Personal pronoun explained

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

English personal pronouns

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


In English, it is standard to use personal pronouns explicitly even when the context already understood, or could easily be understood by reading the sentences that follow. For example, one does not normally use the word "he" to refer to somebody if the person reading or hearing the sentence does not know to whom one is referring.

In addition, personal pronouns must correspond to 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).

In general, pronouns are used often, since too little of their usage can make a sentence very difficult to read.

In French, pronouns include je, nous, tu, vous, ils, elles, lui, toi, moi, 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 articlesInterlingua has relationships with many language families, and this is reflected in its pronouns. Interlingua io, for example, shows similarities with such word forms as English I, Latin ego, German ich, Italian io, Spanish yo, Russian ya, and Chinese wo.

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. objective 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 her-REFLEXIVE book to Maria — i.e., "Ana gave her own book to Maria."

Ana je dala Mariji njenu knjigu — Ana gave her-NON-REFLEXIVE book to Maria — i.e., "Ana gave Maria's book to her."

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 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