What Are First-Person Pronouns?

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

First-person pronouns are used by a speaker or writer to refer to him or herself, such as 'I' or 'me,' or a group they are a part of, such as 'us' or 'we.'

Pronouns

We use pronouns every day without thinking about them. They are a class of words used to replace a noun when it is obvious who or what the noun is. They are so common that we don't even notice them most of the time. In fact, I've used five so far in this paragraph: 'we,' 'they,' 'they,' 'we,' and 'them.'

But when do we use pronouns? Why 'we' instead of 'them'? Why 'I' instead of 'he' or 'me.' This is because pronouns fall into different classes based on who they are referring to and where they appear in a sentence. One of these classes is first-person pronouns.

Personal Pronoun in the famous I Love New York logo by Milton Glaser
I Love New York

First-Person

The person of the pronoun refers to who the speaker or writer is referring to. First-person pronouns are used when the speaker is referring to him or herself. In other words, there is only one person involved: the speaker.

This contrasts with second-person pronouns, which refer to the person the speaker is talking to (like 'you') and third-person, which refers to someone other than the speaker or listener ('he,' 'she,' 'it').

So, first-person pronouns are used when there is only one person involved: the speaker. But there are still a bunch of different options for first-person pronouns: 'I,' 'me,' 'we,' 'us,' 'my,' 'mine,' 'our' and 'ours.' So, we need to divide this group up a little more.

Number

The first subdivision of first-person pronouns is in number. 'I,' 'me,' 'my' and 'mine' are used when the speaker is only referring to him or herself and no one else is around, such as:

  • I walked to school today by myself.
  • Mom gave me $10 for lunch.

'We,' 'us,' 'ours' and 'our' are used when the speaker is part of a group of people, such as:

  • We finished our group project in the library.
  • Mom gave us each $10 for lunch.

Possession

The pronouns 'mine' and 'our' are a special class known as possessive pronouns. They are used by the speaker to show possession or ownership:

  • That iPod is mine.
  • My mom baked cookies.
  • Our parents are out of town.
  • The classroom is ours because the teacher left the room.

Subject and Object

So, you may be following along and understanding these divisions, but have you also noticed an odd pattern? There are two first-person singular pronouns and two first-person plural pronouns. Similarly, there are two different first-person singular possessive pronouns and two different first-person plural possessive pronouns.

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