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

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Comments

A lot of famous authors chose to be lazy with their syntax and use of lexis. In the rules of the language, 'they' is seen as a plural pronoun. I get that language varies overtime and it is possible that it could become a singular pronoun. However, in its current state, 'they' is, on a technical level, a plural.

At the time of Shakespeare (the early modern English period) I don't believe they had a standard spelling system, or at least one was just emerging, and words were often used as they fit.

It is my understanding that: 'it' is a 3rd person singular pronoun. Like he, she, him and her. Is there any reason as to why it cannot be used to refer to a person. Is it a connotations thing? Because the denotation doesn't specify that it can't be used to refer to somebody of whose gender is unknown.

Thanks for replying. This is a fascinating subject.

Hello again fire,

There is nothing lazy about the use of singular they, and nor are examples from history the result of the language being in some way insufficiently standardised, as later examples from Dickens and Austen (amongst many others) demonstrate.

Singular they is a long-established form which is not controversial. I'm not sure why you think it is problematic, or what evidence you have for that. You seem to be tilting at windmills here.

In standard use 'it' is not used to refer to people other than newborn babies, and if a person does use 'it' in this way then it is immediately understood to be insulting - a way to dehumanise a person by referring to them as a thing or a non-human animal. It's something that is occasionally used in film or literature as a way to express contempt.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello learners.

It is my understanding that: 'they' is a 3rd person plural pronoun and should not be, in a technical setting, used to refer to a singular person. I suppose this is alright if you are speaking informally but when it comes to the technicalities, it is incorrect.

Also, 'it' can be used to refer to humans.

Hello fire,

The use of singular they as an alternative to 'he or she' has a very long history, dating back to the Middle English period of Geoffrey Chaucer. Examples can be found in many of the greatest writers in English, including Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen, to name but three. In other words, it is a very well established element of the English language.

While a minority of style guides prefer to avoid singular they, the vast majority of authorities today accept its use in all forms of writing, including formal and technical writing. It is less clumsy than 'he or she' and is both a clear and efficient way to express the concept.

You can read an interesting history of the use of singular they on this page:

https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/#

 

We do not generally use 'it' to refer to humans in standard English, whether informal, formal or technical. It's possible to use 'it' to refer to humanity, of course, or to parts of the body (or even the whole body), but not to a person.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, in the sentence the dog broke one of its legs.
Why is its here a pronoun not a possessive adj although it is followed by a noun here.
Very confusing!

Hello thalia aydek,

In my opinion its is a possessive adjective in your sentence. I'm not sure why you think it is a pronoun.

The preposition of is followed by an object, but the object can be a phrase as well as a word, and here the object is the noun phrase its legs.

You can see that it is a possessive adjective if you transform the sentence into the first person: I broke one of my legs.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I've found this sentence "If I die, who's going to feed me dog?" I doubt about it <...me dog?> is wrong as I think it should be looked like that <...my dog?>

Please answer the question, what do you think about the sentence?

Thank you

Hello Vitub

You are right: in standard British English, 'my' is correct and 'me' is not. In more than one non-standard form of British English, however, 'me' is often used instead of 'my'. It's difficult for me to say if that's the reason 'me' was used here without knowing where it came from and the context it was used in, but I wonder if that might be why.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

If I want to start English from the beginning, What should I do?Do you have any suggestion regarding that?

Hello Md. Kaysar

I would suggest trying our Skills section first. You could choose one of the skills you want to focus on and then start using the pages at the B2 level. If you find them too difficult, move to B1 level; if you find them too easy, move to C1 level.

On every page, there are exercises that test how well you understood the content, and others that focus more on grammar or vocabulary. Be sure to do those and also to take notes on phrases that you would like to learn. It's good to learn individual words, but at your level, phrases are more important.

If you find grammar that you don't understand well or that you want to practise more, then make a note of what the grammar is -- or, if you don't know what it's called, please just ask us in the comments on the page you are working on -- and we can help you find an explanation of it here in the Grammar reference.

Good luck!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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