Personal Pronouns

What Are Personal Pronouns?

homesitemapA-Z grammar terms personal pronouns
Personal pronouns are short words used to represent people or things. The personal pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. They are used to avoid repetition. Look at this example:
  • Myra (David's kitten) looks cute, but he thinks she is evil.
  • (The personal pronouns "he" and "she" avoid the need to repeat "David" and "kitten.")

Table of Contents

  • A Summary of All the Personal Pronouns
  • Find the Personal Pronoun Test
  • Table Showing Personal Pronouns by Case
  • The Different Types of Personal Pronouns
  • Subjective Personal Pronoun
  • Objective Personal Pronoun
  • Possessive Personal Pronoun
  • Reflexive Personal Pronoun
  • Real-Life Examples of Personal Pronouns
  • Why Personal Pronouns Are Important
  • Test Time!

A Summary of All the Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns change depending on how they're used. In other words, there are different versions of I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.

Let's start by looking at all the forms:
personal pronouns

Find the Personal Pronoun Test

It's your go! Select the personal pronoun.

Table Showing Personal Pronouns by Case

Here is a table showing the personal pronouns by:
  • case (i.e., how they're used)
  • person (i.e., how they relate to the speaker)
The table includes links to all the key grammatical terminology associated with personal pronouns.
PersonSubjective CaseObjective CasePossessive DeterminerPossessive PronounsReflexive Pronouns
First Person Singular I me my mine myself
Second Person Singular you you your yours yourself
Third Person Singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its his/hers/its himself/herself/itself
First Person Plural we us our ours ourselves
Second Person Plural you you your yours yourselves
Third Person Plural they them their theirs themselves
In this table, the personal pronouns are categorized by person. There are three person categories:
  • First Person. The first-person personal pronouns (I and we) represent those speaking.
  • Second Person. The second-person personal pronouns (you (singular) and you (plural)) represent those being addressed.
  • Third Person. The third-person personal pronouns (he/she/it and they) represent those who are neither speaking nor being addressed (i.e., everybody else).
Read more about grammatical person.

The Different Types of Personal Pronouns

Based on how they're used, personal pronouns are categorized as one of the following:

Subjective Personal Pronoun

I, you, he, she, it, we, and they are the subjective personal pronouns. These are the versions used for the subjects of verbs. For example:
  • You are happy.
  • They won the league.

Objective Personal Pronoun

The objective personal pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and them. These are the versions used when the personal pronouns are objects (i.e., direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of prepositions). For example:
  • Paul knows her.
  • (The personal pronoun is a direct object.)
  • Paul gave them the letter.
  • (The personal pronoun is an indirect object.)
  • Paul went with him.
  • (The personal pronoun is an object of a preposition.)

Possessive Personal Pronoun

The possessive pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs. They represent something that is owned and tell us who the owner is. For example:
  • Myra protected the pantry, believing all the food was hers.
  • (Here, hers represents all the food and tells us the owner is Myra. A possessive pronoun replaces a possessive determiner and a noun, e.g., her food becomes hers, my story becomes mine, and their jellybean becomes theirs. Note that possessive determiners are classified as pronouns too.)

Reflexive Personal Pronoun

The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. A reflexive pronoun refers back to the subject.
  • David did not blame himself for Myra's aggression.
  • (The subject is David. The reflexive pronoun himself refers back to David.)

Real-Life Examples of Personal Pronouns

Before we look at some real-life examples, it's time to introduce case. A pronoun's case shows its relationship with the other words in a sentence. Here are some real-life examples of personal pronouns in each case.

Subjective Personal Pronouns (i.e., ones in the subjective case)

  • Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. (Actress Marilyn Monroe)
  • We are what we believe we are. (Author CS Lewis)
Read more about the subjective case.

Objective Personal Pronouns (i.e., ones in the objective case)

  • Get the facts first, then distort them. (American author Mark Twain)
  • Conscience is the only incorruptible thing about us. (Henry Fielding)
Read more about the objective case.

Possessive Personal Pronouns (i.e., ones in the possessive case)

  • Build your reputation by helping other people build theirs. (Author Anthony D'Angelo)
  • Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. (US President Lyndon Johnson)
Read more about the possessive case.

Reflexive Personal Pronouns

  • If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. (Business magnate Henry Ford)
  • Nature is wont to hide herself. (Philosopher Heraclitus)
There is no "reflexive case." A reflexive pronoun is a type of objective-case pronoun. Read more about reflexive pronouns. Read about these pronouns as emphatic pronouns.

Each of the quotations above contains only one example of a personal pronoun. They weren't easy to find. It is more normal for a sentence to include several types of personal pronoun. The short (somewhat contrived but grammatically correct) sentence below contains all four types:
  • She saw herself and me in theirs. (Here, the personal pronouns are She (subjective), herself (reflexive), me (objective), and theirs (possessive).)

Why Personal Pronouns Are Important

Native English speakers nearly always use the correct personal pronouns, and there are few serious mistakes associated with them, but here are six noteworthy points.

(Point 1) The subjective pronoun "I" can't be the object of a verb or a preposition.

  • They found my wife and I under the snowdrift. wrong cross
  • (The subjective pronoun I must be the subject of a verb. Here, it's the direct object of the verb found. It should read They found me and my wife.)
  • I sent condolences from my wife and I. wrong cross
  • (I must be the subject of a verb. After a preposition (in this case, from), you need the objective pronoun me. It should read from me and my wife.)
  • Keep this between you and I. wrong cross
  • (The term between you and I is always wrong. I cannot be the object of a preposition (in this case, between).)
Native English speakers rarely make this mistake with other personal pronouns. To some ears, terms like from my wife and I and between you and I sound more highbrow. Highbrow they might be. Wrong they are.

(Point 2) There are no apostrophes in possessive personal pronouns.

Yes, it's true that apostrophes can be used to show possession (e.g., dragon's tooth, newt's eye), but there are no apostrophes in any possessive personal pronouns. That's a 100% rule.
    I like her's better than their's. wrong cross
Over the years, I have been challenged on this "100% rule" with claims that one's breaks the rule, e.g., One likes one's better than theirs. (The challengers freely admit that only the Queen might say something like this.) But, actually, their claims are flawed for two reasons: firstly, one is classified as an indefinite pronoun not a personal pronoun, and, secondly, even though one's exists as a possessive determiner (e.g., One's orb is heavy), its use as a possessive pronoun (e.g., One's is heavy) is non-standard English. So, no, the Queen wouldn't say it, and, yes, it is a 100% rule.

"What about it's?", you might ask. Well, it's (with an apostrophe) is an expansion of it is or it has. That's another 100% rule. If you use it's, make sure you can expand to it is or it has. If you can't, it's wrong.

(Point 3) This is good stuff for learning a foreign language.

If you're not someone who says between you and I or someone who puts an apostrophe in theirs, then the next best reason to care about personal-pronoun terminology is that it will help you with learning a foreign language.

If you're a native English speaker, then, whether you know it or not, you currently select a personal pronoun having first determined its:
  • Number. Is the personal pronoun representing something singular or plural?
  • Person. Is the personal pronoun representing something in the first person (this is the speaker himself or a group that includes the speaker (I, we)), the second person (this is the speaker's audience (you)), or the third person (this is everybody else (he, she, it, they).)
  • Gender. Is the personal pronoun representing something male, female, or neuter?
  • Case. Is the personal pronoun representing something which is a subject or an object?
So, when you say something as simple as We like him, your brain has whipped through that list twice, making eight decisions on personal pronouns. That's a lot of grammar processing happening in a flash. When you start learning a foreign language (particularly in the classroom), this grammar processing is done far more consciously and systematically.

Students who understand our grammar terms absorb the grammar of other languages mucho mas rapido. Knowing our personal-pronoun terminology, for example, equips a student with neat mental boxes where the foreign pronouns can be stored, and it also means that fewer lessons will come as a surprise. "Oh, so that's how they form possessive pronouns" is a far better reaction than "Jeepers! How many more words do they need for she?".

(Point 4) You can use they instead of he/she.

In English, there is no singular gender-neutral personal pronoun. This example will make that clearer:
  • If a burglar falls through your skylight, he could sue you.
  • (Why he? Girls can be burglars too.)
Here are your options (ordered for their acceptability) for fixing this problem:

Option 1: Try an all-plural version.
  • If burglars fall through your skylight, they could sue you.
  • (This is a good fix, if your sentence allows it.)
Option 2: Use a "singular" they.
  • If a burglar falls through your skylight, they could sue you.
  • (Even though they (plural) refers to burglar (singular), using a "singular" they is now an acceptable practice. Some people won't like it, but actually it's a pretty good compromise for handling the fact that we just don't have a singular gender-neutral personal pronoun.)
Option 3: Use he or she or he/she.
  • If a burglar falls through your skylight, he/she could sue you.
  • (This is a poor option. You'd have to really hate the "singular" they to choose this option.)
Option 4: Just use he.
  • If a burglar falls through your skylight, he could sue you.
  • (This is out of date. You might get away with it, especially with such a male-dominated "trade" as burglary, but it's clearly sexist. Using he for he/she is only just hanging in there as an option because it used to be an acceptable way of overcoming our grammar's shortcoming. It wasn't uncommon for the opening pages of a document to include the caveat "He means he or she." Avoid this option.)
This issue pertains to possessive determiners too.
  • A journalist must protect his sources.
  • (His is a possessive determiner.)
Here are some possible fixes:
  • Journalists must protect their sources. (Go plural - the perfect option)
  • A journalist must protect their sources. (Use a "singular" their - perfectly acceptable)
  • A journalist must protect his/her sources. (Use his/her - poor)
  • A journalist must protect his sources. (Use he for his/her - pants)

(Point 5) Don't use myself when giving an order.

A reflexive personal pronoun refers back to the subject. When you give an order (i.e., an imperative sentence), the implied subject is "you." This means you can only use yourself or yourselves in an imperative sentence. You can't use myself.
  • Clean yourself up! correct tick
  • (Remember that the reflexive personal pronoun (yourself) must refer back to the implied "you." ("You" clean yourself up!) That's grammatically okay.)
  • Write to myself if there's an issue. wrong cross
  • (The reflexive personal pronoun myself cannot refer back to the implied "you." ("You" write to myself if there's an issue.) That's grammatically not okay. It should be me not myself.)
Read more about using "myself" incorrectly.

(Point 6) "It was me" is acceptable.

People often question whether they should say "It was me" or "It was I." It's a fair question because a subject complement (in this case, the word after was) is supposed to be written in the subjective case (i.e., I is correct), but we know that everyone has been saying "It was me" for so long that "It was I" now sounds wrong or, at the very least, pretentious for many.

Here's the quick answer: you can say either. See also linking verbs.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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