Personal pronouns

Level: beginner

We have both subject pronouns and object pronouns:

Subject Object
I me
you you
he him
she her
it it
we us
you you
they them

We use subject pronouns as the subject of a verb:

I like your dress.
You are late.
He is my friend.
It is raining.
She is on holiday.
We live in England.
They come
from London.

Be careful!

English clauses always have a subject.

His father has just retired. > He was a teacher. (NOT Was a teacher.)
I'm waiting for my wife.She is late. (NOT Is late.)

The imperative, which is used for orders, invitations and requests, is an exception:

Stop!
Go away.
Please come to dinner tomorrow.
Play it again, please.

If there is no other subject, we use it or there. We call this a dummy subject.

We use object pronouns as the object of a verb:

Can you help me, please?
I can see you.
She doesn't like him.
I saw her in town today.
We saw them in town yesterday, but they didn't see us.

and after prepositions:

She is waiting for me.
I'll get it for you.
Give it to him.
Why are you looking at her?
Don't take it from us.
I'll speak to them.

Subject and object pronouns 1

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Subject and object pronouns 2

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he, she and they

We use he/him to refer to men, and she/her to refer to women. When we are not sure if we are talking about a man or a woman, we use they/them:

This is Jack. He's my brother. I don't think you have met him.
This is Angela. She's my sister. Have you met her before?
You could go to a doctor. They might help you.
Talk to a friend. Ask them to help you.

he, she and they 1

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he, she and they 2

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you and they

We use you to talk about people in general, including the speaker and the hearer:

You can buy this book everywhere. = This book is on sale everywhere.
You can't park here. = Parking is not allowed here.

We use they/them to talk about institutions and organisations:

They serve good food here. (they = the restaurant)
Ask them for a cheaper ticket. (them = the airline)

especially the government and the authorities:

They don't let you smoke in here. 
They are going to increase taxes.
They are building a new motorway. 
They say it’s going to rain tomorrow.

you and they 1

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you and they 2

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it

We use it to talk about ourselves:

  • on the telephone:

Hello. It's George.

  • when other people cannot see us:

It's me. It's Mary. (Mary is knocking on the door.)

We also use it to talk about other people:

  • when we point people out for the first time:

Look. It's Paul McCartney.
Who's that? I think it's John's brother.

  • when we cannot see someone and we ask them for their name:

Hello. Who is it? (someone answering the phone)
Who is it? (someone about to answer the door)

it

MultipleChoice_MTkxMTI

 

Average
Average: 4.1 (82 votes)

Submitted by Nice Boy on Mon, 25/12/2023 - 05:59

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A: We're having a visitor from Britain next week.
B: That's nice. Have ______
been to Poland before?

I think, the answer for above question should be "he or she" because "a visitor" in the question. But I found the right answer was "they". Am I right? May I know why, please.

Awaiting your kind reply. Many thanks.

Hello Nice Boy,

For the answer to be 'he or she' it would need to be 'Has' and not 'Have'.

 

We often use 'they' with a plural verb to describe a single person when we do not know if we are talking about a man or a woman. It's actually a very old form in English which you can find in Shakespeare and even further back in Chaucer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by marbri on Sun, 30/04/2023 - 17:37

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It is you who makes the decisions. It is I/me who makes the decisions.What is the grammatical rule here? In the relative clause the 1st and 2nd person singular personal pronoun turn into the third person singular?

Hello marbri,

Yes, that's the most common choice. Although it's not wrong to use verbs which agree (first-person or second-person) with the antecedent (in your example: 'you'), the third-person form is by the most common choice. There are a range of explanations for this and you can read a discussion on it here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/362949/me-who-is-or-me-who-am

The original question is about 'me who..' but the comments below also address 'I who...'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening BC,
It's a question of a pronoun referring to the last mentioned (proper)noun.
Below is an extract from the 'Metro' of Wed 5/7/23:
'Bairstow was dismissed by fellow wicket keeper Alex Carey after he believed the ball to be dead'.
Now I recall in my younger days, my Dad telling me that the pronoun (he in this case), should refer to the last mentioned (proper)noun.
However, in this example, the reverse seems to be the case as it was indeed Bairstow who believed the ball to be dead.
So my general question is:
Is the principle correct - that the pronoun should refer to the last mentioned (proper)noun?
I would be grateful for your thoughts on this.
Many thanks, Paul Fonseka

Hi Paul,

The pronoun can potentially refer to any noun in the sentence, not only the last-mentioned noun, and the Bairstow sentence is a good example of this. I believe that the point of the principle that your Dad explained is to reduce this potential ambiguity of reference.

I think it is a useful principle to bear in mind, as it reminds us of the need to speak/write clearly for readers/listeners. However, in my personal view, I wouldn't think of it as a rule to be followed at all times. For one reason, it may lead to repetition of the noun, which may sound less elegant and streamlined than using a pronoun.

  • Bairstow was dismissed by fellow wicket keeper Alex Carey after Bairstow believed the ball to be dead.

Also, the meaning may be clear enough even when this principle is not followed. In the sentence, "he" is unlikely to refer to Carey, because if it was Carey who believed the ball to be dead, he presumably wouldn't attempt to dismiss Bairstow - because the ball was dead. It's fine for writers to assume a certain degree of contextual knowledge (in this case, the rules of cricket and dismissals) if they are writing for a particular audience (in this case, cricket fans), and that contextual knowledge helps readers to make sense of the pronoun reference.

It's an interesting question. What do you think about it?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello Jonathan,
Thank you for your detailed explanation. I see your point regarding the need for taking the context into account and also it being rather inelegant when the noun is repeated as in your example.
I shall try to remember this in future.
All the best,
Paul

Submitted by howtosay_ on Sat, 18/03/2023 - 03:00

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Hello!

Could you please help me with the following (My question is here again, thanks so much for satysfing my "English" curiosity)

Can I say both "It" and "They" in the following context:

1. Maybe you have your hobby. Maybe it is music, sewing, animals, or books, or fillms./Maybe there are music, sewing, animals or books or films

2. Those trips are tiring sometimes. It (in a sense of "going on those trips) gets me down. / They get down.

I'm very very grateful for your time and energy spent to help me, and thank you for answering this post beforehand!!!

Hello howtosay_,

1. You should use 'it' here if you say 'hobby'. If you change the word to 'hobbies' then you should use 'they'. Pronouns like these refer back to nouns earlier in the text and they need to agree with those nouns in number (singular/plural).

2. Both 'It gets' and 'They get' are possible here. 'They get' refers back to 'Those trips'. 'It gets' describes the whole sentence, effectively meaning 'What I just described to you gets me down'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Mon, 06/03/2023 - 22:12

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Hello!
Could you please tell which option (if any) is correct:

1. We should praise our children and critize if they really need or beg for it?

2. We should praise our children and critize them if they really need it or beg for it? I'm hesitant, in particular, about the double usage of "it". Could you please clarify whether it is okay or we should omit "it" in some cases not to use it second time?

I'm so much grateful for your huge contribution to my (and it's not only me, you are helping lots of people) knowledge and thank you very much indeed for answering this post beforehand!!!

Hello howtosay_,

You can repeat 'it' in these examples or include it only once (after the second verb). It's a question of style and preference rather than grammar.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by goodtoseeyou on Wed, 30/11/2022 - 14:58

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Hi!
Please, help me.
There is a question "3. Hello. Are you a friend of Tom's?" in "he, she and they 1".
I think it must be: "Are you a friend of Tom?" or "Are you a Tom's friend?". But why both " of " and " 's "?

Hi goodtoseeyou,

Actually, "Are you a friend of Tom's?" is a correct and commonly used structure. There are various ways to phrase this question.

  • Are you a friend of Tom's? 
  • Are you a friend of Tom?
  • Are you one of Tom's friends?
  • Are you Tom's friend?
  • Are you friends with Tom?

As for why the first example uses both "of" and apostrophe + s, some writers say that there is a small difference in meaning, compared to the second example. "I am a friend of Tom's" means that Tom considers me to be a friend. "I am a friend of Tom" means that I consider Tom to be a friend (i.e., the opposite direction of relationship). It is however a subtle difference. I think in many cases, the first and second examples are understood to be similar or the same in meaning.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I think you can use "Are you a Tom's friend?" because if you use "are you a friend of tom" it doesn't make sense, then why use both "of" and "s" if "of" is a preposition while "S" is a possession, correct me if i wrong.

Hi GalihPurdiantara,

Actually, it isn't grammatical to say "a Tom's friend" because possessive forms (e.g. Tom's or my) cannot have an article before them. It's also not grammatical to say a my friend, for example.

It is grammatical to say a friend of Tom's, with both "of" and the possessive "Tom's". This is a structure called the double possessive or the double genitive. You can read more about it, and some more examples, at this page from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/double-possessives-genitives

I hope you find it interesting.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 13/11/2022 - 21:54

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Hello. Could you please help me? In a formal exam, subject or object pronoun is correct in the following sentence?
- I can't run as fast as (he - him).
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

If there's a verb phrase after 'as', e.g. 'I can't run as fast as he does' or 'as fast as he runs', or if such a verb form is strongly implied, 'he' is the best form.

But if there's just a pronoun after 'as', then 'him' is best.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Annanguyen on Thu, 18/08/2022 - 05:25

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I am confused about these sentences.
When we are not sure if we are talking about a man or a woman, we use they/them.
But a doctor and a friend is singular, they used for plural.
Can you help me explain that. Thank you!

- You could go to a doctor. They might help you.
- Talk to a friend. Ask them to help you.

Hi Annanguyen,

I'll try to explain! It's true that "they" is used for plural nouns. That is its main meaning, but not its only meaning. It is also used for singular nouns, instead of "he" or "she", if we don't know whether the noun is male or female. 

The first example mentions "a doctor", and it seems the speaker means any doctor - male or female, it doesn't matter. The speaker isn't talking about a particular doctor. So, instead of saying "He might help you" or "She might help you", the speaker says "They" because the doctor's gender is not known or not relevant here.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Jonthan
hope you are doing well.

kindly, regarding this case can I use " it might help you "

thank you

Hi bashar zaity,

Yes, you can! To be precise, though, the subject is different. If you say "He/She/They might help you", you are talking about the doctor (i.e. the person). If you say "It might help you", you are talking about going to the doctor (i.e. the action). However, both sentences encourage the person to do it, so they have a similar effect.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jay_Red great on Sat, 06/08/2022 - 05:18

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What is "I'm I losing my mine"?

Hi Jay_Red great,

I'm not sure I understand the sentence. Where does the sentence come from? In the sentence, "I" is a subject pronoun, "my" is a possessive adjective, and "mine" is a possessive pronoun. :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nagie23 on Sat, 18/06/2022 - 03:04

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Hello,
I would like to ask the following
There is a song with a title
'I me mine'
What is the difference between I and me in this case?
Thank you in advance

Hello Nagie23,

This is a song title and it is not intended to be grammatical!

I is a nominative pronoun (subject form).

Me is an accusative pronoun (object form).

Mine is a possessive pronoun.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team