English personal pronouns


English personal pronouns
English grammar series
English grammar
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The personal pronouns in the English language can have various forms according to gender, number, person, and case. Modern English is a language with very little noun or adjective inflection, to the point where some authors describe it as analytic, but the Modern English system of personal pronouns has preserved most of the inflectional complexity of Old English and Middle English.

Unlike other nouns, which are undeclined for case except for possession (woman/woman's), English pronouns have a number of forms, which are named according to their (supposed) grammatical role in a sentence:

  • a subjective case (I/we/etc.), used as the subject of a verb.
  • an objective case (me/us/etc.), used as the object of a verb or preposition. The same forms are also used as disjunctive pronouns.[n 1]
  • a reflexive form (myself/ourselves etc.). This typically refers back to a noun or pronoun (its antecedent) within the same clause (for example, She cut herself). This form is also sometimes used optionally in a non-reflexive function, as a substitute for a non-reflexive pronoun (for example, For someone like myself, . . ., This article was written by Professor Smith and myself),[1][2] though some style guides recommend avoiding such use.[3] The same reflexive forms also are used as intensive pronouns (for example, She made the dress herself).
  • two possessive forms, used to indicate the possessor of another noun. The first group (my/our/etc.) are used as determiners (possessive determiners, also called possessive adjectives), and the second (mine/ours/etc.) as pronouns or predicate adjectives.

Contents

Basic personal pronouns of modern English

The basic personal pronouns of modern English are shown below.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Singular Plural
Subject Object Possessive Reflexive Subject Object Possessive Reflexive
First I me my myself we us our ourselves
Second you your yourself you your yourselves
Third Masculine he him his himself they them their themselves
Feminine she her herself
Neuter it its itself

Full list of personal pronouns

The following table shows the full list of English personal pronouns and possessive determiners, including archaic and dialectal forms. Nonstandard, informal and archaic forms are in italics.

personal pronoun possessive
pronoun
possessive
determiner
subjective objective[n 1] reflexive
first-person singular I me myself mine my
mine (before vowel)
me (esp. BrE)
plural we us ourselves
ourself
ours our
second-person singular standard (archaic formal) you you yourself yours your
archaic informal thou thee thyself thine thy
thine (before vowel)
plural standard you
you all
you
you all
yourselves yours your
archaic ye you yourselves yours your
nonstandard or informal y'all
youse
etc.[nb 1]
y'all
youse
y'all's selves y'all's y'all's
third-person singular masculine he him himself
hisself
his his
feminine she her herself hers her
neuter it it itself its its
generic/epicene (formal) one one oneself one's
generic/epicene (nonstandard) they them themself
themselves
theirs their
plural they them themselves
theirselves
theirs their
  1. ^ Other variants include: yous, you/youse guys, you/youse gals, you-uns, yis, yinz; possessives: you(r) guys's, you(r) gals's, yous's

For further archaic forms, and information on the evolution of the personal pronouns of English, see Old English pronouns.

Second person pronoun

You

The only common distinction between singular and plural you is in the reflexive and emphatic forms. You and its variants can sometimes be used in a generic sense. See Generic you.

Ye

Historically, you was an object pronoun, and ye was its subject counterpart; today, you fills both roles in Standard English, though some dialects use ye for the two roles, and some use ye as an apocopated or clitic form of you.

Thou

Between 1600 and 1800, the various second-person singular forms of thou began to pass out of common usage in most places, except in poetry, archaic-style literature, public prayer, and descriptions of other languages' pronouns. Thou refers to one person who is familiar, as in a friend or family, and also for a person who is being insulted or disrespected (since the formal form implies a degree of respect). Also, as in other European languages, the familiar form is used (presumably as for family and intimates) when speaking to God in prayer. Almost all forms of thou have disappeared from Standard Modern English, although a few dialects retain them. Thou still exists in parts of England, Scotland, and in some Christian religious communities.

Other second person pronouns

While formal Standard English uses you for both singular and plural, many dialects use various special forms for the plural, such as y'all (short for "you all"), you guys, yinz (short for "you ones"), and yous (also spelled youse). Corresponding reflexive and possessive pronouns are often used as well.

In Scotland, yous is often used for the second person plural (particularly in the Central Belt area). However, in some parts of the country, ye is used for the plural you. In older times and in some other places today, ye is the nominative case and you is the accusative case. Some English dialects generalized ye, while standard English generalized you. Some dialects use ye as a clipped or weak form of you.

Third person pronouns

Third person singular

It and its are normally used to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept.

The masculine pronouns, he and his are used to refer to male persons, while the feminine pronouns, she and her are used to refer to female persons; however babies and young children of indeterminate sex may sometimes be referred to as it (e.g. a child needs its mother).[4]

Though animals are often referred to as it, 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.[4] Inanimate objects with which humans have a close relationship, such as ships, are sometimes referred to as she.[4] Countries considered as political, rather than geographical, entities are sometimes referred to as she.[4] This may also be extended to towns.

One is used in formal English to refer to an indeterminate person; in informal usage, English speakers often use you instead of one; for example "If one is kind to others..." becomes "If you're kind to others...".

Third person plural

Historically the forms they, their, and them are of Scandinavian origin (from the Viking invasions and settlement in northeastern England during the Danelaw period from the 9th to the 11th centuries).[5]

The third person plural form 'em is believed to be a survival of the late Old English form heom, which appears as hem in Chaucer, and has apparently lost its aspiration due to being used as an unstressed form. The forms of they are also sometimes used with grammatically or semantically singular antecedents, though it is a matter of some dispute whether and when such usage is acceptable. When this is the case, they takes a plural verb, but themselves with a singular sense is often changed to themself.

Although some usage writers condemn the use of the "singular they" when the gender is unknown or unimportant, this is often used, both in speech and in writing (e.g. "If a customer requires help, they should contact..."). [6] In fact, a consistent pattern of usage can be traced at least as far back as Shakespeare, and possibly even back to Middle English. It avoids awkward constructions such as he or she. This usage is authorised and preferred by the Australian Government Manual of Style for official usage in government documents. See Singular they. The use of the "singular they" can often be avoided by thinking ahead and rephrasing the whole sentence (e.g. "For assistance, customers should contact...").

Case usage in English

The term case refers to inflectional forms of a noun or pronoun that have an – albeit complex – relation to syntactic function. While most case distinctions have been lost and, in modern English, nouns exhibit only two cases, plain, or common[n 1], case and genitive, a few pronouns still retain other cases.[7][8] However, the relationship between the form of a pronoun and its syntactic function is complex. In both written and spoken standard English, the nominative, or subjective[n 1], case is used exclusively when a single noun is used as the subject of an explicit verb (for example I kicked him, We did it). Use of the accusative, or objective[n 1], case as the subject of a verb is normally seen as non-standard or dialectal[7] (e.g. Who said us Yorkshiremen are tight?)

The accusative, or objective[n 1], is usually[n 2] required for the (single) direct or indirect object of a verb or the object of a preposition [7][8], (e.g. He kicked me, She gave me the book, This is for them)

In other functions, use of the accusative (objective[n 1]) or nominative (subjective[n 1]) varies, sometimes depending on the level of formality. In the role of a subjective predicative complement, the accusative (objective) case is used predominantly[7] (Is that them at the door?, This [in the photograph] is us at the Mardi Gras), and the use of the nominative (subjective) is normally regarded as very formal (It is she) [7][8], pedantic (Who's there?, It is I), or even intuitively recognized as ungrammatical (Is that we in the photograph?). Use of the nominative (subjective) in this role is more likely (in formal English) when followed by a relative clause (It is we who sent them to die).

Following than, the accusative (objective[n 1]) is also predominant in informal English[7] (They are older than us). Than can be considered a preposition. In formal English, however, than is often followed by the nominative (subjective), than being analysed as a conjunction, with an implicit verb[7] (He is taller than I).

In formal English, no distinction is normally made between single pronouns and pronouns forming a coordinative construction together with a noun or another pronoun; so the nominative (subjective) is used in the subject role and the accusative (objective[n 1]) is used in the object role. However, a distinction may be made intuitively between single subjects and cordinative constructions (two nouns/pronouns joined by and)[9]; so in informal style, though frowned upon and possibly non-standard, the accusative (objective[n 1]) form of the pronoun may occur in a coordinative subject[7] (The neighbours and us are having a little get-together). Conversely, in coordinative constructions, the nominative (subjective) may also be found where a single pronoun would normally be in the accusative (objective); this is sometimes seen as a hypercorrection.[7][8] Example: This is another chance for you and I to discuss the problems and opportunities facing Oregon.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Terminological note:
    Different authorities use different terms for the different inflectional forms of the personal pronoun (e.g. me as a direct or indirect object). For instance one standard work on English grammar, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, uses the term objective case, while another, more recent, standard work The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses the term accusative case. Similarly, some use the term nominative, while others use the term subjective. It is stressed that case is here used to refer to an inflectional category, not the abstract case used in some formal grammars.
  2. ^ Exceptions include than (which can be regarded as a preposition) in formal English.

References

  1. ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 355–361. ISBN 9780582517349. 
  2. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1483–1499. ISBN 9780521431460. 
  3. ^ Gowers, Ernest (1973) [1954]. The Complete Plain Words. revised by Sir Bruce Fraser (2 ed.). HMSO. p. 138. ISBN 0117003409. 
  4. ^ a b c d Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 314–318. ISBN 9780582517349. 
  5. ^ Morse-Gagne, Elise E. 2003. Viking pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM. University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation. University Microfilms International.
    It should also be noted that the conclusion that these pronouns are of Scandinavian origin did not originate with this dissertation. It was published by Kluge in his Geschichte der Englischen Sprache in 1899 and by Bjorkman in Scandinavian loan-words in Middle English in 1900, and while it is commonly accepted, some scholars have disputed this claim.
  6. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 493–494. ISBN 9780521431460. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 455–483. ISBN 9780521431460. 
  8. ^ a b c d Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 336–339. ISBN 9780582517349. 
  9. ^ Pinker, Steven (1994). The Language Instinct. Penguin. pp. 390–392. ISBN 0140175296. 

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