Types of Pronouns

image depicts an “all-purpose” pronoun that could be used in any sentence, thus avoiding having to learn pronoun rules

 Source: All-Purpose Pronoun, Peter J. Ahlberg, New York Times

Before you can edit for reference and agreement, you must be able to recognize pronouns. I know the rules about pronouns look like a ton of information, but don’t panic.

This basic review is meant to help you, not make you nervous. Just familiarize yourself with the types of pronouns and look at the examples so that you will feel better prepared for the sections that follow.

Personal and possessive pronouns

A personal pronoun refers to a specific person or thing and can be singular or plural. A possessive pronoun indicates possession or ownership, takes the place of the possessive form of a noun, and can also be singular or plural.

jumbled words

Source: Word jumble, IPSI

Personal Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
First person I, me we, us my, mine our, ours
Second person you you your, yours your, yours
Third person he, him, she, her, it they, them his, her, hers, its their, theirs

You are probably fairly confident about using these particular pronouns. Be sure to notice, however, that possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes like possessive nouns do. And yes, the rule applies to all possessive pronouns, even the possessive word its, as shown in these examples:

Remember: Possessive pronouns do not use apostrophes.

Notice, too, that some possessive pronouns must be used before nouns (for example, my book, your car, his ear, our hats), but others can stand alone (for example, the CD is mine; Greta lost hers; theirs is on the way).

image of US logo

 Source: US Festival Logo, Crosby Productions

Reflexive and intensive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns are easy to recognize because they are distinctive and identical in form: -self or -selves is added to certain, but not all, personal and possessive pronouns. Both of these pronoun types can be singular or plural.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns
First person myself ourselves
Second person yourself yourselves
Third person himself, herself, itself themselves

Hisself and theirselves are not words.

Reflexive pronouns are generally used in two situations:

1. When the subject and object receiving the action of the verb are the same person or thing.

2. As the object of a preposition, when the subject and the object are the same person or thing.

An intensive pronoun emphasizes the noun or pronoun antecedent that comes before it.

Notice that all the third-person singular pronouns above (personal, possessive, reflexive, and intensive) express gender. He, him, his, and himself are masculine; she, her, hers, and herself are feminine; it, its, and itself are neuter (neither masculine nor feminine.)

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns point out specific persons, places, things, or ideas.

Demonstrative Pronouns
Singular this, that
Plural these, those
Singular or plural such

Be aware that the five words that act as demonstrative pronouns can also act as adjectives. Compare the example sentences above, in which the words are used as pronouns, to the example sentences below, in which the same words are used as adjectives.

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used to form questions. Here are some examples:

Relative pronouns

A relative pronoun is used to begin a subordinate clause and relates the clause to a noun or other pronoun in the main (or independent) clause.

The list of relative pronouns includes the five words that can also be interrogative pronouns (who, whom, whose, what, which) and five more (that, whoever, whomever, whichever, whatever). Even though some of these pronouns are in two categories, the example sentences show how the pronouns are used differently.

Indefinite pronouns

Problems can arise when working with indefinite pronouns because determining their number is sometimes difficult. However, you must know if they are singular or plural in order to edit for pronoun reference and agreement. Hopefully the following information will help you to make those determinations.


Source: Letters, IPSI

Most indefinite pronouns are singular, even though every- and some- would seem to indicate more than one. Think about this: one, body, and thing are all singular, right? That’s the clue as to why the pronouns in the first three rows of the table below are singular. You will have to commit others to memory.

One words one anyone everyone someone no one
Body words   anybody everybody somebody nobody
Thing words   anything everything something nothing
Others   each either neither  

A few indefinite pronouns—including both, few, many, and several—are plural.

Some indefinite pronouns (including all, any, more, most, none, and some) can be singular or plural, depending on whether the word they refer to is singular or plural.

It is necessary for you to know whether a pronoun is singular or plural in order to have it agree with its antecedent, so do some preliminary practice by dragging and dropping each pronoun into the “singular,” “plural,” or "singular or plural" box below.