English Grammar

Grammar Home | Table of Contents | Alphabetical Index | Exercises | Next Chapter

CHAPTER 19.  OTHER PRONOUNS

1. Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns may be used without antecedents. The indefinite pronouns in the following sentences are underlined.
e.g. One cannot believe everything one hears.
      I will try to think of something.
      Nobody will believe it!
      Is there anyone here by the name of Smith?

The following are examples of indefinite pronouns:

  one   
  anyone  anybody  anything
  everyone  everybody  everything
  [no one]  nobody  nothing
  someone  somebody  something

All of the pronouns listed above take verbs in the third person singular. The phrase no one is used like the other indefinite pronouns, but is spelled as two separate words.

The pronoun one can refer to persons or things.
e.g. One of the boys will help you.
      Please hand me one of the boxes.

However, when used in a general sense, the pronoun one is usually understood as referring to persons.
e.g. One should always look both ways before crossing the street.

In addition, the other indefinite pronouns ending in one, and the indefinite pronouns ending in body, generally refer to persons. The indefinite pronouns ending in thing generally refer to things.

Unlike most of the personal pronouns, the indefinite pronouns have the same form in the objective case as in the subjective case. As shown in the following table, the indefinite pronouns which refer to persons form possessive adjectives by adding 's.

Indefinite PronounPossessive Adjective
  one  one's
  anyone  anyone's
  everyone  everyone's
  no one  no one's
  someone  someone's
  anybody  anybody's
  everybody  everybody's
  nobody  nobody's
  somebody  somebody's

The indefinite pronouns which refer to things usually do not form possessive adjectives.

a. The use of One in general statements
The indefinite pronoun one is used in formal English to make general statements.
e.g. By working systematically, one may achieve the results one desires.
      In legal matters, one must always make sure of one's facts.

When used in this way, one refers to persons in general, and has the reflexive form oneself.
e.g. One should prepare oneself to deal with any emergency.

In informal English, the personal pronoun you is usually used in making general statements. Thus, in informal English, the ideas in the above sentences might be expressed:
e.g. By working systematically, you may achieve the results you desire.
      In legal matters, you must always make sure of your facts.
      You should prepare yourself to deal with any emergency.

Occasionally, the pronoun we is used in general statements. This use of the pronoun we is most likely to occur in formal speeches.
e.g. By working systematically, we may achieve the results we desire.
      In legal matters, we must always make sure of our facts.
      We should prepare ourselves to deal with any emergency.

It is considered grammatically incorrect to use more than one type of pronoun in a general statement such as those given above. For instance, if a general statement is begun using the pronoun one, the pronoun one must be used throughout the statement. As shown above, the possessive adjectives and reflexive pronouns in a general statement must agree with their antecedents.

The following table summarizes the forms of the personal pronouns and the indefinite pronoun one.

Summary of the Forms of the Personal Pronouns and One

Subjective CaseObjective CasePossessive AdjectivePossessive PronounReflexive Pronoun
  I  we  my  mine  myself
  you  you  your  yours  yourself
  he  him  his  his  himself
  she  her  her  hers  herself
  it  it  its  [its]  itself
  we  us  our  ours  ourselves
  you  you  your  yours  yourselves
  they  them  their  theirs  themselves
         
  one  one  one's    oneself


See Exercise 1.

In formal English, it is considered grammatically correct to use the adjective his to agree with indefinite pronouns such as anyone and everyone.
e.g. Everyone took his seat.

However, it is considered less discriminatory to use a phrase such as his or her to agree with such pronouns.
e.g. Everyone took his or her seat.

In informal English, the problem of gender is often avoided by the use of the plural adjective their.
e.g. Everyone took their seat.
However, this use of their is considered to be grammatically incorrect in formal English.

 

2. Reciprocal pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns refer to persons or things which are acting on each other. In English, the following two phrases are used as reciprocal pronouns:
      each other
      one another

Both phrases may be used to refer to either persons or things.
e.g. You and I saw each other last week.
      The houses faced each other.

      The two friends helped one another with their work.
      The wires were touching one another.

 

3. Demonstrative pronouns

The words this, that, these and those are used to indicate specific persons or things. In the following examples, the words this, that, these and those are used independently, and can be referred to as demonstrative pronouns.
e.g. This is an apple pie.
      That is a good idea.
      These are my friends.
      Those are maple trees.

The words this, that, these and those can also be used immediately preceding a noun, in which case they can be referred to as demonstrative adjectives.
e.g. This pie is made with apples.
      That idea seems practical.
      These people are my friends.
      Those trees are maples.
In the preceding examples, this, that, these and those act as adjectives, modifying the nouns pie, idea, people and trees, respectively.

This and these are used to indicate persons or things that are close to the speaker or writer. This takes a singular verb, and is used when referring to a single person or thing.
e.g. This is my brother.
      This book belongs to him.

These takes a plural verb, and is used when referring to more than one person or thing.
e.g. These are my brothers.
      These books belong to him.

See Exercise 2.

That and those are used to indicate persons or things that are at a distance from the speaker or writer. That takes a singular verb, and is used when referring to a single person or thing.
e.g. That is a computer.
      That woman is a professor.

Those takes a plural verb, and is used when referring to more than one person or thing.
e.g. Those are computers.
      Those women are professors.

See Exercise 3.

The use of this, these, that and those is summarized in the following table.

  Location IndicatedSingular or Plural
  ThisClose to speaker or writer  Singular
  TheseClose to speaker or writer  Plural
     
  ThatDistant from speaker or writer  Singular
  ThoseDistant from speaker or writer  Plural


See Exercises 4 and 5.

 

4. Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used in asking questions. The pronouns who, what and which are used as interrogative pronouns.
e.g. Who telephoned?
      What did you say?
      Which is your brother?

a. Direct questions
Interrogative pronouns can be placed at the beginning of a sentence in order to ask a question. Such questions can be referred to as direct questions.

In a direct question, when the interrogative pronoun is the subject of a verb, the verb follows the subject. In the following examples, the verbs are underlined, and the subjects of the verbs are printed in bold type.
e.g. What has happened?
      Who has been invited?
In these examples, what is the subject of the verb has happened, and who is the subject of the verb has been invited. The presence of the interrogative pronoun transforms the statement into a question, and a question mark must be used.

When the interrogative pronoun is the object of the verb or the object of a preposition, inverted word order must be used, with the first auxiliary preceding the subject of the verb. In the case of verbs in the Simple Present or Simple Past, the auxiliary do or did must be used.
e.g. What do you mean?
      Which did she choose?
      What is he doing?
      To what can one attribute their success?

In the preceding examples, the subjects you, she, he and one are preceded by the auxiliaries do, did, is and can. In the first three examples, what and which are the objects of the verbs. In the fourth example, what is the object of the preposition to.

See Exercise 6.

b. The pronoun Who
The pronoun who usually refers only to persons. Unlike the other interrogative pronouns, who changes its form depending on the case, as shown in the following table.

Subjective CaseObjective CasePossessive Case
  who  whom  whose

i. Who
When who is the subject of a verb, the subjective case must be used.
e.g. Who opened the door?
      Who will help me?

It should be noted that when who is used with the verb to be, or with verbs in the Passive Voice, the subjective case must usually be used, since such verbs cannot take an object.
e.g. Who is it?
      Who was the fastest runner?
      Who will be there?
      Who has been elected?
The first three examples above illustrate the use of who with the verb to be. The fourth example illustrates the use of who with a verb in the Passive Voice.

ii. Whom
In formal English, when the pronoun who is the object of a verb or the object of a preposition, the objective form whom must be used.
e.g. Whom did you see downtown?
      To whom did you send the invitations?
In the first example, whom is the object of the verb see. In the second example, whom is the object of the preposition to.

In informal English, the form who is often used for the objective as well as for the subjective case. For instance, in informal English, the preceding examples might be expressed Who did you see downtown? and Who did you send the invitations to? However, this use of who is considered to be grammatically incorrect in formal English.

See Exercise 7.

iii. Whose
The form whose can be used either as a possessive adjective followed by a noun, or as a possessive pronoun.
e.g. Whose books are these?
      Whose are these?
In the first example, whose is used as a possessive adjective, followed by the noun books. In the second example, whose is used as a possessive pronoun.

The possessive form whose expresses the idea of belonging to. For instance, the idea expressed in the sentence: Whose books are these? could also be expressed by the sentence: To whom do these books belong?

See Exercise 8.

c. What and Which
What and which can be used either as interrogative pronouns, or as interrogative adjectives followed by nouns.
e.g. What is that?
      Which is his sister?
      What time is it?
      Which woman is his sister?
In the first two examples, what and which are used as interrogative pronouns. In the last two examples, what and which are used as interrogative adjectives preceding the nouns time and woman.

When used as adjectives or as interrogative pronouns, what and which can refer to either persons or things. In the following examples, what and which are used as interrogative adjectives referring to persons and things.
e.g. What girl would not like to own a horse?
      What color are the apples?
      Which boy is the best horseback rider?
      Which road leads to Chicago?

However, it should be noted that when used as a relative pronoun, which can refer only to things. Relative pronouns will be discussed later in this chapter.

Which as an adjective or interrogative pronoun usually implies a choice of one or more things from a limited number of alternatives.
e.g. Which apple would you like?
      Which children were ready on time?
The first example implies a choice of one apple from two or more apples. The second example implies that an answer is expected which will indicate certain children from a limited group of children.

In contrast, what as an adjective or interrogative pronoun is usually used in order to ask for general information.
e.g. What time is it?
      What does he want?

What can also be used in exclamations. For instance, the exclamation What! can be used to express surprise or disbelief. The following are other examples of the use of what in exclamations.
e.g. What nonsense!
      What a shame!
      What a beautiful day!
In written English, an exclamation must be followed by an exclamation mark: !  It should be noted that exclamations often do not contain verbs.

As illustrated above, when an exclamatory what precedes a singular, countable noun, the word what must be followed by a or an.
e.g. What a coincidence!
      What an elegant dress!

See Exercise 9.

d. Indirect questions
As well as being used at the beginning of direct questions, interrogative pronouns and adjectives can also be used at the beginning of indirect questions.

Whereas a direct question forms a complete sentence in itself, an indirect question is part of a longer sentence. The following examples show the difference between a direct question and an indirect question.
e.g. Who is there?
      He wants to know who is there.
      Will you tell me who is there?

In the first example, Who is there? is a direct question. In the second example, who is there is an indirect question which is part of a longer statement. In the third example, who is there is an indirect question which is part of a longer question.

i. Interrogative word as the subject
When the interrogative word is the subject of a verb, or modifies the subject of a verb, the word order of an indirect question is usually the same as that of a direct question. In the following examples, the verbs of the direct and indirect questions are underlined, and their subjects are printed in bold type.
e.g. Direct Question: What has happened?
      Indirect Question: We shall ask what has happened.

      Direct Question: Which child won the race?
      Indirect Question: They will ask which child won the race.

In the first pair of examples, the interrogative pronoun what is the subject of the verb has happened. In the second pair of examples, the interrogative adjective which modifies child, the subject of the verb won. In both pairs of examples, the word order of the indirect questions is the same as that of the direct questions.

ii. Interrogative word as the object of a verb or preposition
When the interrogative word is the object of a verb or preposition, or modifies the object of a verb or preposition, the word order of an indirect question differs from that of a direct question. In a direct question, the first auxiliary precedes the subject, and the auxiliary to do must be used for verbs in the Simple Present and Simple Past. In an indirect question, the subject precedes the verb, and the auxiliary to do is not used. Thus, in an indirect question, the word order used is the same as that used for an affirmative statement.

This difference in word order is illustrated in the following examples.
e.g. Direct Question: What is he doing?
      Indirect Question: I will ask what he is doing.

      Direct Question: What story did they tell you?
      Indirect Question: I wonder what story they told you.

      Direct Question: Which does she prefer?
      Indirect Question: We asked which she prefers.

      Direct Question: Whom did he meet?
      Indirect Question: Tell me whom he met.

      Direct Question: To whom has she sent the invitations?
      Indirect Question: They will ask to whom she has sent the invitations.

      Direct Question: For which friend did they make the arrangements?
      Indirect Question: Do you know for which friend they made the arrangements?

As illustrated in the preceding examples, when the interrogative word is the object of a verb or preposition, or modifies the object of a verb or preposition, the first auxiliary precedes the subject in a direct question, but the subject precedes the verb in an indirect question.

See Exercise 10.

iii. The verb To Be with a noun or pronoun complement
A noun, noun phrase or pronoun which follows the verb to be is said to be the complement of the verb. When what or who is followed by both the verb to be and a noun or pronoun complement of the verb, the word order of an indirect question usually differs from that of a direct question. As illustrated in the following examples, in a direct question, the verb to be is followed by its complement; whereas in an indirect question, the verb to be is usually preceded by its complement.

In each of the following examples, the verb to be is underlined, and its noun or pronoun complement is printed in bold type.
e.g. Direct Question: What is that?
      Indirect question: Can you tell me what that is?

      Direct Question: What was that noise?
      Indirect Question: I wonder what that noise was.

      Direct Question: What time is it?
      Indirect Question: Ask him what time it is.

      Direct Question: Who is she?
      Indirect Question: Do you know who she is?

      Direct question: Who was that man?
      Indirect Question: I will ask who that man was.

      Direct Question: Whose shoes are these?
      Indirect Question: I wonder whose shoes these are.

Similarly, when which is followed by the verb to be, followed by a pronoun, the pronoun complement generally precedes the verb in an indirect question.
e.g. Direct question: Which was it?
      Indirect Question: I want to know which it was.

      Direct Question: Which organization is that?
      Indirect Question: Please ask which organization that is.

However, when which is followed by the verb to be followed by a noun or noun phrase, the noun complement often follows the verb in an indirect question.
e.g. Direct Question: Which is the right road?
      Indirect Question: Please tell me which is the right road.

      Direct Question: Which insects are predators?
      Indirect Question: He wants to know which insects are predators.

It should be noted that in sentences with the verb to be, the word order of indirect questions differs from that of direct questions only when the verb is accompanied by a noun or pronoun complement.

If the verb to be is accompanied by an adjective, the word order of direct and indirect questions is the same. In each of the following examples, the verb to be is underlined, and the accompanying adjective is printed in bold type.
e.g. Direct Question: Who is here?
      Indirect Question: I will ask who is here.

      Direct Question: Who was successful?
      Indirect Question: Tell me who was successful.

      Direct Question: Which answer is correct?
      Indirect Question: Please tell us which answer is correct.

See Exercise 11.

The following table summarizes the variations in word order which occur in direct and indirect questions. The examples of direct questions should be compared with the corresponding examples of indirect questions.

Word order of Direct and Indirect Questions beginning with What, Which and Who

Direct Questions

  Type of Question  Word Order
  The interrogative word is the  Subject precedes verb. Examples:
  subject of the verb, or modifies  Who told her?
  the subject of the verb  Which boy did it?
   
  The interrogative word is  Subject follows the first auxiliary:
  the object of a verb or  What has he done?
  preposition, or modifies the  To whom shall we send it?
  object of a verb or preposition  Which questions did she answer?
    For which child did you buy it?
   
  The verb to be is accompanied  The verb to be precedes its complement:
  by a noun or pronoun complement  Who are their friends?
    What was that?
    What time is it?
    Which book was it?
    Which is the right answer?


Indirect Questions

  Type of Question  Word Order
  In all cases  Subject precedes verb. Examples:
    I wonder who told her.
    You asked which boy did it.
    She wants to know what he has done.
    He wonders to whom we shall send it.
    I wonder which questions she answered.
    Please tell me for which child you bought it.
   
  The verb to be is accompanied  The verb to be usually follows
  by a noun or pronoun complement  its complement. Examples:
    He will ask who their friends are.
    I wonder what that was.
    Do you know what time it is?
    Please tell me which book it was.
   
   However, in the case of which,
   the verb to be often precedes a
   noun complement. For example:
    I wonder which is the right answer.


See Exercise 12.

 

5. Relative pronouns

A pronoun which is used to begin a subordinate clause can be referred to as a relative pronoun, since it indicates the relationship of the subordinate clause to the rest of the sentence.

For instance, the underlined words in the following sentences are relative pronouns.
e.g. The woman who is standing near the window is a doctor.
      The door, which was bright red, was very conspicuous.
      Have you found the book that was missing?
A subordinate clause which is introduced by a relative pronoun is often referred to as a relative clause.

a. Defining and non-defining relative clauses
Relative clauses can be divided into two types: those which merely give a description of the object to which they refer, and those which define or identify the object to which they refer.

i. Non-defining relative clauses
When a relative clause merely describes an object without having the function of defining or identifying to which object the speaker or writer is referring, the clause must be placed between commas. Such a clause can be called a non-defining or non-limiting relative clause.

For instance, in the example:
      The door, which was bright red, was very conspicuous.
the commas indicate that the clause which was bright red is a non-defining relative clause. In other words, this sentence implies that it has already been made clear to which door the speaker or writer is referring, and the clause which was bright red merely provides additional, descriptive information about the door.

Whereas in written English the presence of a non-defining relative clause is indicated by the use of commas, in spoken English the presence of such a clause is indicated by slightly emphasizing the word immediately preceding the clause, and the last word of the clause. In the following example, the emphasized words are underlined.
e.g. The door, which was bright red, was very conspicuous.

It should be noted that when material written in English is read aloud, the presence of a comma is usually indicated by a slight pause.

ii. Defining relative clauses
When a relative clause has the function of defining or identifying the object being referred to, the clause is not placed between commas. Such a clause can be called a defining or limiting relative clause.

For instance, in the example:
      The woman who is standing near the window is a doctor.
the absence of commas indicates that the clause who is standing near the window is a defining relative clause. In other words, the clause has the function of identifying to which woman the speaker or writer is referring.

See Exercise 13.

b. That
When used as a relative pronoun, that can refer to either persons or things. The relative pronoun that is generally used only in defining relative clauses. In the following examples, the relative clauses are underlined.
e.g. The people that were here yesterday will return in a month.
      The newspaper that was on the steps belongs to our neighbor.
In these examples, that has the antecedents people and newspaper, and introduces the defining relative clauses that were here yesterday and that was on the steps.

In the preceding examples, that acts as the subject of the verbs were and was. When it acts as the object of a verb or preposition, the relative pronoun that can usually be omitted.
e.g. The books that we bought are heavy.
      The town that this road leads to is five miles away.

In the first sentence, that acts as the object of the verb bought. In the second sentence, that acts as the object of the preposition to. The following examples show how the above sentences can be rewritten without the use of that.
      The books we bought are heavy.
      The town this road leads to is five miles away.

c. Which
As was pointed out in an earlier section, when used as an adjective or interrogative pronoun, which can refer to either persons or things. However, it is important to note that when used as a relative pronoun, which can refer only to things.

The relative pronoun which can be used in either defining or non-defining relative clauses.
e.g. The suitcase which we purchased last week is very strong.
      The sack, which was full of rocks, was too heavy to lift.
In the first example, which has the antecedent suitcase, and introduces the defining relative clause which we purchased last week. In the second example, which has the antecedent sack, and introduces the non-defining relative clause which was full of rocks.

d. Who, Whom and Whose
The use of who, whom and whose as relative pronouns is similar to their use as interrogative pronouns. Who is used as the subject of a verb, whom is used as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition, and whose is used as an adjective indicating possession. The relative pronouns who, whom and whose can generally refer only to persons, and can be used either in defining or non-defining relative clauses.

In the following examples, who introduces the defining relative clause who runs the fastest and the non-defining relative clause who is studying German.
e.g. The child who runs the fastest will receive a prize.
      My sister, who is studying German, wants to travel to Switzerland.
In these examples, who has the antecedents child and sister, and acts as the subject of the verbs runs and is studying.

In the following examples, whom introduces the defining relative clause whom we visited and the non-defining relative clause whom we will meet tomorrow.
e.g. The boy whom we visited is her nephew.
      Mr. Henry, whom we will meet tomorrow, will be our guide.
In these examples, whom has the antecedents boy and Mr. Henry, and acts as the object of the verbs visited and will meet.

In the following examples, to whom introduces the defining relative clause to whom you sold your skis and the non-defining relative clause to whom we send a birthday card every year.
e.g. The girl to whom you sold your skis lives in the next block.
      His uncle, to whom we send a birthday card every year, is ninety-one years old.
In these examples, whom has the antecedents girl and uncle, and is the object of the preposition to.

In the following examples, whose introduces the defining relative clause whose house was sold and the non-defining relative clause whose family lives in Europe.
e.g. The woman whose house was sold will retire to the country.
      My cousin, whose family lives in Europe, will visit us for a few weeks.
In these examples, whose has the antecedents woman and cousin, and modifies the nouns house and family. In the case of whose, it should be noted that it is the antecedent which must be a person; the noun being modified may be a person or a thing.

See Exercises 14 and 15.

In informal English, whose at the beginning of a clause is occasionally used to refer not only to persons, but also to things, in order to make a simpler sentence. For example, the following sentence is considered grammatically correct in formal English.
e.g. The tree, the branches of which overhung the street, was covered with blossoms.
In informal English, the phrase the branches of which might be replaced by whose branches, as illustrated in the following example.
e.g. The tree, whose branches overhung the street, was covered with blossoms.
However, this use of whose is considered to be grammatically incorrect in formal English.

e. Comparison of the use of That, Which and Who
The use of the relative pronouns that, which and who is summarized in the following table.

Relative PronounType of ClauseType of Antecedent
  that  defining clause only  persons or things
  which  defining or non-defining  things only
  who/whom/whose  defining or non-defining  persons only

From the preceding table it can be inferred that in the case of defining relative clauses, that may be used to replace who, whom or which. For instance, the following sentences:
      The boy whom we saw is her brother.
      The hat which you are wearing is rather large.
could be rewritten:
      The boy that we saw is her brother.
      The hat that you are wearing is rather large.

Like the relative pronoun that, whom and which can generally be omitted when they act as the object of the verb in a relative clause. Thus, the preceding sentences could also be rewritten:
      The boy we saw is her brother.
      The hat you are wearing is rather large.

It should be noted that when whom or which is the object of a preposition, the preposition immediately precedes the relative pronoun.
e.g. The boy to whom we sent the message was excited.
      The room to which you will be conducted has beautiful furniture.
In these examples, whom and which are immediately preceded by the preposition to.

However, when the relative pronoun that is the object of a preposition, the preposition is normally placed at the end of the relative clause. For instance, if that is used, the second example must be rewritten as follows:
      The room that you will be conducted to has beautiful furniture.

f. Other relative pronouns
Relative pronouns such as what, whatever and whoever are normally used without antecedents. When used as a relative pronoun, what has the meaning the thing or things that.
e.g. What you say is true.
      What he did was wrong.
In these examples, the relative pronoun what introduces the clauses what you say and what he did. Such clauses are often referred to as noun clauses, since they can serve some of the functions of a noun. For instance, in the preceding sentences, the clause what you say acts as the subject of the verb is, and the clause what he did acts as the subject of the verb was.

Whatever has the meaning no matter what, or anything which. Whoever has the meaning no matter who, or anyone who.
e.g. You can tell me whatever you like.
      Let in whoever comes to the door.
In these examples, the noun clauses whatever you like and whoever comes to the door act as the objects of the verbs in the main clauses.

 

Grammar Home | Table of Contents | Alphabetical Index | Exercises | Next Chapter

 

Additional Links