Creative Writing Writing 101 2019-09-04 00:00

Pronouns: A Crash Course

Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns. We use them every day, so you’ll recognize most. A brief list:

  • she, he, it, they, we

Pronouns prevent needless repetition. In a world without them, our sentences might look like this:

Lucielle started Lucille’s car. Lucielle switched on Lucielle’s navigation app, knowing that Lucille would get lost without it. Finally, Lucielle switched on the radio. Lucielle didn’t go anywhere without music.

That’s a terrible reading experience. We know we’re reading about Lucielle the entire time, so there’s no need to remind us who she is in every sentence. Let’s read it with the appropriate pronouns:

Lucielle started her car. She switched on her navigation app, knowing that she would get lost without it. Finally, she switch on the radio. Lucielle didn’t go anywhere without music.

Notice how in that last sentence, we opted to use the character’s name again rather than the pronoun. Every time a writer uses a pronoun, it’s a choice. I decided not to use the pronoun there because I felt it was an important character moment, and therefore worthy of emphasis. Using the character’s name instead of a pronoun accomplishes this objective.

  1. Types of Pronouns
  2. What About “They”?

Types of Pronouns

Personal Pronouns

As in the above example, personal pronouns stand in for someone’s name. If that person’s name is the subject of the sentence, the corresponding pronoun is known as a subjective pronoun. If it’s the object of the sentence, the corresponding pronoun is known as an objective pronoun. Some examples of each:

  • Subjective Pronouns: I, you, he, she, we

  • Objective Pronouns: You, me, him, her, us

No, that’s not a typo. “You” can be either a subjective or objective pronoun depending on the sentence’s context.

Indefinite Pronouns

As the name implies, these pronouns are general. They don’t correspond to any specific noun. Some examples:

  • some, all, few, everybody, nobody

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns indicate ownership. For example:

  • my, ours, yours, theirs, its

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are sort of like indicators. They stand in for nouns that have been previously mentioned.

  • these, those, that, this

Intensive Pronouns

Intensive pronouns amplify nouns. Therefore, they’re usually paired with the noun being amplified. For example, in the sentence, “I myself prefer eggs for breakfast,” myself is the intensive pronoun and it’s paired with I. Notice that intensive pronouns aren’t an essential element of the sentence.

  • himself, herself, myself, ourselves, itself

In different contexts, these same pronouns can become reflexive pronouns. Unlike intensives, reflexive pronouns are an essential element of the sentence. For example:

“Sometimes I confuse myself.”

If we remove myself from this sentence, we lose all meaning. Therefore, myself is an essential element, and therefore a reflexive pronoun.

Interrogative Pronouns

The name says it all here. Interrogative pronouns are used when seeking more information.

  • what, which, who, whom, whatever

A classic example of a sentence with an interrogative pronoun: “Who else knows about this?”

This same list of pronouns can become relative pronouns based on the sentence’s context. An interrogative becomes reflexive when it’s used to combine clauses in a sentence. For example:

“I’m wondering which of you knows about this.”

What About “They”?

“They” is a plural pronoun, which means it stands in for two or more people. However, some writers use they to express indefinite gender in a subject.

For example, let’s say a character is driving down the road. They’re cut off by another driver, though they can’t see that person and therefore can’t tell their gender. The character might exclaim, “I can’t believe they just did that!”, even though the character is talking about a single person.

Furthermore, if a person prefers not to identify as either male or female, they might prefer the pronoun they. Many other non-binary pronouns have been introduced, such as “ze,” but few have stuck. Therefore, many people prefer they.

The question is, is it proper to use the traditionally plural they when referring to a single person?

As is often the case, usage drives acceptance. Many grammar experts will tell you that it’s not technically correct to use they as a singular pronoun, yet they’ll also admit that it’s becoming more common, and therefore more acceptable.

Go use some pronouns!

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