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What are Pronouns and how to use them

What are Pronouns and how to use them

Pronouns are like your trusty companions in the world of language, quietly doing their job to make communication smoother. You may not even realise it, but you use pronouns every single day - and in this very sentence, we've already dropped four of them!

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at what exactly are pronouns, and how can you use them correctly in your writing.

What are Pronouns

Pronouns are like little word (or phrases) shortcuts we use to make day-to-day conversations smoother and less repetitive. They help us avoid saying the same nouns over and over again. Instead of saying someone's name or a thing repeatedly, we can use pronouns to refer back to them.

For instance, you might say, ‘I have a parrot. Her name is Susie’. Because you’ve mentioned your parrot in the first sentence, your readers are able to easily arrive at the conclusion that her refers to the parrot. This way, you avoid using the word parrot again and risk making your writing repetitive and stiff.

More than just eliminating repetitiveness from our writing, different types of pronouns often work together to provide context that helps readers better understand the people and things in the sentences. 

How are pronouns used in a sentence

Remember, the primary role of pronouns is to replace nouns. Therefore, they can serve as the subject or any object of a sentence.

Pronouns as subjects

Eg. She loves to play the piano.
Eg. He is going to the store to buy groceries.
Eg. They are coming over for dinner tonight.
Eg. We should go for a walk in the park.
Eg. I am studying for an important exam tomorrow.

Pronouns as objects

Pronouns can serve as either the direct or indirect object of a sentence. 

Eg. He saw me walking down the street. (direct object)

In this sentence, he is the subject and me is the direct object.

Eg. He gave her a gift. (indirect object)

In this sentence, the gift is the direct object (what he gave), and her is the indirect object because it tells us to whom he gave the gift.


Remember that for pronouns to work, you need to first introduce a noun - also known as an antecedent.

Antecedents are nouns or noun phrases that pronouns refer back to in a sentence. They serve the crucial role of providing context and clarity, ensuring that readers or listeners understand which person, thing, or idea the pronoun is representing.

Eg. John is very talented; he can play the guitar.

The pronoun he, for example, needs an antecedent like John to make sense. Without the antecedent, the sentence ‘He is very talented; he can play the guitar’ will leave readers scratching their heads. 

Watch out for Ambiguous Antecedents

Even the most experienced writers make this mistake - be sure to look out for ambiguous antecedents. Ambiguous antecedents often occur when a sentence has multiple antecedents. In situations like these, consider reducing the number of antecedents or using the noun instead.

Example #1

Eg. Lisa and Amy love art; she spends hours painting. 

The pronoun (she) is ambiguous because it's unclear whether she refers to Lisa or Amy. The sentence does not specify which of the two individuals spent hours painting, creating ambiguity.

To remove ambiguity, you can explicitly mention the name of the person you are referring to:

Eg. Lisa and Amy love art; Lisa spent hours painting. (Using the noun) 
Eg. Lisa loves art; she spends hours painting. (Reduce the number of antecedents)

Example #2

Eg. He went to watch a movie at the theater; it was very nice

The pronoun (it) is somewhat ambiguous because it's not entirely clear what that is referring to. It could be referring to the act of going to watch a movie or the movie-watching experience. To make it clearer, you could say:

Eg. He went to watch a movie at the theater, and the movie was very nice. (Using the noun)
Eg. He went to watch a movie, it was very nice. (Reduce the number of antecedents)

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