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What Are Pronouns? - Types, Examples & Definition

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  • 0:07 What Are Pronouns?
  • 1:06 Subjective Case Pronouns
  • 3:26 Objective Case Pronouns
  • 5:03 Pronouns in Compounds
  • 7:29 Pronouns in Comparisons
  • 9:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

In this lesson, we'll learn about pronouns in general, and take a look at two types of personal pronouns: subjective case and objective case pronouns. Knowing which case of pronoun you'll need can help you avoid common pronoun errors.

What are Pronouns?

Janet has to study in order for Janet to get the job that Janet wants.

This sentence doesn't sound too good. It uses the proper noun 'Janet' too much and doesn't sound too polished. What this sentence needs are pronouns to take the place of the noun 'Janet.' You may recall that nouns and pronouns have something to do with one another, but you may not remember exactly what, or how to use pronouns correctly.

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. You may recall that a noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea. To cut down on repetitiveness, I can change my original sentence to: Janet has to study in order for her to get the job that she wants.

In this sentence, the word 'Janet' is a noun, and the words 'her' and 'she' are pronouns that replace that noun. There are several different types of pronouns. One type of pronoun is a personal pronoun that takes the place of a particular person or thing. In this lesson, we'll focus on two categories of personal pronouns.

Subjective Case Pronouns

It's useful to know about the various types of pronouns so that you can know when to use which type, and so that you can double check your writing to ensure you've used your pronouns correctly. One commonly used type of personal pronoun is the subjective case pronoun, which is sometimes also referred to as a nominative case pronoun.

Subjective case pronouns are pronouns that act as subjects of sentences. The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. The subject of a sentence usually, but not always, performs the action of the verb. So, in the sentence: Chuck juggled grapefruits., the subject of the sentence is 'Chuck.' The sentence is about Chuck, and since this sentence is written in active voice, which we'll talk about in another lesson, Chuck is performing the action of the sentence, juggling.

Ask yourself what pronoun could take the place of the subject 'Chuck' in that sentence. You can probably guess, but before you do, take note of the fact that because 'Chuck' is the subject of the sentence, we'll need a subjective case pronoun to take the place of his name. Remember that subjective case pronouns are pronouns that act as subjects of sentences. You probably guessed that the correct subjective case pronoun here would be 'He,' so our new sentence would be: He juggled grapefruits.

Ask yourself what other pronouns can act as the subjects of sentences. Our list would include I, you, he, she, and it. Each of these pronouns can perform the action of verbs in sentences:

I passed the test.

You passed the test.

He passed the test.

She passed the test.

It passed the test.

Each of these pronouns, therefore, is a subjective case pronoun. You may have noticed that each of these subjective case pronouns is singular. The word singular, you may recall, means just one. In other words, we're referring to just one person when we say 'she' in a sentence.

The word plural, on the other hand, means more than one. There are also plural subjective case pronouns that perform the action of verbs in sentences. Plural subjective case pronouns include we, you, and they. These plural subjective case pronouns can perform the action of verbs in the sentences:

We passed the test.

You passed the test.

They passed the test.

Note that 'you' appears in both the singular and plural lists. That makes sense because you'd use the word 'you' to address just one person or a whole roomful of people.

Objective Case Pronouns

The second major type of personal pronouns is objective case pronouns, which are pronouns that act as objects of sentences. An object receives the action of the verb in a sentence. So, in the sentence: Jack hugged Santa Claus., 'Jack' would be the subject, as Jack is performing the action of the verb 'hugged.' 'Santa Claus' is receiving the action of the verb, as Santa Claus is the person being hugged. Santa Claus is the object in this sentence.

Ask yourself what pronoun could take the place of the object 'Santa Claus' in that sentence. It wouldn't sound right to say: Jack hugged he. And we know that that sentence is not right because 'he' is a subjective case pronoun; it's always going to be a subject, and we need an object here. You've probably figured out that we need the pronoun 'him' for the sentence: Jack hugged him. And the pronoun 'him' is, in fact, an objective case pronoun, which is what we need here.

Ask yourself what other pronouns can act as objects in sentences. Our list would include me, you, him, her, and it. Each of these pronouns can receive the action of verbs in sentences:

Jack hugged me.

Jack hugged you.

Jack hugged him.

Jack hugged her.

Jack hugged it.

Each of these pronouns, therefore, is an objective case pronoun. You may have noticed that each of these objective case pronouns is singular. There are, of course, plural objective case pronouns: us, you, and them. These plural objective case pronouns can also receive the action of verbs in sentences:

Jack hugged us.

Jack hugged you.

Jack hugged them.

Note that 'you' is both singular and plural and is both a subjective case pronoun and an objective case pronoun.

Pronouns in Compounds

You may be thinking that learning about which pronouns can work as subjects and which ones can work as objects is absolutely thrilling, but you may not be sure why any of it really matters. It's important to know which pronouns act as subjects and which act as objects in order to identify and avoid some of the really common errors that writers make when using pronouns. Errors with pronouns can occur with personal pronouns in compound subjects and objects.

Something that is compound is made up of two or more parts. You may remember learning, for example, that 'doghouse' is a compound word made up of the two separate words 'dog' and 'house.' Other things can be compound in grammar, too. A compound subject is made up of two or more simple subjects. Similarly, you can have a compound object in a sentence. Here's an example of a sentence with a compound subject. Fill in the blank in the following sentence with the right personal pronoun: Ted and _____ (me/I) went to the dentist.

At first glance, you may think it's right to say: Ted and me went to the dentist. It might sound sort of okay. But, stop and ask yourself: Do I need a subject or an object here? Will this pronoun be performing action or receiving it? In this sentence, the pronoun needs to be a subject that will perform action, so the correct pronoun is the subjective case pronoun 'I.' Remember that the pronoun 'me' is always an object and never a subject. We would say: The dog bit me., but not: Me ate lunch.

There's another trick you can use to figure out which pronoun to use in a sentence like: Ted and I went to the dentist. This sentence has a compound subject. The two simple subjects in this sentence are 'Ted' and 'I.' A quick way to determine which pronoun should go in our sample sentence is to temporarily cross out one of the simple subjects in our compound subject. By isolating and focusing on the pronoun that we'll need as part of our compound subject, we can more easily see that we need 'I' here instead of 'me.'

We can use the same technique when we're trying to fill in the blank with the right objective case pronoun. For example, if you're trying to figure out the right pronoun for the sentence: The teacher spoke to Natalie and _____ (me/I)., you can note first that we're looking for an object, a pronoun that receives the action of the verb 'spoke,' rather than a subject. If you quickly cross out the first part of our compound object, it becomes a little clearer that 'me' is the right pronoun to use. It wouldn't sound right to say: The teacher spoke to I. We also know that 'I' is a subjective case pronoun, and we need an objective case pronoun here.

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