Pronouns vs Nouns

Analogy for pronouns. A soccer player about to substitute another on the field.

Pronouns are words that can function by themselves as noun phrases and that refer either to the participants in the discourse (e.g., Iyou ) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (e.g., sheitthis ).

The noun is the main player, and the pronoun is the substitute player who fills in order to spare the main player. They refer to nouns previously mentioned in the same sentence or a sentence used earlier in speech or writing. When we replace a word with a pronoun, the word becomes an antecedent.

Pronouns allow you to introduce a noun and then replace it to avoid repeating the noun over and over.

Here are the pronouns we’ll cover in more detail:

  • Personal
  • Demonstrative
  • Interrogative
  • Indefinite
  • Intensive
  • Reflexive
  • Reciprocal

Personal Pronouns

A pronoun replaces a noun. If we didn’t have pronouns, we’d have to keep repeating our nouns and that would make our sentences very cumbersome and repetitive. Pronouns are usually short words.


Demonstrative pronouns

The Difference between Demonstrative Pronouns and Demonstrative Adjectives. The demonstrative adjectives are thisthatthese, and those (i.e., the same words as the demonstrative pronouns). However, demonstrative adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. They cannot stand alone to play the role of a noun. 

For example:

  • This soup is very smelly.
  • You smell that factory from here.
  • These apples smell rotten.
  • Do not paint those fences.

Interrogative Pronouns

Here are some examples of interrogative pronouns:

  • Who won the race? 
  • Whom shall we ask?
  • Whose did they take?
  • Which is the greater?
  • What is that?

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are words like myself, yourself and themselves. They refer back to a person or a thing.

We often use reflexive pronouns when the subject and the object of a verb are the same. 

I cut myself when I was making dinner last night.
I hope you enjoy yourselves at the party tonight!
My phone isn’t working properly. It turns itself off for no reason.
We need to believe in ourselves more.

Adding emphasis

We can add a reflexive pronoun for emphasis when it’s unusual or different.

He wants to pass his driving test so that he can drive himself to work.
She broke her arm, so she couldn’t wash herself very easily.

We can use reflexive pronouns to emphasize that someone does it personally, not anybody else.

The door was definitely locked. I locked it myself.
Are you redecorating your flat yourselves?

We can also use a reflexive pronoun together with the noun it refers to in order to emphasize it.

We talked to the manager herself, and she agreed to give us our money back.
Parents themselves need to take more responsibility for their children’s learning.

By + reflexive pronoun

We can use by + reflexive pronoun to mean alone.

He usually goes on holiday by himself.
Do you enjoy being by yourself?

Reciprocal pronouns

Notice the difference between plural reflexive pronouns and reciprocal pronouns (each otherone another).

They‘re buying themselves a new television.
They‘re buying each other small gifts.
We looked at ourselves in the mirror.
We looked at each other in surprise.

With reciprocal pronouns (e.g. each other), each person does the action to the other person/people but not to themselves. 

A   reciprocal pronoun expresses a mutual action or relationship. 

  • One another
  • Each other