Pronoun

Pronouns are words that refer to or stand for nouns. They are used as substitutes for nouns, often to avoid needless repetition. For example, the following sentence does not have any pronouns in it:

  • The mother told the mother’s son that the mother wanted the mother’s son to find a writing class in which the mother and the mother’s son could enroll.

As you can see, this is a very repetitive sentence that is not only difficult to read but also difficult to understand. By using pronouns in your sentences, you can make the sentence flow much better:

  • The mother told her son that she wanted him to find a writing class in which they could enroll.

The pronouns in this sentence are “she,” “him,” and “they.” “Her,” which is a very common pronoun is actually functioning as an adjective in this sentence. It is describing son. Whose son? Her son.

Pronouns are used in two ways. The first use of pronoun is as a substitute for an expressed noun. For instance, if we take the above example, “mother” and “son” are expressly referred, so we know they are represented by the pronouns “she” and “him.”

  • The mother told her son that she wanted him to find a writing class in which they could enroll.

The second use of pronouns is as a substitute for understood nouns. By “understood” nouns I mean nouns that have been identified elsewhere. For example,

—Have you spoken to Susan?
—Yes, I talked to her yesterday.

In this example, Susan isn’t expressly referenced in the answer, but we understand that the pronoun “her” refers to Susan.

For more information on pronouns, see the pronouns main page.

It is important to make sure that your pronouns are either expressly stated or clearly understood to avoid miscommunications in your writing. For example,

  • The mother told her daughter that her grades were dropping.

In this sentence, it is not clear whether the grades are referring to the mother’s grades or the daughter’s grades.

The mother told her daughter that her daughter’s grades were dropping.

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