be a shame not to do something this weekend, especially because the weather is supposed to be so pleasant.