Types of pronouns
The Quick AnswerThe term pronoun covers many words, some of which do not fall easily under the generic description of words that replace nouns. There are several different kinds of pronouns, including:
- Personal pronouns (e.g., he, they)
- Demonstrative pronouns (e.g., this, these)
- Interrogative pronouns (e.g., which, who)
- Indefinite pronouns (e.g., none, several)
- Possessive pronouns (e.g., his, your)
- Reciprocal pronouns (e.g., each other, one another)
- Relative pronouns (e.g., which, where)
- Reflexive pronouns (e.g., itself, himself)
- Intensive pronouns (e.g., itself, himself)
The Different Types of PronounsThe term pronoun covers many words, some of which do not fall easily under the description given in the section What are Pronouns? There are many different kinds of pronouns. In general, these do not cause difficulties for native English speakers. The list below is mainly for reference purposes.
Demonstrative PronounsThese pronouns are used to demonstrate (or indicate). This, that, these and those are all demonstrative pronouns.
- This is the one I left in the car. (In this example, the speaker could be indicating to a mobile phone, in which case, the pronoun this replaces the words mobile phone.)
- Shall I take those?
Indefinite PronounsUnlike demonstrative pronouns, which point out specific items, indefinite pronouns are used for non-specific things. This is the largest group of pronouns. All, some, any, several, anyone, nobody, each, both, few, either, none, one and no one are the most common.
- Somebody must have seen the driver leave. (somebody – not a specific person)
- We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Oscar Wilde)
- I have nothing to declare except my genius. (Oscar Wilde)
Interrogative PronounsThese pronouns are used in questions. Although they are classified as pronouns, it is not easy to see how they replace nouns. Who, which, what, where and how are all interrogative pronouns.
- Who told you to do that?
- Which dog won the race?
Personal PronounsThe personal pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who. More often than not (but not exclusively), they replace nouns representing people. When most people think of pronouns, it is the personal pronouns that usually spring to mind.
- We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
- I bought some batteries, but they weren't included.
Possessive PronounsPossessive pronouns are used to show possession. As they are used as adjectives, they are also known as possessive adjectives. My, your, his, her, its, our and their are all possessive pronouns.
- Have you seen her book? (In this example, the pronoun her replaces a word like Sarah's.)
Relative PronounsRelative pronouns are used to add more information to a sentence. Which, that, who (including whom and whose) and where are all relative pronouns.
- Dr Adam Sissons, who lectured at Cambridge for more than 12 years, should have known the difference. (In this example, the relative pronoun who introduces the clause who studied at Cambridge for 12 years and refers back to Dr Adams Sissons.)
- The man who first saw the comet reported it as a UFO. (In this example, the relative pronoun who introduces the clause who first saw the comet and refers back to the man.)
Absolute Possessive PronounsThese pronouns also show possession. Unlike possessive pronouns (see above), which are adjectives to nouns, these pronouns sit by themselves. Mine, yours, his, hers, ours and theirs are all absolute possessive pronouns.
- The tickets are as good as ours.
- Shall we take yours or theirs?
Reciprocal PronounsReciprocal pronouns are used for actions or feelings that are reciprocated. The two most common reciprocal pronouns are each other and one another.
- They like one another.
- They talk to each other like they're babies.
Reflexive PronounsA reflexive pronoun ends ...self or ...selves and refers to another noun or pronoun in the sentence (usually the subject of the sentence). The reflexive pronouns aremyself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves.
- The dog bit itself. (In this example, the intensive pronoun itself refers back to the noun the dog.)
- Are you talking to yourself?
Intensive (or Emphatic) PronounsAn intensive pronoun (sometimes called an emphatic pronoun) refers back to another noun or pronoun in the sentence to emphasize it (e.g., to emphasize that it is the thing carrying out the action).
- John bakes all the bread himself. (In this example, the intensive pronoun himself refers back to the noun John.)
- The cat opened the door itself.
Below are some common errors related to pronouns:
No One Not No-OneThere is no hyphen in the word no one.
- No one is qualified to take the position.
- No-one lifted a finger.
should be No one ever died...
See the lesson No One & Noone.
Its Not It'sThe word its (note, no apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun, just like his, her and my.
- Can you see its pale-coloured belly?
- Jenkins failed the final test and its re-sit.
It's (with an apostrophe) is short for it is or it has. If you cannot substitute it's with it is or it has, then it is wrong! This is covered more in the lesson Its and It's.
No ApostrophesThere are no apostrophes in absolute possessive pronouns (also called absolute possessives).
- Shall I take yours?
- Paul's scores were better than her's.
Commas or Not?The first example in Relative Pronouns (left) has commas around the clause who studied at Cambridge for 12 years, but the second example does not have commas around who first saw the comet. These clauses are called relative clauses.
The first example refers to Dr Adam Sissons and the second example refers back to the man. These are called the antecedents of the relative clauses.
When a relative clause (like who saw the comet) is required to identify the antecedent (in this case the man), then no commas are used. When it is just additional information (like who studied at Cambridge for 12 years), then commas are required.
This is covered more in the lesson Which, That and Who – Commas or Not?.