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The personal pronouns in English take various forms according to number, person, case and natural gender. Modern English has very little inflection of nouns or adjectives, to the point where some authors describe it as an analytic language, but the Modern English system of personal pronouns has preserved some of the inflectional complexity of Old English and Middle English.
Unlike nouns, which are not inflected for case except for possession (woman/woman's),[a] English personal pronouns have a number of forms, which are named according to their typical grammatical role in a sentence:[b]
Possessive pronouns (mine, ours, etc.) replace the entity that was referred to previously (as in I prefer mine) or serve as predicate adjectives (as in this book is mine). For details see English possessive. As they are pronouns they cannot precede any noun.
The basic personal pronouns of modern English are shown in the table below.
|Person (gender)||Subject||Object||Dependent possessive (determiner)||Independent possessive||Reflexive|
Other English pronouns which have distinct forms of the above types are the indefinite pronoun one, which has the reflexive oneself (the possessive form is written one's, like a regular English possessive); and the interrogative and relative pronoun who, which has the objective form whom (now confined mostly to formal English) and the possessive whose (which in its relative use can also serve as the possessive for which).
Apart from the standard forms given above, English also has a number of non-standard, informal and archaic forms of personal pronouns.
|Subject||Object||Dependent possessive||Independent possessive||Reflexive|
A more complete table, including the standard forms and some of the above forms, is given below. Nonstandard, informal and archaic forms are in italics.
mine (before vowel)
me (esp. BrE)
|Second-person||Singular||Standard (archaic plural and later formal)||you||you||yourself||yours||your|
thine (before vowel)
etc. (see above)
|y'all's (or y'alls) selves||y'all's (or y'alls)||y'all's (or y'alls)|
|Epicene (see singular they)||they||them||themselves
|Relative||Relative & interrogative||who||whom
For further archaic forms, and information on the evolution of the personal pronouns of English, see Old English pronouns.
The pronoun you (and its other forms) can be used as a generic or indefinite pronoun, referring to a person in general. A more formal equivalent is the indefinite pronoun one (reflexive oneself, possessive one's). For example, you should keep your secrets to yourself may be used in place of the more formal one should keep one's secrets to oneself.
The masculine pronouns, he, him, and his are used to refer to male persons. The feminine pronouns she and her are used to refer to female persons. It and its are normally used to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept; however, babies and young children may sometimes be referred to as it (e.g. a child needs its mother). Outside of these very limited contexts, use of it as a pronoun is generally avoided, due to the feeling that it is dehumanizing.
Traditionally, in English, if the gender of a person was not known or ambiguous, then the masculine pronouns were often used by default (e.g. a good student always does his homework). Increasingly, though, singular they is used in such cases (see below).
Animals are often referred to as it, but he and she are sometimes used for animals when the animal's sex is known and is of interest, particularly for higher animals, especially pets and other domesticated animals. Inanimate objects with which humans have a close relationship, such as ships, cars and countries considered as political, rather than geographical, entities, are sometimes referred to using feminine pronouns such as she and her. This may also be extended to other entities, such as towns.
The plural pronoun they (and its derived forms them, their, etc.) can also be used to refer to one person, particularly when the sex or social gender of that person is unknown, unspecified, or not binary. This is a way of producing gender-neutral language while avoiding disjunctive constructions like he or she, he/she, or s/he.
Even when used with singular meaning, they takes a plural verb: If attacked, the victim should remain exactly where they are. Due to this supposed grammatical inconsistency, use of singular they was discouraged by some grammarians during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in favor of using generic he. Since the 1970s, however, this trend has reversed, and singular they now enjoys widespread acceptance.
As noted above, most of the personal pronouns have distinct case forms – a subjective (nominative) form and an objective (oblique, accusative) form.[b] In certain instances variation arises in the use of these forms.
As a general rule, the subjective form is used when the pronoun is the subject of a verb, as in he kicked the ball, whereas the objective form is used as the direct or indirect object of a verb, or the object (complement) of a preposition. For example: Sue kicked him, someone gave him the ball, Mary was with him.
When used as a predicative expression, i.e. as the complement of a form of the copula verb be, the subjective form was traditionally regarded as more correct (as in this is I, it was he), but nowadays the objective form is used predominantly (this is me, it was him), and the use of the subjective in such instances is normally regarded as very formal or pedantic; it is more likely (in formal English) when followed by a relative clause (it is we who sent them to die). In some cases the subjective may even appear ungrammatical, as in *is that we in the photograph? (where us would be expected).
When a pronoun is linked to other nouns or pronouns by a coordinating conjunction such as and or or, traditional grammar prescribes that the pronoun should appear in the same form as it would take if it were used alone in the same position: Jay and I will arrive later (since I is used for the subject of a verb), but between you and me (since me is used for the object of a preposition). However, in informal and less careful usage this rule may not be consistently followed; it is common to hear Jay and me will arrive... and between you and I. The latter type (use of the subjective form in object position) is seen as an example of hypercorrection, resulting from an awareness that many instances of and me (like that in the first example) are considered to require correction to and I.
Similar deviations from the grammatical norm are quite common in other examples where the pronoun does not stand alone as the subject or object, as in Who said us Yorkshiremen [grammatical: we Yorkshiremen] are tight?
When a pronoun stands alone without an explicit verb or preposition, the objective form is commonly used, even when traditional grammarians might prefer the subjective: Who's sitting here? Me. (Here I might be regarded as grammatically correct, since it is short for I am (sitting here), but it would sound formal and pedantic, unless followed by am.)
A particular case of this type occurs when a pronoun stands alone following the word than. Here the objective form is again predominant in informal usage (they are older than us), as would be expected if than were analyzed as a preposition. However traditionally than is considered a conjunction, and so in formal and grammatically careful English the pronoun often takes the form that would appear if than were followed by a clause: they are older than we (by analogy with ...than we are), but she likes him better than me (if the intended meaning is "...than she likes me").
For more examples of some of these points, see Disjunctive pronoun.
Pronoun references to a deity worshiped by people in the present are sometimes capitalized, although some writers use capitals only to prevent confusion: God helped Abraham carry out His law.
The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.