What Does a Pronoun Do?

Years of speaking and writing English may or may not have prepared you to answer all of your students’ grammar questions. Of course you know that verbs are actions and nouns are people and places, but it gets a little harder to explain the rest.

Take pronouns, for instance. You intuitively know that they take the place of a noun when you want to avoid repetition, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Here’s everything you need to know about pronouns and what they do in a sentence so you can pass the information along to your students — or just feel like a grammar pro yourself.

The Function of Pronouns

In general, a pronoun takes the place of a noun in a sentence. This allows for quicker speech and lets you avoid the awkwardly formal use of someone’s name over and over again. For example:
Susan likes to drink her juice slowly when she has the time.

In this example, “Susan” is the antecedent, or the thing the pronouns refer to. “Her” and “she” are the pronouns that take the place of the noun “Susan.” These pronouns streamline the sentence so you don’t have to say “Susan likes to drink Susan’s juice slowly when Susan has the time.”

Types of Pronouns

Odds are good that you use pronouns so often that you don’t even notice them, but there are actually several different types of pronouns, and each one does something slightly different in a sentence. Even the short sample sentence above uses two types of pronouns, and there are several categories of this workhorse part of speech.

Personal Pronouns

Words like I, you, he and they take the place of a person’s name in a sentence. For example:
Roger went to the mall because he needed a new suit.

Possessive Pronouns

Words like my, your, our and her take the place of a person’s name and the -‘s ending that would show possession, or ownership. These are used as adjectives before the object that is owned. For example:

My mother loves her wedding ring.

There are also absolute possessive pronouns, which still show ownership but can stand alone. These are words like mine, yours and theirs. For example:

That ice cream is mine.

Reflexive Pronouns

Words like myself, yourself and itself are reflexive pronouns that refer to another noun or pronouns in the same sentence — usually the subject. For example:

Sometimes I talk to myself.

These -self pronouns can also be used as intensive pronouns to add emphasis to who is completing the action. For example:

The little boy picked up all the toys himself.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Words like this, that and those are demonstrative pronouns that indicate which one of a group of similar items is being referred to. For example:

She prefers those sneakers because they are blue.

Indefinite Pronouns

Words like any, nobody, everyone and someone refer to a person that isn’t specified but rather could be anyone. For example:

Nobody likes lima beans.

Interrogative Pronouns

Words like who, what, which and where are all interrogative pronouns that replace an unknown noun while asking a question. For example:

Who wants to go the movies?

Relative Pronouns

Words like who, which and that are relative pronouns that refer to a noun while adding more information about it. For example:

My sister, who hates chocolate, always gives me her candy.

Reciprocal Pronouns

Each other and one another are reciprocal pronouns that show actions or feelings are shared between two or more nouns. For example:

Heidi and Joe love each other.