Five forms of pronouns exist in English. These are subject pronouns, complement (object) pronouns, possessive pronouns, possessive adjectives and reflexive pronouns.
Subject pronouns are used in place of subject nouns. A singular pronoun is used to refer to a singular noun and a plural pronoun is used to refer to a plural noun.
He, She, It
Examples of subject pronoun use:
I am late for work.
He owns six dogs and three cats.
You and I are traveling to Las Vegas this weekend.
They were worried about making the trip in bad weather.
A subject pronoun can also be used after the verb be in certain circumstances, such as:
It was I who threw the ball at you. (Notice that I is the subject of “threw the ball”)
The pronoun we, you and us can be directly followed by a noun in order to make it clearer to whom is being referred.
We parents are very concerned about our children.
Comparative (Object) Pronouns
Comparative, or object, pronouns are used in place of the object of the verb. Again, a singular comparative pronoun is used for a singular comparative noun and a plural comparative pronoun is used for a plural comparative noun.
Him, Her, It
Examples of comparative (object) pronouns:
Sally emailed me.
The merchant offered him a good deal.
I wanted to find you so we could go to the movies.
Jerry told them that he wasn’t playing in the game tomorrow.
A sentence can also contain variations in structure, such as containing prepositions and conjunctions followed by clauses. Identifying these various parts of speech will help in determining the correct usage of pronouns.
Alex arrived at the house before her.
preposition complement pronoun
Alex arrived at the house before she left work.
conjunction subject verb
NOTE: A clause is a full sentence that has been connected to the first sentence by a conjunction (connector) and, therefore, also has a subject and verb.
Possessive pronouns show possession of something by someone. They are not followed by nouns, but stand alone. Possessive pronouns replace a noun that is understood by context.
NOTE: You do NOT use apostrophes with possessive pronouns. The pronoun its is different from the word it’s, which is a contraction of it is. (For information on the correct use of apostrophes, see the punctuation section.)
His, Hers, Its
Examples of possessive pronouns:
That is my money. That is mine. OR That money is mine.
John’s car is slow and my car is fast. His is slow and mine is fast.
Our class is boring. Ours is boring.
Their dresses are too short. Theirs are too short.
Possessive adjectives are pronouns which are used as adjectives and are located directly before another noun. They do not replace a noun, but modify it.
His, Her, Its
Examples of possessive adjectives:
Carol is reading her book.
The bird is grooming its wings.
He received his award this morning.
My homework is due next Monday.
Their names were not called in class.
Reflective pronouns indicate that the subject of a sentence is both giving and receiving the action of the verb. They are normally located after the verb.
Himself, Herself, Itself
NOTE: English never uses the forms hisself or thierselves. These forms are always incorrect.
Notice the difference between the comparative (object) pronoun and the reflective pronoun in the following sentences.
Mary bought her a birthday gift. (her = another person)
Mary bought herself a birthday gift. (herself = Mary)
Examples of reflective pronouns:
The bird bathed itself in the water hole.
I hurt myself playing soccer.
The boys treated themselves to ice cream after school.
We convinced ourselves not to be scared at the haunted house.
Protect yourself from the rain by taking an umbrella.
Reflexive pronouns can also be used to give emphasis, showing that the subject did the action alone (you can actually substitute the word alone for the pronoun in this case). When used this way, it usually follows the subject, but not always. It can also be placed at the end of the sentence, often used with the word by (by himself).
I myself believe in ghosts.
You yourself must choose what you will believe.
Robert completed the complex puzzle by himself.
The girls themselves made all the plans for the party.
We ourselves think the new voting law is unfair.
You will have to do the work on your car yourself.
GMAT® Ultimate Grammar, First Edition
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