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    Personal Pronouns – Person, Number, and Gender

    The personal pronouns are I, you, he, she, and it, plus their various forms indicating the following properties.

    Singular Number
    Nom. I you he she it
    Poss. my, mine your, yours his her, hers its
    Obj. me you him her it
    Plural Number MASC., FEM, NEUT.
    Nom. we you they
    Poss. our, ours your, yours their, theirs
    Obj. us you them

    The older second person forms—thou or thee, thy or thine, and ye—which were in common use centuries ago, are “solemn” in style and are rarely used today except in prayer and poetry. They are not used in ordinary speech, having been replaced by the forms you, your or yours, and you.


    Personal pronouns are categorized into three grammatical “persons” based on the relation between the person who is speaking and the person to whom or the thing to which the pronoun refers.

    (1) The First Person indicates the person speaking: as, I, me, we, us, etc.

    (2) The Second Person indicates the person or thing spoken to: as, you, your, yours.

    (3) The Third Person indicates the person or thing spoken of: as, he, she, it, him, her, etc.


    The First Person Pronouns in the singular number (I, me, my, mine) are used by the speaker when referring to himself or herself.

    The first person plural pronouns (we, our, ours, us) are used by the speaker to refer to himself or herself and other persons with whom he or she is associated in a particular action: in other words, he or she is the speaker for the group.

    The so-called “editorial we” used by op-ed writers (“We believe,” “It is our opinion,” instead of “I believe,” “I think”) is based on the idea that the writer is speaking for the entire editorial staff.

    The Second Person Pronouns have the same forms for both the singular and plural numbers: you, your, yours, you.

    Because you was originally a plural pronoun, the plural verb is always used when you is used as a subject, even when only one person is being addressed: thus, “You were lonely,” never “You was lonely.”

    The Third Person Pronouns have the same form in the plural for all genders: they, their or them, theirs.


    In the First and Second Persons there is no change of form to indicate gender, and the pronouns I, me, we, us, you, etc., are of masculine or feminine gender according to whether the persons to whom they refer are male or female, respectively.

    I am William (masculine).

    I am Sandra (feminine).

    You are young men (masculine).

    You are young women (feminine).

    In the Third Person there are different pronouns in the singular number for the different genders—he, she, and it, with their various forms being used to indicate when the person or thing spoken of is male, female, or neuter. In the plural number, the forms are the same no matter what the gender.

    Note. It is often used to refer to animals or to infants, whether male or female.

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    A Pronoun is a word used in place of a noun. It is most commonly used as a substitute word to prevent the awkward repetition of a noun.

    Take, for instance, “Michael asked his mother to send him his favorite sweatshirt, which he left behind in his closet.” Without pronouns, we would have to say, “Michael asked Michael’s mother to send Michael Michael’s favorite sweatshirt, the sweatshirt Michael left behind in Michael’s closet.” The advantage of using pronouns is obvious.

    Antecedent of a Pronoun. The noun for which the pronoun stands is called the Antecedent of the pronoun.

    In the above example, Michael is the antecedent of his, him, his, he, and his; and sweatshirt is the antecedent of which.

    Note. “Antecedent” comes from Latin and means “going before.” The antecedent may also be compound.

    Bring the rake and the shovel if they are in the shed.

    A pronoun can also act as the antecedent of another pronoun.

    He who is lazy will never succeed (he is the antecedent of who).

    Everyone on the team always does his best (everyone is the antecedent of his).

    Classes of Pronouns. Pronouns are divided into the following classes.

    Personal Pronouns: “He wanted to spend time with them.” “She sent him a text.”

    Relative Pronouns: “George saw the man who was standing there.” “I like the pasta sauce that my wife makes.”

    Interrogative Pronouns: “What do you want?” “Who said that?”

    Demonstrative Pronouns: “That is my favorite book.” “These are the best knives a chef can have.”

    Indefinite Pronouns: “Anything would be better than nothing.” “Somebody is responsible for this.”

    Properties and Uses of Pronouns. Pronouns have Person, Number, Gender, and Case. With a few exceptions, such as matters of form, what has been said about nouns applies to pronouns in that pronouns have the same functions as Nouns.

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    Principal Functions of Nouns

    The principal functions of a noun in a sentence are:

    1. Subject of a Verb 6. Apposition
    2. Predicate Noun 7. Objective Complement
    3. Direct Object of a Verb 8. Nominative Absolute
    4. Indirect Object of a Verb 9. Direct Address
    5. Object of a Preposition

    Subject of a Verb. A noun may be used as a subject of a verb.

    The birds flew away.

    The man jumped off the bridge.

    Here comes the train.

    The subject names the person or thing that is the “doer” of the verbal action. In some sentences the subject follows the verb, as in the last example above.

    Predicate Noun. A noun may be used as a predicate noun.

    Hitler became the dictator of Germany.

    The president of Russia is Vladimir Putin.

    My grandfather was a clockmaker.

    The gangster turned snitch.

    Normally a predicate noun follows the verb and answers the question who? or what? It also stands for the same person or thing as the subject. For example, “Hitler became what?”—Answer, the dictator. “The president of Russia is who?”—Answer, Vladimir Putin. The dictator is the same person as Hitler (subject); Vladimir Putin is the same person as the president (subject).

    Direct Object of a Verb. A noun may be used as the direct object of a verb.

    The carpenter built a house.

    The soldier killed the enemy.

    The direct object names the receiver of the action denoted by the verb; it answers the question what? or whom? and it stands for a person or thing different from the subject. For example, “The carpenter built what?”—Answer, a house. “The soldier killed whom?” Answer, the enemy. The house is not the same person or thing as the carpenter (subject); the enemy is not the same person or thing as the soldier (subject).

    Both the predicate noun and the direct object of a verb answer the same question, what? or who? (whom?). They are easily distinguished, however, by their relation to the subject: the predicate noun stands for the same person or thing as the subject; the direct object stands for a different person or thing. The only exception occurs in the use of a reflexive pronoun as the object of a verb.

    The direct object occasionally precedes the subject of the verb.

    These shoes she bought in Paris.

    Indirect Object of a Verb. A Noun may be used as the Indirect Object of a Verb.

    The man gave his wife a gift.

    Mary bought her grandmother a Christmas card.

    The indirect object tells to whom or to what, for whom or for what something is done. In the first sentence above, the direct object gift tells what the man gave, and the indirect object wife tells to whom he gave it; in the second sentence, the direct object Christmas card tells what Mary bought, and the indirect object grandmother tells for whom she bought it.

    A phrase beginning with the preposition to or for can be used in place of an indirect object. Thus, the first sentence would become “The man gave a gift to his wife”; the second sentence would become “Mary bought a Christmas card for her grandmother.” With an indirect object, the to or for is never expressed in the sentence; when expressed, the noun is an object of a preposition and not an indirect object.

    Also included in the class of indirect objects are certain nouns that are equivalent to of whom when used after the verb ask. Thus, the sentence, “The teacher asked the student a question,” is equivalent to “The teacher asked a question of the student.” In this instance the idea of to is also present because asking something of a person is the syntactic equivalent of addressing one’s self to him or her.

    Object of a Preposition. A noun may be used as an Object of a Preposition.

    The barista served the coffee in a timely manner.

    King Lear and his fool walked across the heath.

    The plane arrived from New York.

    Here manner, heath, and New York are the objects of the prepositions in, across, and from, respectively. (Prepositions are words like to, from, under, through, during, between, above, by, over, before, etc.)

    The object of the preposition answers the question what? or whom? Thus, “He swam across the lake.” Across what?—Answer, the lake.

    In Apposition. A noun may be used in Apposition with another noun.

    My brother, the taxi driver, has his own blog.

    I heard my neighbor’s dog, Carson, barking.

    We visited Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy.

    A noun in apposition stands for the same person or thing as some other noun: in other words, it is another name for the same person or thing. With two nouns in this sort of combination, the one that follows the first is said to be in apposition with the first, not the first with the second.

    Note. A predicate noun and a noun in apposition with the subject of the sentence both stand for the same person or thing as the subject. What distinguishes them is that the predicate noun is connected to the subject by a verb.

    My neighbor is a professor (predicate noun).

    My neighbor, the professor, arrived at the party (apposition).

    A noun in apposition may be separated from its related noun by several words if the relation between the two nouns is clear.

    A lone man walked across the desert, a solitary figure in the scorching landscape.

    24. Objective Complement. A noun may be used as an Objective Complement.

    Americans elected Ronald Reagan president.

    They made my uncle supervisor.

    The objective complement is added to the direct object in order to complete the meaning expressed by the verb (“complement” is something that completes). Thus, in the second example, they didn’t make my uncle; they made my uncle supervisor. A simple test for an objective complement is to insert to be between the direct object and the noun that follows: for example, “They made my uncle to be supervisor.” If to be can be inserted in this position without changing the meaning of the sentence, then the second noun is an objective complement.

    The objective complement is commonly used with verbs expressing the idea of choosing, making, electing, appointing, finding, and considering.

    Concert-goers considered Mozart a prodigy.

    The police found the man a raving lunatic.

    Nominative Absolute. A noun may be used with a Participle to form what’s known as a Nominative Absolute construction.

    The curtain rising, the audience anticipated the start of the play.

    The book being short, I read it in two hours.

    Her eyes rolling upwards, the girl made no effort to hide her disgust.

    The nominative absolute construction consists of a noun followed by a participle. For now it is sufficient to say that a participle is a verb-form ending in -ing, such as rising, being, and rolling—although we will have to modify this definition to include past tense forms.

    When such a construction is placed at the beginning of the sentence, it must be carefully distinguished from a noun used as the subject of the verb.

    For example, in the sentence, “The soldiers needing backup, helicopters soon arrived,” soldiers is in the nominative absolute construction with the participle needing, and helicopters is the subject of the verb arrived. On the other hand, in “The soldiers, needing backup, radioed command for helicopters,” soldiers is not in a nominative absolute construction: it is the subject of the sentence (subject of the verb radioed).

    Note. The word absolute, as a grammatical concept, means “free” or “unconstrained.” The noun in a nominative absolute construction is “free” from the traditional uses of a noun in a sentence, such as subjects or objects.

    Direct Address. A noun may be used in Direct Address.

    David, I received your snail mail yesterday.

    My illness, dear friend, is worse than imagined.

    Sandy, come here.

    Students, listen up.

    Here David, friend, Sandy, and students are the names or words by which the persons are addressed. These nouns do not function as the subjects of the verbs. The subject in the first sentence is I; in the second, illness; in the third and fourth, you understood (the subject is usually omitted in a direct command because it is always you). With reference to the third example, compare “Sandy comes here every day,” in which Sandy is the subject.

    Note. A word used in direct address is set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma or commas.

    Any word having one of these nine functions in a sentence may be used as a noun or noun-equivalent in the sentence.

    Run is a verb.

    He mispronounced superfluous.

    The poor pay more.

    In the first sentence, run, which is normally a verb, is a noun-equivalent because it is the subject of the verb is. In the second sentence, superfluous is a noun-equivalent because it is the object of the verb mispronounced. In the third sentence, poor is a noun-equivalent because it is the subject of the verb pay.

    Nouns Used as Other Parts of Speech. Some words that are usually nouns may be used:

    (1) As Adverbs (adverb-equivalents), to denote time, place, measure, etc.

    We’re going on vacation tomorrow.

    I went home.

    She ran ten kilometers.

    These words are regularly used as nouns since they are the names of things; but in the above sentences they are used as adverbs. Any word that tells when, where, how, how much, or how far is an adverb.

    (2) As Adjectives (adjective-equivalents).

    This is my brother’s camera.

    The football game was Sunday night.

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    Case of Nouns

    Case is that property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the relation of the noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence.

    Nouns have three cases.

    (1) The Nominative Case is used in the subject of a verb and in the predicate noun.

    The politician spoke with emphasis.

    The boy is an athlete.

    (2) The Objective Case is used for the object of a verb or preposition.

    The farmer built a fence.

    He drove across the country.

    (3) The Possessive Case denotes possession.

    This is the gentleman’s hat.

    Forms. The three cases have the following forms.

    Nominative boy boys lady ladies
    Possessive boy’s boys’ lady’s ladies’
    Objective boy boys lady ladies

    The Nominative and the Objective Cases. The nominative and objective cases of a noun have the same form. Thus, there can be no confusion in the use of them.

    12. The Possessive Case. The possessive case of a noun is marked by the use of an apostrophe (’).

    (1) The possessive case of a singular noun is regularly formed by adding an ’s to the end of the noun: as, woman’s, mayor’s, girl’s.

    (2) The possessive case of a plural noun is formed:

    (a) By adding an apostrophe to the simple plural when the plural ends in s: as, dogs’ (simple plural dogs), girls’ (simple plural girls).

    (b) By adding ’s, as in the singular, when the simple plural does not end in s: as, women’s (simple plural women), children’s (simple plural children).

    For singular nouns that end in s or an s-sound (like ce) add only an apostrophe: as, Moses’ story, Jesus’ crucifixion, for conscience’ sake. This is also true when other s-sounds follow: as, Odysseus’ adventure. Use of the regular ’s in such instances is not, however, incorrect.

    (3) In compound nouns, titles, or names having a unit idea, an apostrophe (’) or an apostrophe s (’s) is added: as, mother-in-law’s, the Prince of Wales’, the Queen of England’s. Usage varies for some compounds: attorney generals’ or attorneys general’s (better to rephrase with an of-genitive: as, briefs of the attorneys general).

    The possessive case usually denotes possession.

    John’s car was stolen.

    A crowd occupied the city’s square.

    Sometimes the possession is of a modified type. For example, in the expressions, “Einstein’s theories” and “Wordsworth’s poems,” Einstein and Wordsworth are the possessors only in the sense that they are the theorists or creators. Compare the two kinds of possession indicated in the following sentence: “This is David’s copy of Wordsworth’s collected poems.”

    Some instances of possession indicate a lack of ownership entirely: a day’s work, my year’s salary, the law’s delay. These phrases mean “the work of a day,” “my salary for a year,” “the delay of the law.”

    A noun in the possessive case is usually equivalent to a phrase beginning with of. For example, we may say either “Hardy’s poems” or “the poems of Hardy”; “the governor’s mansion” or “the mansion of the governor”; “the President’s agenda” or “the agenda of the President.” We would not, however, say “the car of Johnny” for “Johnny’s car,” or “the law of Murphy” for “Murphy’s law.” When making such distinctions in usage, the student must be guided by his or her ear for what sounds correct.

    As a general rule the possessive case is not used with inanimate objects. A phrase with of is used instead: thus, “the cover of the book” (not “the book’s cover”); “the branches of the tree” (not “the tree’s branches”). There are exceptions to this rule: time’s delay, ship’s mast, earth’s surface, tree’s fruit, etc.

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    Properties of Nouns – Number and Gender

    Nouns have Number, Gender, and Case.


    Number is that aspect of a noun that designates whether one or more than one object is indicated.

    (1) The Singular Number indicates one object only: as, cat, lake, woman.

    (2) The Plural Number indicates two or more objects: as, cats, lakes, women.

    The plural number in most instances is formed by adding -s or -es to the singular form: as spoon, spoons; glass, glasses; house, houses; fax, faxes.


    Gender is that property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the sex of an object. In English these distinctions are a matter of biology or custom, not actual grammatical gender, as it is in French, for example.

    There are three genders: Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter.

    (1) The Masculine Gender indicates a being of the male sex: as, man, son, nephew, bull, father, Anthony.

    (2) The Feminine Gender indicates a being of the female sex: as, woman, lady, sister, niece, hen, sow, Sophia.

    (3) The Neuter Gender indicates an object of no sex: as, tree, rock, carton, city, ground, clouds, tomatoes.

    In addition to these three genders, the term Common Gender refers to nouns that may be either masculine or feminine but don’t designate any particular gender specifically: as, ancestor, baby, schoolmate, spouse, parent, teacher.

    Note. Some inanimate objects are often spoken of as if they were feminine. For example, ships are often spoken of as she, as are automobiles and trains; also the Catholic Church has traditionally been referred to as feminine. Sometimes in poetry, celestial objects such as the moon are referred to as she; the sun, as he. These uses are chiefly historical or poetical. In ordinary prose, especially in science, these words are treated as neuter, with the possible exception of ship, which stubbornly retains its feminine reference.

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