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Pronouns can be very useful when standing in for other nouns or noun phrases. They make sentences less repetitive by eliminating the need to repeat the same nouns over and over again. However, they are only useful if the reader always knows what word the pronoun is replacing—the pronoun's antecedent. This can partly be done through word order. Don't separate a pronoun too far from its antecedent, and don't use a pronoun unless its antecedent has already been established.
The different types of pronouns include the following:
Personal pronouns refer to a specific grammatical person. "Grammatical person" means either the first-person, second-person, or third-person. The first-person refers to yourself and therefore uses the pronoun "I." The second-person pronoun is "you," and the third-person pronouns are "he," "she," "it."
I am going to the concert.
You can come with me.
She did not get a ticket before they sold out.
Possessive pronouns show ownership in relation to the pronoun. Possessive pronouns are "my," "your," "his," "hers," "its," "ours," "your," and "their." For example:
Marvin was nervous meeting with the interviewer but shook her hand when introduced.
Reflexive and intensive pronouns take the same form but have different uses. They include "myself," "yourself," "himself," "herself," "itself," "ourselves," "yourselves," and "themselves." Reflexive pronouns "reflect" back to the subject. You know a "-self" pronoun is reflexive if the sentence wouldn't make sense without it. For example:
(Reflexive) The model could see himself in the reflection of the camera lens.
In contrast, an intensive pronouns provides extra emphasis, but the sentence would still make sense without it. For example:
She finished the paper herself.
Relative pronouns link different phrases within a sentence to give more information about the people or things involved. They allow you to combine connected ideas in the same sentence rather than breaking them down into multiple ones.
Consider the difference between the following sentences:
That man yelled at us to get off his lawn. He did not even own the property.
The man who yelled at us to get off his lawn did not even own the property.
Both sentences communicate the same thing, but the second does a better job of connecting the two events. Similarly:
Ruth is the store manager. She rang up my groceries.
Ruth is the store manager who rang up my groceries.
As you can see, relative clauses can be useful in streamlining your writing and improving your flow. Be careful not to use too many of them at once, though; sentences that are too long may confuse your reader. Be sure to ask yourself whether the clause actually clarifies a sentence or makes it too long and complicated.
Types of Relative Pronouns
The main relative pronouns dealing with people are "who" (used to relate to people or creatures as subjects), "whom" (used to relate to people or creatures as subjects), and "whose" (used to relate to a possession of a person or creature).
Person (subject): The girl who wore a yellow dress
Person (object): The girl whom I complimented about her yellow dress
Creature (subject): The cat who lived next door
The main relative pronouns dealing with things are "that" and "which." "That" is used to relate to things (as both subjects and objects) when there is more than one thing you could be referring to:
Thing (object): The desk that my mother bought
Thing (subject): The desk that fell apart
These sentences imply that there are several different desks, and the additional information you provide—the desk that your mother bought, the desk that fell apart—is crucial to identify which of those several desks you're talking about.
Similarly, "which" is also used to relate to things (as both subjects and objects)—but its crucial difference is that it is used when there is only one thing you could be referring to. That is to say, the reader already knows exactly which item you're referring to; you're just telling them more detail about that item:
Thing (object): The desk, which my mother bought
Thing (subject): The desk, which fell apart
In these phrases, there are not several desks that the writer could be talking about; there is only one desk, period. The writer is giving the reader the information that the desk was bought by her mother, or that it fell apart—but that information isn't necessary for identifying the thing in the first place.
It is important to note that in sentences using "which" as a relative pronoun, a comma is needed before the word "which" for the phrase to be grammatically correct.
Relative pronouns introduce what are called subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses are phrases within a sentence that modify the subject of the sentence. For example, in the phrase "The girl who wore a yellow dress," the subordinate clause "who wore a yellow dress" helps to modify the subject of "the girl." That is to say, it helps answer the question, "which girl?" Similarly, in the phrase "The desk that fell apart," the subordinate clause "that fell apart" helps to identify which desk the writer is talking about.
Interrogative pronouns introduce questions. The main forms are "who/whom" (for people and beings), "whose" (for possessive pronouns), "what" (to introduce general questions), and "which" (for identification and comparison):
Person or being (as subject): Who wants to go to the movies with me?
Person or being (as object): To whom was the letter addressed?
Possessive: Whose is that book on the table?
General question: What time is it? What do you think of the weather today?
Identification: Which desk are you talking about?
Comparison: Which play do you think is better, Hamlet or King Lear?
Demonstrative pronouns point out specific people, places, things, and ideas. The main forms are "this/that" (singular) and "these/those" (plural). These pronouns can either be used for comparisons or on their own. They are also called determiners and can function as adjectives for their antecedents:
Comparison: I would rather go to that restaurant than this one.
Alone: I think this book is really good.
Indefinite pronouns refer to non-specific people or things. Indefinite pronouns include:
Choose your indefinite pronoun based on the number or amount of people or things you're talking about. As always, remember to make sure that the antecedent is clear; avoid ambiguous sentence constructions in which pronouns could refer to multiple different words.
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