Are there 8 types of pronoun in English grammar?
This is the first of three lessons about Pronouns. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Review the concept of word types and word classes
– Explore the primary function of pronouns in English
– See examples of each of the eight types of pronoun
One of the easiest paths to mastering English grammar and vocabulary is to carefully learn the form and function of its various word types. While the benefits of studying adjectives, verbs and nouns may seem obvious as these categories are so large and common, a knowledge of pronouns is important too. This is particularly true if you’re writing an academic essay as there are various rules which apply to the use of pronouns in that highly formal context.
To assist students, we’ve therefore created this short course to help those studying bachelor’s and master’s degrees develop a better understanding of the accurate use of pronouns. In Lesson 1, we outline the eight types of English pronoun before highlighting in Lesson 2 six helpful rules for their use in general-English settings. Finally, we focus on the importance of this word type in Lesson 3, after which you may wish to consider unlocking and completing our Lesson Worksheets which will check your progress and knowledge and improve your English proficiency.
What is a word type?
A word type, also known as a word class, is a way of categorising words based on their behaviour within the language. The most common of these categorisations are adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs and prepositions, though there are other categories too. These word types may possess subcategories, such as how articles and quantifiers are types of determiner, or how modal, auxiliary, phrasal and copula are categories of verb. As is exemplified below using ‘after’ and ‘so’, it’s important to remember that words may move between type (from conjunction to preposition or adverb, for instance) when they perform different functions:
What makes pronouns unique?
Pronouns, then, such as ‘she’, ‘everyone’ and ‘that’, are a unique category of word because of the function they perform. This function is to replace nouns or noun phrases with a shorter referring expression. This can be seen in the examples below in which ‘she’ is the same as ‘Dan’s teacher Jane’, in which ‘everyone’ stands in place of ‘the students in the class’ and in which ‘that’ is equitable with ‘the teacher’s pen’.
What these examples additionally highlight is that there are three ways in which pronouns may refer to expressions within a piece of discourse:
- anaphoric reference: when the pronoun refers to a noun or noun phrase which was mentioned earlier in the text (i.e., ‘she’ refers back to ‘Dan’s teacher Jane’)
- exophoric reference: when the pronoun refers to a noun or noun phrase which is only mentioned outside of the text (i.e., ‘everyone’ refers to unspecified ‘students in the class’)
- cataphoric reference: when the pronoun refers to a noun or noun phrase which is going to be mentioned later in the text (i.e., ‘that’ refers forwards to ‘the teacher’s pen’)
There are eight types of pronoun in English. These are explored for you below in order of frequency within the language:
Type 1: Personal
Personal pronouns are a fairly complex class of pronoun which identify specific people, animals, objects or ideas. They are complex because they can change form to indicate a number of grammatical distinctions. They may, for instance, be singular or plural (‘I’ vs. ‘we’) or change form when used as the subject or object of an expression (‘I gave it to him’ vs. ‘he gave it to me’). Personal pronouns may even indicate whether the noun phrase being referred to is male, female or inhuman/inanimate (‘he’ vs. ‘she’ vs. ‘it’).
Type 2: Indefinite
Where personal pronouns refer to someone or something specific, indefinite pronouns refer to unspecified things. These are words such as ‘anyone’, ‘nobody’ and ‘few’, as in the examples below:
Like personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns are few in number and include:
- all, another, any, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, few, many, neither, nobody, none, one, several, some, somebody, someone, something
Type 3: Interrogative
Though interrogative pronouns are so few in number, they are so commonly used in English as to rank third on our list. The five interrogative pronouns are ‘who’, ‘whom’, ‘whose’, ‘which’ and ‘what’. These pronouns are used to refer to people, animals, objects and concepts when forming questions:
Type 4: Possessive
Possessive pronouns are yet another small subcategory of pronoun that are used with some frequency. Words such as ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘his’, ‘hers’ and ‘ours’ indicate a possessor and possessed relationship between two items:
Type 5: Demonstrative
The four demonstrative pronouns ‘this’, ‘these’, ‘that’ and ‘those’ should not be confused with the similar category of demonstrative determiners. As the following examples show, pronouns replace noun phrases while determiners pre-modify them:
Type 6: Relative
With the addition of ‘that’, ‘whichever’, ‘whoever’ and ‘whomever’, relative pronouns otherwise look identical to the five interrogative pronouns. The main difference is that this category of pronoun introduces relative clauses rather than questions:
Type 7: Reflexive
Rarely used in written English are the nine reflexive pronouns such as ‘himself’. These are used to demonstrate when something has caused an action upon itself. While it’s easy to remember that each of these pronouns is formed by adding the suffix ‘-self’ (singular) or ‘-selves’ (plural) to a personal pronoun, as the following shows, students must keep in mind when using such pronouns that they may only refer to noun phrases which are within the same clause:
Type 8: Reciprocal
Reciprocal pronouns are similar to reflexive pronouns in the sense that both types must be used within the same clause as the noun phrase to which they refer. However, where reflexive pronouns demonstrate when someone or something has caused an action upon themselves, reciprocal pronouns are used to show when two people, animals or objects are experiencing the same thing. There are only two such expressions to learn in English, which are ‘each other’ and ‘one another’:
Where ‘each other’ is commonly used to show reciprocation between two items, ‘one another’ is prescriptively used for three or more people or things.
Great work on finishing Lesson 1 in this short course on pronouns. Continue studying with Lesson 2 to learn about the six rules which exist in general English.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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