Personal pronoun explained

Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.

English personal pronouns

See main article: English personal pronouns. English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:

Each pronoun has up to five forms:

Usage

In standard usage in English, every verb should have an explicit subject, except for an imperative verb (a command) where the subject is always "you" (singular/plural), even when the context is already understood, or could easily be understood by reading the sentences that follow. Therefore, either an explicit noun, personal pronoun, relative pronoun, demonstrative pronoun, interrogative pronoun, indefinite pronoun, reflexive pronoun, possessive pronoun or correlative pronoun has to be supplied as the subject of a non-imperative verb. Personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, reflexive pronouns and possessive pronouns typically also have explicit antecedents when in the third person. Therefore one does not normally use the word "he" to refer to somebody or "this" to refer to something if the person reading or hearing the phrase does not know to whom one is referring.

However, once someone or something has been explicitly mentioned and can be easily identified as the subject, the third person personal pronoun is usually used in place of it. Thus the subject is often made explicit at its first occurrence in a paragraph, and subsequently substituted with its personal pronoun.

In addition, personal pronouns must be in agreement with the correct gender and number of people or objects being described. Using the word "it" in English to refer to a person, for example, is usually considered extremely derogatory. It is generally not accepted to use a singular version of a pronoun for a plural noun, and vice versa. An exception is the informal use of "they" to refer to one person when sex is unknown: "If somebody took my book, they'd better give it back" (see singular they).

Apart from "I" which is always capitalised, personal pronouns are generally lower-case letters unless they are at the beginning of a sentence, unlike a proper noun for which the first letter is capitalized. One notable exception is in some translations of the Christian Bible, in which the first letter of the personal pronouns referring to either Jesus or God are capitalized.

In French, pronouns include "je", "nous", "tu", "vous", "ils", "elles", "lui", "toi", "moi", "on", etc. There are different pronouns used for different genders and numbers of people, and unlike English where "them" and "they" are used for every object whether it is masculine or feminine, in French the plural forms vary according to gender. In addition, in French, different pronouns are used for indirect objects of a sentence than direct objects.

Interlingua pronouns also vary by number and gender: singular "io", "tu", and "ille", for example, correspond with plural "nos", "vos", and "illes". Like French, Interlingua has different pronouns for different genders and numbers. "Ille" and "illes" are masculine and general, for example, while "illa" and "illas" are feminine. Unlike French, however, verbs remain the same for all pronouns:

"Illa lege un articulo" she is reading an article

"Illas lege articulos" they (feminine) are reading articles

Other types of personal pronouns

Pronouns usually show the basic distinctions of person (typically a three-way distinction between first, second, and third persons) and number (typically singular vs. plural), but they may also feature other categories such as case (nominative we vs. oblique us in English), gender (masculine he vs. feminine she in English), and animacy or humanness (human who vs. nonhuman what in English). These can of course vary greatly. The English dialect spoken in Dorset uses ee for animates and er for inanimates.

Many pronoun systems, including some used in Indo-European languages, (e.g., Ancient Greek) have a dual number in addition to plural. This distinction existed in Anglo-Saxon but died out by Middle English. Other examples of this in other language families include Classical Hebrew and Arabic. In addition, the 'trial' (we three) is found in some languages.

Some languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns—those that do and do not include their audience, respectively. For example, Tok Pisin has seven first-person pronouns according to number (singular, dual, trial, plural) and inclusiveness/exclusiveness, such as mitripela (they two and I) and yumitripela (you two and I). This is common in languages spoken in traditional societies, such as Quechua and Melanesian languages. This may be related to the existence of moieties in the culture.

Slavic languages have two different third-person genitive pronouns (one reflexive, one not). For example, in Serbian:

Ana je dala Mariji svoju knjigu: Ana gave Maria her (reflexive) book; i.e., Ana gave her own book to Maria.

Ana je dala Mariji njenu knjigu: Ana gave Maria her (non-reflexive) book; i.e., Ana gave Maria's book to her.

The same phenomenon can be seen in North Germanic languages. For example, in Danish, this is, respectively:

Anna gav Maria sin bog

Anna gav Maria hendes bog

The pronoun may encode politeness and formality. Many languages have different pronouns for informal use or use among friends, and for formal use or use about/towards superiors, especially in the second person. A common pattern is the so-called T-V distinction (named after the use of pronouns beginning in t- and v- in Romance languages, as in French tu and vous).

It is very common for pronouns to show more grammatical distinctions than nouns. The Romance languages (with the exception of Romanian) have lost the Latin grammatical case for nouns, but preserve the distinction in the pronouns. The same holds for English with respect to its Germanic ancestor.

It is also not uncommon for languages not to have third-person pronouns. In those cases the usual way to refer to third persons is by using demonstratives or full noun phrases. Latin made do without third-person pronouns, replacing them with demonstratives (which are in fact the source of third-person pronouns in all Romance languages).

Some languages, such as Japanese and Korean, have pronouns that reflect deep-seated societal categories. This is an extension of the politeness and formality distinctions found in other languages. In these languages there is a small set of nouns that refer to the discourse participants. These referential nouns are not usually used, with proper nouns, deictics, and titles being used instead. Usually, once the topic is understood, no explicit reference is made at all. In Japanese sentences, subjects are not obligatory, so the speaker chooses which word to use depending on the rank, job, age, gender, etc. of the speaker and the addressee. For instance, in formal situations, adults usually refer to themselves as watashi or the even more polite watakushi, while young men may use the student-like boku and police officers may use honkan ("this officer"). In informal situations, women may use the colloquial atashi, and men may use the rougher ore.

Other common distinctions made with personal pronouns found in the world's languages include:

Null-subject and pro-drop languages

See main article: Pro-drop language and Null subject language. In some languages, a pronoun is required whenever a noun or noun phrase needs to be referenced, and sometimes even when no such antecedent exists (cf the dummy pronoun in English it rains). In many other languages, however, pronouns can be omitted when unnecessary or when context makes it clear who or what is being talked about. Such languages are called null-subject languages (when subject pronouns may be omitted), or pro-drop languages (when, more generally, subject or object pronouns may be omitted). In some cases the information about the antecedent is preserved in the verb, through its conjugation.

See also

References