A personal pronoun is a pronoun (a word that functions as and acts as a substitute for a noun or nouns) that represents a grammatical person within a sentence. While personal pronouns often do indicate actual people, they can also refer to animals, inanimate objects, or even intangible concepts. For instance, the word they in the previous sentence is a plural third-person neuter (gender neutral) pronoun representing the words “personal pronouns” as a grammatical person. Here are some other examples:
- “As soon as John comes home, I am going to give him back his hat.”
- “My team lost again. We really stink this year!”
- “He spoke to the boss yesterday and already got her approval.”
Which personal pronoun is used in each instance varies depending on four grammatical elements: number (singular or plural), person (first, second, or third person), gender (male, female, or neuter/neutral), and case (subjective, objective, or possessive). This shifting of form is called inflection. Quite often, the inflection of a personal pronoun will change within the same sentence.
There is also a different kind of pronoun called a reflexive pronoun, which is used when the subject of a verb is also the object (receiving the action) of the same verb. For example:
- “He looked at himself in the mirror before he left.”
- “I hurt myself on the playground today.”
Although not technically considered personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns are so similar in form and use that they have been included in this section.
We will examine each of these grammatical elements in relation to personal pronouns more in-depth in the sub-sections of this chapter, but here is a quick breakdown of all the personal pronouns and their different inflections:
Yourself (Yourselves if plural)
Neuter (Gender Neutral)
(*See the usage note under “Gender” for information about using they as a singular pronoun.)