English personal pronouns: Wikis

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English grammar series
English grammar

The personal pronouns of the English language can have various forms according to gender, number, person, and case. Modern English is a language with very little noun or adjective inflection, to the point where some authors describe it as analytic, but the Modern English system of personal pronouns has preserved most of the inflectional complexity of Old English and Middle English.

Unlike other nouns, which are undeclined for case except for possession (woman/woman's), English pronouns have a number of forms, depending on their grammatical role in a sentence:

  • a subjective case (I/we/etc.), used as the subject of a verb.
  • an objective case (me/us/etc.), used as the object of a verb or preposition. The same forms are also used as disjunctive pronouns.
  • a reflexive form (myself/ourselves etc.), which is preceded by the noun or pronoun to which it refers (its antecedent) within the same clause (for example, She cut herself). Frequent errors exist when a reflexive pronoun is inserted incorrectly for "me" or "I" (error: It was written by John, Ann, and myself when it should read, It was written by John, Ann, and me and error: John, Ann, and myself wrote it when it should read, John, Ann, and I wrote it). The same reflexive forms also are used as intensive pronouns (for example, She made the dress herself).
  • two possessive forms, used to indicate the possessor of another noun. The first group (my/our/etc.) are used as determiners (possessive determiners, also called possessive adjectives), and the second (mine/ours/etc.) as pronouns or predicate adjectives.

Contents

Basic personal pronouns of modern English

The basic personal pronouns of modern English are shown below.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Singular Plural
Subject Object Reflexive Subject Object Reflexive
First I me myself we us ourselves
Second you you yourself you you yourselves
Third Masculine he him himself they them themselves
Feminine she her herself
Neuter it it itself

Full list of personal pronouns

The following table shows the full list of English personal pronouns, including archaic and dialectal forms. Nonstandard, informal and archaic forms are in italics.

personal pronoun possessive
pronoun
possessive
determiner
subjective objective reflexive
first-person singular I me myself mine my
plural we us ourselves
ourself
ours our
second-person singular standard (archaic formal) you you yourself yours your
archaic informal thou thee thyself thine thy
thine (before vowel)
plural standard you
you all
you
you all
yourselves yours your
archaic ye you yourselves yours your
nonstandard or informal y'all
youse
youse guys
you guys
youse gals
you-uns
you guys
you gals
y'all
youse
youse guys
youse gals
you-uns
yous
yis
yinz
you lot
y'all's selves you(r) guys's
you(r) gals's
y'all's
yous's
you(r) guys's
you(r) gals's
y'all's
third-person singular masculine he him himself his his
feminine she her herself hers her
neuter it it itself its its
generic/epicene (formal) one one oneself one's
generic/epicene (nonstandard) they them themself, themselves theirs their
plural they them themselves theirs their

For further archaic forms, and information on the evolution of the personal pronouns of English, see Old English pronouns.

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I and me

  • In modern English, me is sometimes used in colloquial speech as the predicative of the copula, occurring when the subject is the speaker. See It is I/It is me for a more detailed discussion.

My and mine, thy and thine

  • Historically, my comes from a reduction of mine, and well after the emergence of my, mine continued to be used instead of my before words beginning with vowel sounds (e.g., the first line of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”). Similarly with thy and thine.

We

  • In English, the first-person plural pronoun, we, is used in both the inclusive sense (you and I) and exclusive sense (someone else and I but not you).

Ourself

  • Ourself is used when we is semantically singular, but grammatically plural, as in the royal we and in the editorial we, however, there is the reflexive example of, "We, ourselves, are not pleased!"

You and ye

  • Historically, you was an object pronoun, and ye was its subject counterpart; today, you fills both roles in Standard English, though some dialects use ye for the two roles, and some use ye as an apocopated or clitic form of you.
  • The only common distinction between singular and plural you is in the reflexive and emphatic forms.
  • You and its variants can sometimes be used in a generic sense. See Generic you.

Thou

  • Between 1600 and 1800, the various second-person singular forms of thou began to pass out of common usage in most places, except in poetry, archaic-style literature, public prayer, and descriptions of other languages' pronouns. Thou refers to one person who is familiar, as in a friend or family, and also for a person who is being insulted or disrespected (since the formal form implies a degree of respect). Also, as in other European languages, the familiar form is used (presumably as for family and intimates) when speaking to God in prayer. Almost all forms of thou have disappeared from Standard Modern English, although a few dialects retain them. Thou still exists in parts of England, Scotland, and in some Christian religious communities.

Other second person pronouns

  • While formal Standard English uses you for both singular and plural, many dialects use various special forms for the plural, such as y'all (short for "you all"), you guys, yinz (short for "you ones"), and yous (also spelled youse). Corresponding reflexive and possessive pronouns are often used as well.
  • In Scotland, yous is often used for the second person plural (particularly in the Central Belt area). However, in some parts of the country, ye is used for the plural you. In older times and in some other places today, ye is the nominative case and you is the accusative case. Some English dialects generalised ye, while standard English generalised you. Some dialects use ye as a clipped or weak form of you.

He and she & his and her

  • He and she are also often used for animals when the animal's gender is known and is of interest. Some animals, especially domesticated ones such as horses, cattle, dogs, and chickens, have different common names depending on their gender and therefore the he or she pronoun is required instead of it, while for others such as giraffes or turtles there is no common English word based on the gender and thus it is used unless the gender is known (such as in a work of fiction or a veterinarian or zoologist's description).
  • In English, inanimate objects such as ships, countries, cities, and institutions are sometimes referred to as she. Even a ship with the name of man (e.g. the USS John F. Kennedy) is assigned the feminine gender and would have a feminine pronoun (e.g. The John F. Kennedy raised her flag); a city such as Paris would have a parallel feminine pronoun, e.g. Paris is known for her rainy Spring season; and so would a country: America is renowned for her geographical diversity. A parallel construction is required for a pronoun referring to a noun. Where the noun is assigned a gender, the pronoun must be of the same gender. Nouns derived from foreign languages are accompanied by pronouns that reflect their gender in the foreign language.

His and its

  • Historically, his was the possessive of it as well of he; nowadays it has been completely supplanted by its.

One

  • In informal usage, English speakers often use you instead of one; for example "If one is kind to others..." becomes "If you're kind to others...".

Third person plural

  • Historically the forms they, their, and them are of Scandinavian origin (from the Viking invasions and settlement in northeastern England during the Danelaw period from the 9th to the 11th centuries).[1]
  • The third person plural form 'em is believed to be a survival of the late Old English form heom, which appears as hem in Chaucer, and has apparently lost its aspiration due to being used as an unstressed form.
  • The forms of they are also sometimes used with grammatically or semantically singular antecedents, though it is a matter of some dispute whether and when such usage is acceptable. When this is the case, they takes a plural verb, but themselves with a singular sense is often changed to themself.
  • Although grammarians and usage writers often condemn the use of the "singular they" when the gender is unknown or unimportant, this is often used, both in speech and in writing (e.g. "If a customer requires help, they should contact..."). In fact, a consistent pattern of usage can be traced at least as far back as Shakespeare, and possibly even back to Middle English. It avoids awkward constructions such as he or she. This usage is authorised and preferred by the Australian Government Manual of Style for official usage in government documents. See Singular they. The use of the "singular they" can often be avoided by thinking ahead and rephrasing the whole sentence (e.g. "For assistance, customers should contact...").

See also

References

  1. ^ Morse-Gagne, Elise E. 2003. Viking pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM. University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation. University Microfilms International.
    It should also be noted that the conclusion that these pronouns are of Scandinavian origin did not originate with this dissertation. It was published by Kluge in his Geschichte der Englischen Sprache in 1899 and by Bjorkman in Scandinavian loan-words in Middle English in 1900, and while it is commonly accepted, some scholars have disputed this claim.

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