7 Other Types of Pronouns

By Mark Nichol

Think of a pronoun. Chances are, you will come up with a personal pronoun, such as he, she, it, them, they, us, and the like. But note that I modified pronoun with the adjective personal, which implies that there are other types of pronouns. As a matter of fact, eight classes of pronouns exist. Here’s an outline:

1. Demonstrative Pronouns

This class of pronouns direct the reader’s attention to an implied noun:

“I’m not going to eat this.”

That was quite an experience!”

“What are these?”

“I’ve never seen those before.”

Such is my understanding of the situation.”

These sentences closely resemble the type in which the same words appear as adjectives — for example, “I’m not going to eat this food” — but in such case, they have a different identity: When they modify nouns, these words are called determiners.

2. Indefinite Pronouns

Not to be confused with indefinite relative pronouns, described below, these are pronouns that act as nouns:

All were present at the meeting.”

Each was guilty in his or her own way.”

One has to keep up appearances.”

“Good fortune comes to some.”

None of them showed up.”

“Is anybody interested?”

Somebody is going to pay for this.”

“Have you sent invitations to everybody?”

There are many more indefinite pronouns than these: any, fewer, several, most, and other related words; these also function as determiners (adjectives):

“I recognized several people at the party.”

3. Intensive Pronouns

Intensive pronouns are simply personal pronouns with -self or -selves attached, such as in the following sentences:

“I myself don’t have an opinion.”

“She would have said so herself, but he beat her to it.”

Intensive pronouns, like the otherwise identical-looking reflexive pronouns (below), are not essential to the sentence; omit the highlighted word in each of these examples, and the sentences still make sense without the intensive pronoun.

4. Interrogative Pronouns

These pronouns introduce interrogative sentences:

Who are you?”

What is the meaning of life?”

Which way should I go?”

Like some other types of pronouns, these can serve as determiners (sometimes called, in this role, interrogative adjectives).

Sentences in which interrogative pronouns appear don’t always end with question marks:

“I know who you are.”

“She told you what the meaning of life is.”

“They know which way to go.”

5. Reciprocal Pronouns

These pronouns combine ideas, hence the name:

“Have you met each other before?”

“We shared our thoughts with one another.”

The distinction in use is whether you refer to two people (“each other”) or to more than two (“one another”).

6. Reflexive Pronouns

These pronouns have the same form as intensive pronouns but differ in that they refer reflexively to the antecedent (a corresponding noun the pronoun refers to):

“I bought myself a new car.” (Myself is reflexive of I.)

“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? (Yourself is reflexive of you.)

They are also essential to the sentence; if you omitted the highlighted word in each of these examples, the sentences would be incomplete.

The erroneous use of reflexive pronouns in sentences such as “Jane and myself were there when it happened” (instead of “Jane and I were there when it happened”) is called an untriggered reflexive, because there was no antecedent to trigger the pronoun. (“Jane and I” itself is the subject. This subject is the antecedent of we in “Jane and I were there when it happened, but we didn’t see anything,” but there’s no need for a reflexive pronoun in that sentence.)

7. Relative Pronouns

These are the type of pronouns that, as the name implies, relate words to other pronouns or to nouns:

Who were you talking to?”

“I’ll find out which one is correct.”

“The vase that was on the table is missing.”

A subgroup of relative pronouns, the indefinite relative pronouns, lack an antecedent:

What were you saying?”

Whoever said that is asking for trouble.”

“I’ll do whatever I please.”

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23 Responses to “7 Other Types of Pronouns”

  • Chris

    Shouldn’t the “who” example under item 7 be “whom” since it is the object of a pronoun?

  • Shari Weiss

    Love this article for my English comp students, but shouldn’t it be: “WHOlM were you talking to? “

  • Dwain Wilder

    Funny this should be today’s topic! Just yesterday I read somewhere something like this: ‘Whether the committee chooses any of these options is uncertain.”

    It’s the “whether…is” pair that got my attention. ‘[I]s’ refers to ‘whether’, it seems. I’d never thought of the term as a pronoun before!

  • Cliff

    Shari, if you insist on ‘whom’ wouldn’t you also object to ending the sentence with a preposition? Insist on neither. ‘Who were you talking to?’ is fine.

  • Cliff

    ‘The erroneous use of reflexive pronouns in sentences such as “Jane and myself were there when it happened”’

    I observe that writers, especially business writers, often go to great lengths to avoid using ‘I’ and ‘me’. Perhaps because ‘I’ sounds somehow egotistical and ‘me’ sounds like baby talk.

  • David

    This is another example of English language usage that I learned more about in Spanish class than English class. I never used to think of these words as pronouns until I had to learn proper Spanish construction.

  • Pat

    7. Relative Pronouns

    Whom were you talking to?

  • Joan

    I agree with Cliff that today ‘who were you taking to” is fine, but this posting makes no reference anywhere of the correct uses of the objective form of who (whom).

    Unless we are going to rid it from the language – there are times when it is appropriate.

    Old school would say that in more formal circumstances “To whom were you speaking?” would be better. I tend to agree.

  • shirley in berkeley

    Mark, would you talk a bit about the possessive for “one,” and similar pronouns that don’t take the apostrophe? There are a couple of others (that may be one of them) I can’t get straight. (Maybe its a block, of which I have a mental.)

  • shirley in berkeley

    Constructions that misuse the personal pronoun “I” are rife. When friends say something like, “They invited Matilda and I to dinner,” I have to bite my tongue. This happens all the time, even with people who have college degrees and should know better. When a guy once asked me, “Well, how can you tell,” I told him to just drop the other name and you’ve got, “They invited I to dinner.” Sounds like Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds,” when she’s trying to sound ritzy and says, “A girl like I ….”

  • thebluebird11

    @Joan: I agree; “To whom were you talking?” is correct. It sounds a bit stilted because people aren’t used to speaking correctly and hearing others speak correctly. However, in informal conversation, what does it really matter, I guess…

    @Cliff: Whatever the reason for people avoiding I/me, it is wrong. It sounds just as stupid when they substitute “myself,” and doctors do it all the time in their dictated reports. “The patient was seen by myself,” “The surgery was done by myself,” etc. Just say what you mean: I saw the patient, I did the surgery. Unless perhaps they mean “I saw the patient by myself” (meaning nobody else was in the room at the time) or “I did the surgery by myself” (meaning I had no assistant). Of course these latter examples are not what they meant. The passive voice is pervasive in medical records, as if nobody wants to own up to anything. While it is true that the patient is the focus of the story in the record, not every sentence has to begin with “The patient…”

    This whole post was so beyond my ability to retain the information. I grew up speaking well, reading a lot, having parents who were teachers (including mother with Master’s degree in English), but I never learned to parse a sentence. And never will. Teachers never gave it any attention. For me personally, knowing how to parse a sentence isn’t important, since I know how to speak proper English, but I realize that it would be helpful to know the parts of speech in order to construct proper sentences when attempting to learn another (i.e. a second or third) language.

  • Mark Nichol

    Shirley:

    “Mark, would you talk a bit about the possessive for “one,” and similar pronouns that don’t take the apostrophe? There are a couple of others (that may be one of them) I can’t get straight. (Maybe its a block, of which I have a mental.)”

    That’s a good topic. I’ll tackle it soon.

  • Peter

    Shari, if you insist on ‘whom’ wouldn’t you also object to ending the sentence with a preposition?

    Don’t see why. The former is a part of English grammar, the latter a ridiculous ‘rule’ imposed by foolish men who think Latin grammar should be applied to English.

  • Robert

    One never truly understands their language’s grammar until they study a different language.

  • Maeve

    thebluebird11,
    You might be interested in a new language site that I’m developing especially for readers who are not interested in all the ins and outs of grammar, but who want to know just enough to avoid the most glaring errors:www.BottomlineEnglish.com

  • Mark Nichol

    To those of you who corrected or would correct my first example in #7, read this prior post. The conversational inclination to say who instead of whom is crowding the latter usage out of written English as well, an evolution I applaud.

  • venqax

    @MN: That’s a good topic. I’ll tackle it soon. Should be, “I’ll tackle it soom.”

    @ bluebird @Joan: I agree; “To whom were you talking?” is correct. It sounds a bit stilted because people aren’t used to speaking correctly and hearing others speak correctly.

    I wouldn’t even go that far. I’d say, “To whom were talking?” is formal, “Who were you talking to?” informal, but not incorrect. I agree with MN that the whole who/whom thing is dying and too slowly. The distinction adds nothing to language clarity and it is the very kind of distinction– like gendered nouns and most subjunctivity– that English can be cheered for ejecting.

    @Robert: One never truly understands their language’s grammar until they study a different language.
    Like, e.g., in English you can’t say “one…understands their….until they…” because one can only understand one’s when one studies. Ugh. What other language could teach one that any better, though, is anyones’ of their’s guesses.

  • thebluebird11

    @Robert: ‘One never truly understands their language’s grammar until they study a different language.’
    I hope this was posted with tongue firmly in cheek…don’t make sic the Mother Grammar on you.

    @Maeve: It’s not that I’m not interested in the ins-and-outs of grammar. Some stuff I can handle, and some I can’t. Parsing a sentence is seriously beyond my capabilities. I don’t know why, and I’ve given up on it. It would take a lot of effort and time for me to learn it, if I even could, at my age, and for what purpose? I can speak and write well enough, and I do neither for the masses.

    @anyone who thinks we should eject “whom”: In English, we overlook the difference between who and whom; when someone says “Who were you talking to?”, we all know what the speaker means. However, in some other languages (for example, esperanto), the sentence would take on a whole different meaning, and the reader/listener would be confused if you mixed up your direct and indirect objects. In esperanto, a direct object ends with the letter “n,” and there is no getting around it. I assume that other languages have similar constructs and rules, and are not as lax as English can be.

  • Grammarfreak

    She has plenty of friends.

    OR

    She have plenty of friends.

    Which one is the correct grammar?

  • Warsaw Will

    Although I much prefer ‘Who were you talking to’, I can just about accept ‘To whom were you talking’, if someone really felt it necessary to sound excessively formal, but ‘Whom were you talking to’ seems like a weird mix of formal and informal.

    In TEFL we teach our students to use ‘whom’ after a preposition, but that most speakers consider this very stuffy and so will try to avoid it if at all possible by using exactly the construction Mark used.

    As an aside, I never thought I’d see the equally stuffy for me (BrE) impersonal ‘one’ used together with the wonderful Singular they so derided by the pedants.

  • Mark Nichol

    Grammarfreak:

    The verb is associated with the subject, not the object, so “She has . . .” is correct.

  • venqax

    @thebluebird: Thank you! Finally, my #1000 for *1000 Reasons Why Esperanto is Estupid*. I was actually stuck at 999 after ten or eleven minutes. (J/k LOL).

  • ahmad

    i want to ask that is this sentence right grammatically sentence is :

    she can not help speaking , he can not help laughing tell me as soon as possible

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