Personal pronouns make our lives easier when we speak and write. They’re short words that allow us to refer to someone or something without having to say the name over and over.
Understanding what personal pronouns are and how to use them is important in ensuring effective communication and fluent writing. Fortunately, this post will cover everything you need to know.
What Are Personal Pronouns?
You can use a personal pronoun to replace the name of someone or something once you’ve established who or what you’re talking about. Some examples are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, and them.
Let’s look at a sentence with no personal pronouns:
My cat is named Ollie. Ollie likes to look out the window and watch the birds. On nice days, I let Ollie go outside and explore, but Ollie always comes back inside when I call Ollie’s name or if Ollie is hungry.
See how cumbersome the sentence is without personal pronouns? Now, let’s make it flow more smoothly:
My cat is named Ollie. He likes to look out the window and watch the birds. On nice days, I let him go outside and explore, but he always comes back inside when I call his name or if he’s hungry.
Clearly, personal pronouns make speech and writing much easier for us.
First-person pronouns refer to the speaker or writer from their own perspective. If this is just one person, you’ll use a singular personal pronoun (e.g., I, me). If there is more than one speaker or writer, you’ll use a plural personal pronoun (e.g., we, us):
I have four children.
We have four children.
Second-person pronouns refer to the person being spoken to. These pronouns can also be singular or plural, but in English, we use you for both forms:
I’ll pick you up at five.
This ambiguity means the listener has to determine whether the speaker is talking about one person or multiple persons – information that isn’t always clear, as in the above example. Often, you can add a word or a phrase, such as you guys, y’all (you + all), or something else, to differentiate between these situations:
I’ll pick you girls up at five.
Third-person pronouns refer to the person being spoken of. They can be singular (e.g., he, she, it) or plural (e.g., they, them):
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He is on his way.
They are on their way.
The gender of the person you’re talking about affects third-person pronouns, but if the gender is indeterminate or neutral, you’ll need a gender-neutral word. This is when things can get tricky.
Traditionally (and in many style guides), he/she and him/her are acceptable in these instances, but these conventions can be limiting. Enter the singular they:
If someone drops off a package, they can put it behind the plant.
Using they and them as singular personal pronouns is quickly becoming more acceptable in formal contexts.
Don’t Overuse Personal Pronouns
While personal pronouns are useful, you can’t use them solely. If you’re talking about someone or something specific, make sure you explicitly demonstrate who or what it is to provide the necessary context.
Doing this is especially important if you refer to multiple subjects. To keep things from being confusing, you’ll need to use a mix of personal pronouns and proper nouns or specific nouns. Let’s look at an example:
She came over early to make her famous apple pie. However, she didn’t like apples, so she asked whether she could make a separate blueberry pie just for her. She said she would, but she asked her to pick the berries from the garden.
That was confusing. Let’s clarify:
Grandma came over early to make her famous apple pie. However, Julie didn’t like apples, so she asked whether Grandma could make a separate blueberry pie just for her. Grandma said she would, but she asked Julie to pick the berries from the garden.
How do you know when to use a personal pronoun and when to use the specific name? When you introduce a subject, use a proper noun. You can then use personal pronouns for it until you introduce a new subject.
We hope you now feel confident using personal pronouns. When in doubt, though, have your work proofread! Our expert editors will be happy to check your writing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and more. Try it out for free today.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some examples of personal pronouns?
Commonly used personal pronouns in English are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, and them.
When should personal pronouns be capitalized?
The personal pronoun I is the only one you should always capitalize. You should capitalize other personal pronouns only at the start of a sentence.