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Writing Guide with Handbook

20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns

Writing Guide with Handbook20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of linguistic structures, including grammar.
  • Implement appropriate pronouns in written work.

You likely use Pronouns —words that substitute for nouns or noun phrases—in every text that you write, including this portfolio reflection. Pronouns are one of the eight main parts of speech, the others being nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Reference, Antecedent, and Case


Pronoun reference is the practice of using pronouns to replace nouns. The important thing to know about pronoun reference is that every pronoun must match the noun it replaces in terms of gender and number. Gender refers to the noun as either masculine, feminine, or neuter.

Masculine: Jorge is an educated man. He is Toby’s neighbor.

Feminine: Rico’s sister decided to go skating. She came back early.

Neuter: The car has four new tires. It runs much better with them.

However, if you’re not certain of someone’s gender identity or don’t want to project it on them, use the gender-neutral pronouns them, they, and their. See Spotlight on… Pronouns in Context for more about using gender-neutral pronouns.

Gender neutral: Pat likes to eat pizza. They like pineapple and bacon with lots of cheese.

Number means singular or plural.

Singular: Toby has one daughter. She is studying art.

Plural: Jorge has two children. They go to the same school.

In addition to gender and number, clarity is often a major issue when using pronouns. For example: When Lizzie smacked her arm into the glass window, she broke it. Did Lizzie break her arm, or did she break the window? In this case, the reference is not clear. One way to clarify the meaning would be to write the sentence this way: Lizzie broke the window when she smacked her arm into it.


The antecedent is the noun, nouns, or other pronoun or pronouns that the pronoun replaces. The antecedent usually appears earlier in the sentence or in a previous sentence, and the pronoun appears later in the same sentence or in another sentence.

Example 1: Although my friends tease me about my dancing style, I love them anyway.

Example 2: Mariah said she wanted to go home.

Example 3: The car was far away. Jessica couldn’t see what model it was.


Pronoun case refers to the grammatical function of the pronoun in a sentence. Pronouns that are the subjects (the person, place, or thing that performs the action of the verb or represents what or whom sentence is about) of a sentence are written in the subjective case. For example: I like pizza. Pronouns that are objects (nouns or pronouns affected by the action of a verb) of a sentence or preposition are written in the objective case. For example: Laura gave him the baseball. Jorge and Toby were standing in front of us in line. Lastly, possessive pronouns pronouns show ownership and are written in the possessive case. For example: The cat picked up its toy. Those notes are his and mine.

You already know that you cannot have a sentence without a subject and that subjects and objects in sentences must be nouns or pronouns. Remember, a pronoun is a stand-in for a noun. It is always playing substitute for a noun or nouns “already out there somewhere.” Imagine writing without pronouns:

When Marcy woke this morning, Marcy had a headache, so Marcy went to Marcy’s medicine cabinet and took one of Marcy’s headache pills that Marcy’s doctor had prescribed for Marcy.


When Marcy woke this morning, she had a headache, so she went to her medicine cabinet and took one of her headache pills that her doctor had prescribed for her.

Types of Pronouns

When you think of pronouns, personal pronouns such as those discussed in the previous section, referring to a specific person or object, are likely the first that come to mind. However, the world of pronouns extends to reflexive, indefinite, and demonstrative pronouns as well.

Personal Pronouns

Knowing the difference between subject personal pronouns and object personal pronouns will help you use them correctly.

Form First Person Second Person Third Person
Subject I, we you he, she, it, they
Object me, us you him, her, it, them
Possessive my, mine, our, ours your, yours his, hers, its, their, theirs
Table 20.4
Subject Position Object Position



















Table 20.5

Seeing both versions across from each other helps emphasize that each personal pronoun has its counterpart. In other words, if it isn’t we, then it is us, and if it isn’t me, then it is I.

CorrectShe is such a sweet little dog.

Incorrect Her is such a sweet little dog.

It is fairly obvious here which pronoun is correct. You have been saying it correctly all along, probably without being able to articulate the grammatical rule that made you do so. However, knowing the subject or object distinction can be especially helpful in knowing whether to use I or me. People often make mistakes when a sentence has a plural object. For example:

Jasmine and I ordered pizza for dinner. The pizza was delivered to Jasmine and me.

In the first sentence, the plural subject is Jasmine and I. I is the subject personal pronouns. In the second sentence, me is an object of the preposition (to), and the object personal pronounme—is correct. If the second sentence had the singular object pronoun me, no problem would arise. You would simply say that the pizza was delivered to me, not to I. Remember that an object personal pronoun stays an object personal pronoun no matter how many other objects are part of it.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are straightforward. They are pronouns that “reflect,” as an image does in a mirror. They refer to the same person or thing.

John couldn’t stop looking at himself in the mirror.

John is the original noun, or antecedent, and himself is the pronoun that points back at him. Note that reflexive pronouns always end in self or selves.

First Person Second Person Third Person
myself, ourselves yourself, yourselves himself, herself, itself, themselves
Table 20.6

Indefinite Pronouns

While reflexive pronouns always refer to themselves—that is, the subject and object are the same person, place, thing, or idea—indefinite pronouns are the opposite. As their name suggests, they are not definite; they are indefinite and do not refer to specific nouns. They do get their meaning across, but the nouns they refer to are not known. These are some of the most common indefinite pronouns:



















no one









Table 20.7

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns point directly at something. They use all their pronoun power to indicate their preference, so much so that when someone uses a demonstrative pronoun, it is hard not to imagine them pointing at something directly. Good news and bad news come along with demonstrative pronouns. The good news is that there are only four demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, and those. The bad news—and it’s not really bad—is that words that commonly play the role of pronouns are multitalented. The same word can play another role (part of speech) in a sentence. Sometimes these four words function as adjectives, which always modify nouns and pronouns. In the sentence That is my car, the word that is playing the role of a pronoun. It is the subject of the sentence. Only nouns or pronouns can be subjects. However, if the sentence read That car is mine, then that would be an adjective because it modifies (tells something about) the noun car.

Common Mix-Ups

  • It’s vs. its: This is an easy one to mix up but easy to correct. It’s means it is or it has. For example: It’s a hot day or It is a hot day. Its refers to possession. For example: This car has its problems. To be sure you are correct, substitute it is. To say The car has it is problems makes no sense, so its is correct.
  • Who vs. whom: Perhaps the most effective way to recognize which to use is to equate who to he and whom to him. For example: Who/Whom wrote the book? He wrote the book, so who is correct. Remember that whom is in the objective case. Think about it like this: whom is like them, so you might say, This is for them. Therefore, This is for whom? or Whom is this for? would be correct.
  • I vs. me: I is always a subject; me is always an object. So Demarcus and I left the building is correct because I is the subject. Conversely, Give the package to me and You gave me good advice are both correct because me is an object. Remember to use the correct pronoun with compound objects, as in the sentence Reflection has helped other class members and me improve our writing.

In Chapter 20, you have learned how to use different types of pronouns to substitute for nouns and noun phrases. You have also learned about common mix-ups when using pronouns.

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