pronoun is a word used to replace a noun or a noun phrase. A pronoun requires an antecedent or the word that the pronoun is replacing. The hard rule of using pronoun is called pronoun agreement in which a pronoun must agree with its antecedent in terms of person, gender, and number.
A pronoun is not an adjective. To learn more about the difference between the two, read this.
For English as Second Language (ESL) learners, pronoun agreement can be a challenge. To make things clearer, let’s discuss the person, gender, and number agreement in more detail.
When you are talking about yourself, use I, me, we, or us. When you are talking about someone else, use he, she, it, his, her, they, or them.
- My name is Beatrice and I am the keeper of the secret library.
In this example, the pronoun I refers to Beatrice. Here are a couple more examples.
- A mysterious dog bites the kids so they became ill.
- A mysterious dog bites the kids and then it just disappears.
When talking about males, use he, his, and him. When talking about females, use she and her. Example:
- Johnny forgot his lunch and his friends gave him some money when he mentioned it.
- Karen wants to talk to the manager and she won’t leave until her complaints are heard.
What if you don’t know the gender?
In conversation, people often use they or their like this:
- If I catch the one who broke my car, they will feel my wrath.
In writing, feel free to use the pronoun for either gender like this:
- If I catch the one who broke my car, he will feel my wrath.
In case you’re writing for the easily-offended crowd, you could try including both genders like the following example.
- If I catch the one who broke my car, he or she will feel my wrath.
We should remind you that even the most proficient writers are reluctant to include both genders in writing like the example above. It hurts the eyes.
Use singular pronouns to replace singular nouns and use plural pronouns to replace plural nouns.
- Michael and Jordan excel at school because they study hard. (plural pronoun to replace two people)
- Kevin cried when he was left alone at home. (singular pronoun to replace one person)
- A thousand chocolate cookies perish as Cookie Monster ravages the factory. (plural pronoun to replace plural objects)
- This is my cookie and it is delicious (singular pronoun to replace one object)
Singular Indefinite Pronouns
The examples above are straightforward. ESL learners should not have much problem understanding the concept of pronoun agreement. However, when indefinite pronouns are introduced, ESL learners may face tougher challenges.
Singular indefinite pronouns include somebody, someone, something, nobody, no one, nothing, anybody, anyone, anything, everybody, everyone, everything, each, either, and neither.
Here are some examples:
- Somebody left his bag in the subway.
- Everyone must pick up her own trash.
Just like the gender agreement examples, just pick a pronoun for either gender and don’t worry about social justice warriors giving you the heat.