Parts of Speech: Pronouns: Pinch Hitters

Pronouns: Pinch Hitters

Say you wrote this sentence:

  • Mr. Hufnagle gave Mr. Hufnagle's pen to Mr. Hufnagle's wife, Mrs. Hufnagle; Mrs. Hufnagle was grateful for the pen.

You would be reduced to this sorry state were it not for the delightful and ever useful little pronoun. Thanks to Mr. Pronoun, you can write this graceful sentence instead:

You Could Look It Up

Pronouns are words used in place of a noun or another pronoun. An antecedent is the noun that the pronoun stands for.

  • Mr. Hufnagle gave his pen to his wife, Mrs. Hufnagle; she was grateful for it.

Now, I know you have to agree that the pronoun is a thing of beauty indeed.

A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun or another pronoun. Pronouns help you avoid unnecessary repetition in your writing and speech.

A pronoun gets its meaning from the noun it stands for. The noun is called the antecedent. Here's an example:

  • Although Seattle is damp,
it is my favorite city.
  • antecedent

Of course, there are different kinds of pronouns. Most of them have antecedents, but a few do not. Meet the pronoun family.

  1. Personal pronouns refer to a specific person, place, object, or thing. Here are the major players:
    First personI, me, mine, mywe, us, our, ours
    Second personyou, your, yoursyou, your, yours
    Third person her, hers, ithe, him, his, she, theirs, itsthey, them, their,
  2. Possessive pronouns show ownership. The possessive pronouns are yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs, whose.
    • Is this nice dead cat yours?
    • Yes, it's ours.
  3. Reflexive pronouns add information to a sentence by pointing back to a noun or pronoun near the beginning of the sentence. Reflexive pronouns end in -self or -selves.
    • Herman bought himself a life-size inflatable woman.
    • They all enjoyed themselves at Herman's expense.
  4. Intensive pronouns also end in -self or -selves, but they just add emphasis to the noun or pronoun.
    • Herman himself blew up the doll.
    • Herman said that he would be able to deflate the doll himself.
  5. Demonstrative pronouns direct attention to a specific person, place, or thing. Not to panic—there are only four demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, and those.
    • This is the invisible car that came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.
    • That was the slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman who bounced off the roof of my car.
  6. Relative pronouns begin a subordinate clause. Only five, folks: that, which, who, whom, and those.
    • Mr. Peepers claimed that the other car collided with his without giving warning of its intention.
    • Louise was the driver who had to swerve a number of times before she hit the other car.
  7. Interrogative pronouns ask a question. High fives: what, which, who, whom, and whose.
    • Who claimed he was coming home when he drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree he doesn't have?
    • Which insurance adjuster had these headaches?
  8. Indefinite pronouns refer to people, places, objects, or things without pointing to a specific one.
    • Here are the most common indefinite pronouns:
    SingularPluralSingular or Plural
    no one

Face the Music

Take My Word for It

The word antecedent comes from a Latin word meaning “to go before.” However, as in the example here, the noun doesn't have to appear before the pronoun in a sentence.

Circle the pronouns in the following jokes. The number of pronouns in each joke is indicated in parentheses at the end of each one. The same pronoun may be used more than once in each sentence.

  1. Observation attributed to Professor Robert Wilensky of the University of California at Berkeley: “We have all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.” (5)
  2. There was a man who entered a local paper's pun contest. He sent in 10 different puns, in the hope that at least 1 of the puns would win. Unfortunately, no pun in 10 did. (5)
  3. A man told his psychiatrist, “Doc, I keep having these alternating recurring dreams. First I am a teepee; then I am a wigwam; then I am a teepee; then I am a wigwam. It is driving me crazy. What's wrong with me?”
    • The doctor replied, “It is very simple. You are two tents.” (12)


  1. We, all, that, this, we
  2. There, who, He, that, one
  3. his, I, these, I, I, I, I, It, me, me, It, you
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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