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How to Replace Personal Pronouns

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Personal pronouns are great for informal writing, but when we write formal essays, we should try to avoid using the kind of conversational language that results from the words 'I' and 'you'. This lesson will demonstrate how to replace these pronouns with third person pronouns that are more appropriate for formal or academic writing.

What Are Personal Pronouns?

Pronouns are used in place of nouns, and personal pronouns refer to individuals. These pronouns change form depending on their function in a sentence.

Examples of Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we and they. These pronouns are commonly used in conversation and in informal writing situations. Here is an example:

  • They told me that you wanted to see me.

First, Second, and Third Person

Pronouns

We can think of pronouns as referring to the self (I, we), to the addressee (you), and to others (he, she, it, they). Pronouns that refer to the self are first person pronouns.

Pronouns that refer to the addressee are second person pronouns, and pronouns that refer to others are third person pronouns.

Personal Pronouns in Writing

Typically, writers should avoid using conversational language in formal writing. When writers use first and second person pronouns (I and you), the writing can sound like a conversation between the reader and writer. While this effect may be appropriate--even desirable--in casual writing, conversational language is generally considered inappropriate in formal writing.

In other words, while personal pronouns are appropriate for casual notes and e-mails, more formal writing occasions call for the use of third person pronouns.

Examples

The following sentence contains personal pronouns.

  • I think you should have to attend parenting classes if you are found guilty of child abuse.

This sentence sounds like a conversation between two people, doesn't it? Its purpose is clear. The writer states a position on a controversial issue.

While this sentence would be appropriate in a conversation between friends, it would not work as well in a formal essay. The sentence sounds almost as if the writer is suggesting, with the use of the pronoun you, that the reader is guilty of child abuse.

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