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Saturday, April 17, 2010



Pronouns are a major subclass of nouns. We call them a subclass of nouns because they can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence:



John got a new job

~He got a new job

Children should watch less television

~They should watch less television

In these examples the pronouns have the same reference as the nouns which they replace. In each case, they refer to people, and so we call them PERSONAL PRONOUNS. However, we also include in this group the pronoun it, although this pronoun does not usually refer to a person. There are three personal pronouns, and each has a singular and a plural form:













These pronouns also have another set of forms, which we show here:













The first set of forms (I, you, he...) exemplifies the SUBJECTIVE CASE, and the second set (me, you, him...) exemplifies the OBJECTIVE CASE. The distinction between the two cases relates to how they can be used in sentences. For instance, in our first example above, we say that he can replace John

John got a new job

~He got a new job

But he cannot replace John in I gave John a new job. Here, we have to use the objective form him: I gave him a new job.

Other Types of Pronoun

As well as personal pronouns, there are many other types, which we summarise here.

Pronoun Type

Members of the Subclass



mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs

The white car ismine


myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

He injured himselfplaying football


each other, one another

They really hateeach other


that, which, who, whose, whom, where, when

The book that you gave me was really boring


this, that, these, those

This is a new car


who, what, why, where, when, whatever

What did he say to you?


anything, anybody, anyone, something, somebody, someone, nothing, nobody, none, no one

There's somethingin my shoe

Case and number distinctions do not apply to all pronoun types. In fact, they apply only to personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns. It is only in these types, too, that gender differences are shown (personal he/she, possessive his/hers, reflexive himself/herself). All other types are unvarying in their form.

Many of the pronouns listed above also belong to another word class - the class of determiners. They are pronouns when they occur independently, that is, without a noun following them, as in This is a new car. But when a noun follows them - This car is new - they are determiners. We will look at determiners in the next section.

A major difference between pronouns and nouns generally is that pronouns do not take the or a/an before them. Further, pronouns do not take adjectives before them, except in very restricted constructions involving some indefinite pronouns (a little something,a certain someone).

While the class of nouns as a whole is an open class, the subclass of pronouns is closed.



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Numerals include all numbers, whether as words or as digits. They may be divided into two major types. CARDINAL numerals include words like:

nought, zero, one, two, 3, fifty-six, 100, a thousand

ORDINAL numerals include

first, 2nd, third, fourth, 500th

We classify numerals as a subclass of nouns because in certain circumstances they can take plurals:

five twos are ten
he's in his eighties

They may also take the:

the fourth of July
a product of the 1960s

And some plural numerals can take an adjective before them, just like other nouns:

the house was built in the late 1960s
he's in his early twenties
the temperature is in the high nineties

In each of our examples, the numerals occur independently, that is, without a noun following them. In these positions, we can classify them as a type of noun because they behave in much the same way as nouns do. Notice, for example, that we can replace the numerals in our examples with common nouns:

he is in his eighties

~he is in his bedroom

the fourth of July

~the beginning of July

a product of the 1960s

~a product of therevolution

Numerals do not always occur independently. They often occur before a noun, as in

one day
three pages
the fourth day of July

In this position, we classify them as determiners, which we will examine in the next section.

The Gender of Nouns


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The gender of nouns plays an important role in the grammar of some languages. In French, for instance, a masculine noun can only take the masculine form of an adjective. If the noun is feminine, then it will take a different form of the same adjective - its feminine form.

In English, however, nouns are not in themselves masculine or feminine. They do not have grammatical gender, though they may refer to male or female people or animals:

the waiter is very prompt

~the waitress is very prompt

the lion roars at night

~the lioness roars at night

These distinctions in spelling reflect differences in sex, but they have no grammatical implications. For instance, we use the same form of an adjective whether we are referring to a waiter or to a waitress:

an efficient waiter

~an efficientwaitress

Similarly, the natural distinctions reflected in such pairs asbrother/sister, nephew/niece, and king/queen have no consequence for grammar. While they refer to specific sexes, these words are not masculine or feminine in themselves.

However, gender is significant in the choice of a personal pronoun to replace a noun:

John is late

~He is late

Mary is late

~She is late

Here the choice of pronoun is determined by the sex of the person being referred to. However, this distinction is lost in the plural:

John and Mary are late

~They are late

John and Davidare late

~They are late

Mary and Jane are late

~They are late

Gender differences are also manifested in possessive pronouns (his/hers) and in reflexive pronouns (himself/herself).

When the notion of sex does not apply -- when we refer to inanimate objects, for instance -- we use the pronoun it:

the letter arrived late

~it arrived late


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