Which 6 pronoun rules help with general English?
This is the second 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 eight types of pronoun in English
– Learn six rules for accurate pronoun use in general-English (less formal) contexts
– Study authentic examples of pronouns in context
Pronouns such as ‘you’, ’anyone’ and ‘what’ are grouped together into a singular word type in English based on their function, much as how prepositions, adjectives and verbs are identified and categorised. A pronoun’s grammatical function is to replace nouns or noun phrases with short expressions, such as how ‘she’ refers’ to ‘the teacher’ in the expression: ‘She teaches me English’. While pronouns are small in number and might appear simple, in fact they have many rules that must be learned for advanced English proficiency to be achieved.
Having explored the eight types of pronoun in some depth in Lesson 1, we turn now in Lesson 2 to discussing the six pronoun rules that when followed significantly improve grammatical accuracy.
What are the eight types of pronoun?
In the table below, we review the eight types of pronoun as explored in Lesson 1, offering students with a limited number of examples. Can you think of any more?
Rule 1: Know Subjects from Objects
The first rule is one of syntax (sentence structure). Because some pronouns change form depending on whether they are the subject or object of an expression (i.e., whether they are doing or receiving the action of the verb), it’s important that students can identify these two phrase functions so that correct pronoun forms can be selected. These forms are exemplified below (‘I’ vs. ‘me’ and ‘she’ vs. ‘her’):
However, students should note that in complement constructions when a pronoun follows a copula verb such as ‘be’, it’s common in informal English for the object form to be used over the more grammatical subject form. For example, the expression ‘It was I who…’ in informal English is more commonly ‘It was me who…’.
Rule 2: Think About the Referent
Another common error among non-native speakers is the use of incorrect personal-pronoun genders for people, animals or objects. For example, ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’ should only be used with males, with ‘she’ and ‘her’ for females and ‘it’ and ‘its’ for animals, objects and concepts. However, these rules are occasionally broken:
- male and female pronouns may be used for animals if the creature’s sex is relevant
- babies may occasionally be referred to using the inhuman or inanimate pronoun ‘it’
- some objects that humans have a close relationship with may be referred to using female pronouns, such as vehicles, countries and cities
Rule 3: Use Conjunctions and Pronouns Carefully
It’s particularly common (even for native speakers) when using the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ to use the wrong personal-pronoun form, such as in: ‘Her and her friend arrived late to class’. Can you work out why this expression is incorrect? Try removing ‘and her friend’ from the expression. What do you notice?
Hopefully you can see that ‘Her arrived late to class’ is an ungrammatical expression which should instead be ‘She and her friend arrived late to class’. To try another, how would you fix ‘The teacher asked my friend and I’? Can you remove ‘my friend’ from that expression? If so, you hopefully realise that the correct answer is ‘The teacher asked my friend and me.’
Rule 4: Pay Attention to Number
It’s also important to remember that some pronouns change form to indicate differences in number, such as the singular ‘she’ and ‘someone’ vs. the plural ‘they’ and ‘everyone’. Singular pronouns require singular verbs just as plural pronouns require plural verbs, such as ‘she is’ and ‘they are’. While this is easy to remember in most situations, there are three indefinite pronouns which cause issues for students (and natives). These are ‘each’, ‘either’ and ‘neither’, all of which are singular:
Rule 5: Understand the Importance of Agreement
The grammatical term for most of the above Type-4 examples is subject-verb agreement, in which a subject and its verb must agree in both number and person for an expression to be accurate. This is particularly important when using relative pronouns to create relative clauses as pronouns such as ‘who’, ‘that’ and ‘which’, may be singular or plural depending on the subject to which they refer. First isolate the referent subject and then match it in plurality to the following verb:
Rule 6: Pay Attention to Possession
Finally, when an expression describes two people who possess something together, students may understandably attempt to use possessive pronouns such as ‘mine’ and ‘hers’ when in fact possessive determiners such as ‘my’ and ‘her’ are more grammatical. Take at look at the accurate and inaccurate examples below:
Accurate: My and Jacob’s assignment / Jacob’s and my assignment
Inaccurate: Mine and Jacob’s assignment / Jacob’s and mine assignment
Furthermore, an additional aspect of possession and pronouns that non-natives and natives alike tend to get wrong is that they add unnecessary punctuation (in the form of an apostrophe) to possessive pronouns, as in ‘it’s’ vs. ‘its’ and ‘your’s’ vs. ‘yours’. Thankfully, the simple rule here is to check the abbreviation by splitting its words. The word ‘it’s’, for example, when split means ‘it is’ rather than ‘its’, while the contractions ‘your’s’ and ‘her’s’ cannot be separated into ‘your is’ and ‘her is’ and are therefore simply ungrammatical.
Great work on finishing this second lesson in our short course on pronouns. Are you ready to focus on the use of pronouns in academic contexts? If so, continue studying with Lesson 3 as we explore three important academic considerations.
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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