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Pronoun

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In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes a noun or noun phrase with or without a determiner, such as you and they in English. The substituted phrase is the antecedent of the pronoun. A pronoun used for the item questioned in a question is called an interrogative pronoun, such as who.

For example, consider the sentence "John gave the coat to Alice." All three nouns in the sentence can be replaced by pronouns to give: "He gave it to her." If the coat, John, and Alice have been previously mentioned, the listener can deduce what the pronouns he, it and her refer to and understand the meaning of the sentence.

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Distinctions made in pronouns

Pronouns usually show the basic distinctions of person and number (the most common system distinguishing between first, second and third person, and singular and plural number), but they may also feature other categories such as case (nominative we vs. accusative us in English), gender (masculine il vs. feminine elle in French), and animacy or humanness (human who vs. nonhuman what in English). These can of course vary greatly. The English dialect spoken in Dorset uses ee for animates and er for inanimates.

Some languages distinguish inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns. For example, Tok Pisin has seven first-person pronouns according to number (singular, dual, trial, plural) and inclusiveness/exclusiveness, such as mitripela (they two and I) and yumitripela (you two and I).

Slavic languages have two different third-person genitive pronouns (one non-reflexive, one reflexive). For example (in Serbian):

Ana je dala Mariji njenu knjigu. = "Ana gave her book to Maria." (non-reflexive, that is, Maria's book)
Ana je dala Mariji svoju knjigu. = "Ana gave her book to Maria." (reflexive, i.e. Ana's own book)

The pronoun may encode politeness and formality. Many languages have different pronouns for informal use or use among friends, and for formal use or use about/towards superiors, especially in the second person. A common pattern is the so-called T-V distinction (named after the use of pronouns beginning in t- and v- in Romance languages, as in French tu and vous).

It is very common for pronouns to show more grammatical distinctions than nouns. The Romance languages have lost the Latin grammatical case for nouns, but preserve the distinction in the pronouns. The same holds for English with respect to its Germanic ancestor.

It is also not uncommon for languages not to have third-person pronouns. In those cases the usual way to refer to third persons is by using demonstratives or full noun phrases. Latin made do without third-person pronouns, replacing them by demonstratives (which are in fact the source of personal pronouns in all Romance languages).

Some languages lack the grammatical category pronoun entirely. Both Japanese and Korean are such languages. In these languages, instead of pronouns, there is a small set of nouns that reference the discourse participants (as pronouns do in other languages). Most often, these referential nouns are not used, and proper personal names, some deictics and titles are used instead. Usually, once the subject is understood, no explicit reference is made at all. In Japanese sentences, subjects are not obligatory, so the speaker chooses which word to use depending on the rank, job, age, gender, etc. of the speaker and the addressee. For instance, in formal situations, adults usually refer to themselves as watashi or the even more polite watakushi, while young men may use the student-like boku and police officers may use honkan ("this officer"). In informal situations, women may use the colloquial atashi, and men may use the rougher ore.

Pro-drop languages

In some languages, a pronoun is required whenever a noun or noun phrase needs to be referenced, and sometimes even when no such antecedent exists (cf English it rains). In many other languages, however, pronouns can be omitted when unnecessary or when context makes it clear who or what is being talked about. Such languages are called pro-drop languages. In some cases the information about the antecedent is preserved in the verb (through person/number inflection).

English personal pronouns

The English personal pronouns including nonstandard ones and related pronouns and determiners are shown below. Reflexive pronouns are used as the object of a sentence when the subject and object match. Possessive pronouns are used to show ownership. The possessive determiners are more commonly treated as the genitive pronouns, but that analysis doesn't reflect real usage, since his, her, etc. don't substitute a noun or noun phrase.

personal pronoun possessive
pronoun
possessive
determiner
nominative accusative reflexive
first-person singular I me myself mine my
plural we us ourselves
ourself 1
ours our
second-person singular standard you you yourself yours your
archaic thou 2 thee thyself thine thy
plural standard you you yourselves 3 yours your
archaic ye 4 you yourselves yours your
nonstandard you guys
y'all
youse
youse guys
you-uns
you guys
y'all
youse
youse guys
you-uns
yous
yis
yourselves
y'all's selves
yours
y'all's
yous's
your
y'all's
third-person singular masculine he him himself his his
feminine she her herself hers her
neuter it it itself its its
plural they 5 them themselves theirs their
  1. Ourself is used when we is actually singular as in the royal we, the editorial we, and the nurse's we, e.g. "We seem a bit displeased with ourself, don't we?"
  2. Sometime between 1600 and 1800, the various forms of thou began to pass out of common usage in most places, except in poetry, archaic-style literature, and descriptions of other languages' pronouns. Thou refers to one person who is familiar, though as in other European languages, it is also used of God. Thou still exists in northern England and Scotland, and in some Christian religious communities. See also thou.
  3. The only common distinction between singular and plural you is in the reflexive and emphatic forms.
  4. In Scotland, yous is often used for the second person plural (particularly in the Central Belt area). However, in some parts of the country, ye is used for the plural you. In older times and in some other places today, ye is the nominative case and you is the accusative case. Some English dialects generalised ye, while standard English generalised you. Some dialects use ye as a clipped or clitic form of you.
  5. Although using singular they when sex is not known or is not important is often condemned by traditionalists, it is often found in informal speech. In fact, it is a revival of an earlier usage and may one day become standard usage because it is so common; it also avoids awkward constructions like "he or she". This usage is authorised and preferred by the Australian Government Manual of Style for official usage in government documents.

English regional dialects sometimes use variant pronouns.

Relative pronouns

Main article: Relative pronoun

It is me

In some languages, a personal pronoun has a form called a disjunctive pronoun, which is used when it stands on its own, or with only a copula, such as in answering to the question "Who wrote this page?" English pronouns used in this way have caused some dispute. The natural answer for most English speakers in this context would be "me" (or "it's me"), parallel to "moi" (or "c'est moi") in French. Some grammarians have argued, and persuaded some educators, that the correct answer should be "I" or "it is I" because the full sentence would be "It is I who wrote this page." However, since English has lost noun inflection and relies on word order, using the accusative me after the verb be like other verbs seems very natural to modern speakers. The phrase "it is I" historically came from the Middle English "it am I" and the change from am to is was also a step to the fixed word order of SVO.

Pronouns of other languages

See also

da:Stedord de:Pronomen es:Pronombre eo:Pronomo fa:ضمیر nl:Voornaamwoord ja:代名詞 pl:Zaimek pt:Pronome ru:Местоимение sv:Pronomen uk:Займенник wa:Prono fr:Pronom zh:代詞

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