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Concourse 2

Pronouns and pro-forms: the overview


There are a number of guides on this site to pronouns and pro-forms of one kind or another.
This page is the overview with links to them.  If you are looking for something specific, click here to skip to the links to other guides.


What are pronouns?

The usual (and only partially correct) definition of a pronoun is that it is a word or phrase which stands for a noun.  So, for example, the words in the following, in red, are pronouns:

  1. I dropped the glass and it broke
  2. Mary needed the tickets so Peter gave them to her
  3. When he called, John told me the news
  4. Someone stole his wallet
  5. Harry made himself dinner
  6. Have you forgotten something?
  7. I know the man who owns it
  8. Which do you want?

There are some things to notice about pronouns in general.


Pro-forms vs. pronouns

Linked below, you will find a guide to pro-forms on this site so we'll make the distinction clear here.
Pro-forms can stand for many different concepts so, for example:

  1. In the following, all the words in red are pro-forms and pronouns
        I saw the car and bought it
        She's the person who told the story
        I tried but couldn't manage it

    The majority of pronouns in English are also pro-forms, but that is not to say that they all are or that all pro-forms are pronouns, of course.
  2. In the following, the words in red are pro-forms but not pronouns:
        John asked me to wait and I did so
        Two of the children came early but the rest were late
    In the first example, the words did so stand for wait but it is a pro-form only because it refers to an verb.
    In the second example, the rest stands for the other children but it is not a pronoun, it is a noun.
  3. In the following, the words in red are pronouns but not pro-forms because we do not know what they stand for:
        Whom did you tell?
        It was snowing hard

    and in neither of these sentences can we say what the pronoun stands for.

Pro-forms are considered in a guide in the in-service section of the site and also, in passing, in the guide to ellipsis and substitution so we won't consider them further here.


Two kinds of pronouns

The major division of the closed class of pronouns in English is between personal pronouns and indefinite pronouns.

The way they are analysed on this site is more or less as follows:

  1. personal pronouns
    fall into these categories:
    1. subject pronouns
      • Singular – I, you, he, she, it
      • Plural – we, you, they
    2. object pronouns
      • Singular – me, you, him, her, it
      • Plural – us, you, them
    3. possessive pronouns
      • Singular – mine, yours, his, hers
      • Plural – ours, yours, theirs
    4. reflexive pronouns
      • Singular – myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself
      • Plural – ourselves, yourselves, themselves
  2. indefinite pronouns
    are considered in these categories:
    1. relative pronouns – who, whom, which, that, whose
    2. interrogative pronouns – who, what, which, whom, whose
    3. demonstrative pronouns – this, that, these, those (the former, the latter, the one, the other)
    4. universal and distributive pronouns – everyone, everybody, each, everything, all, either, both
    5. multal pronouns – many, more, much, most
    6. paucal pronouns – few, fewer, fewest, little, less, least
    7. the some- and any- series – someone, anyone, something, anything etc.
    8. negative pronouns – nothing, none, nobody, no-one, neither
    9. one
    10. several, a lot, enough


The links

Here are the links to related guides on the site which will provide more detail concerning the classes of pronouns outlined in this brief overview.

the word-class map this link takes you to the index of guides to word classes on this site
personal pronouns those which refer to identifiable people and things
impersonal and indefinite pronouns the guide to another major class of pronouns
relative pronoun clauses for the guide to a complex area
pro-forms for the guide to the area
ellipsis and substitution this guide considers ellipsis and pro-forms because their properties are similar in terms of cohesion
pronouns in English go here for a list (new tab)
determiners many pronouns can, in other environments, act as determiners
demonstratives go here for a simple guide to demonstrative determiners and pronouns