Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the "parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not consider them to form a single class, in view of the variety of functions they perform. Subtypes include "personal pronouns, "reflexive and "reciprocal pronouns, "possessive pronouns, "demonstrative pronouns, "relative pronouns, "interrogative pronouns, and "indefinite pronouns.:1–34
The use of pronouns often involves "anaphora, where the meaning of the pronoun is dependent on an "antecedent. This applies especially to third-person personal pronouns and relative pronouns. For example, in the sentence That poor man looks as if he needs a new coat, the antecedent of the pronoun he is the noun phrase that poor man.
The "adjective associated with pronoun is pronominal.[A] A pronominal is also a word or phrase that acts as a pronoun. For example, in That's not the one I wanted, the phrase the one (containing the "prop-word one) is a pronominal.
Personal pronouns may be classified by "person, "number, "gender and "case. English has three persons (first, second and third) and two numbers (singular and plural); in the third person singular there are also distinct pronoun forms for male, female and neuter gender.:52–53 Principal forms are shown in the adjacent table (see also "English personal pronouns).
English personal pronouns have two cases, subject and object. "Subject pronouns are used in "subject position (I like to eat chips, but she does not). "Object pronouns are used for the "object of a verb or "preposition (John likes me but not her).:52–53
Other distinct forms found in some languages include:
Some special uses of personal pronouns include:
Reflexive pronouns are used when a person or thing acts on itself, for example, John cut himself. In English they all end in -self or -selves and must refer to a noun phrase elsewhere in the same clause.:55
Reciprocal pronouns refer to a reciprocal relationship (each other, one another). They must refer to a noun phrase in the same clause.:55 An example in English is: They do not like each other. In some languages, the same forms can be used as both reflexive and reciprocal pronouns.
Possessive pronouns are used to indicate "possession (in a broad sense). Some occur as independent noun phrases: mine, yours, hers, ours, yours, theirs. An example is: Those clothes are mine. Others must accompany a noun: my, your, her, our, your, their, as in: I lost my wallet. (His and its can fall into either category, although its is nearly always found in the second.) Those of the second type have traditionally also been described as possessive "adjectives, and in more modern terminology as "possessive determiners. The term "possessive pronoun" is sometimes restricted to the first type. Both types replace "possessive noun phrases. As an example, Their crusade to capture our attention could replace The advertisers' crusade to capture our attention.:55–56
Demonstrative pronouns (in English, this, that and their plurals these, those) often distinguish their targets by pointing or some other indication of position; for example, I'll take these. They may also be "anaphoric, depending on an earlier expression for context, for example, A kid actor would try to be all sweet, and who needs that?:56
Indefinite pronouns, the largest group of pronouns, refer to one or more unspecified persons or things. One group in English includes compounds of some-, any-, every- and no- with -thing, -one and -body, for example: Anyone can do that. Another group, including many, more, both, and most, can appear alone or followed by of.:54–55 In addition,
Interrogative pronouns ask which person or thing is meant. In reference to a person, one may use who (subject), whom (object) or whose (possessive); for example, Who did that? In colloquial speech, "whom is generally replaced by who. English non-personal interrogative pronouns (which and what) have only one form.:56–57
In English and many other languages (e.g. "French and "Czech), the sets of relative and interrogative pronouns are nearly identical. Compare English: Who is that? (interrogative) and I know the woman who came (relative). In some other languages, interrogative pronouns and indefinite pronouns are frequently identical; for example, "Standard Chinese 什么 shénme means "what?" as well as "something" or "anything".
Though the personal pronouns described above are the contemporary English pronouns, older forms of modern English (as used by Shakespeare, for example) use a slightly different set of personal pronouns as shown in the table. The difference is entirely in the second person. Though one would rarely find these older forms used in literature from recent centuries, they are nevertheless considered modern.
The use of pronouns often involves "anaphora, where the meaning of the pronoun is dependent on another referential element. The "referent of the pronoun is often the same as that of a preceding (or sometimes following) noun phrase, called the "antecedent of the pronoun. The following sentences give examples of particular types of pronouns used with antecedents:
Some other types, such as "indefinite pronouns, are usually used without antecedents. Relative pronouns are used without antecedents in "free relative clauses. Even third-person personal pronouns are sometimes used without antecedents ("unprecursed") – this applies to special uses such as "dummy pronouns and "generic they, as well as cases where the referent is implied by the context.
Pronouns (antōnymía) are listed as one of "eight parts of speech in "The Art of Grammar, a treatise on Greek grammar attributed to "Dionysius Thrax and dating from the 2nd century BC. The pronoun is described there as "a part of speech substitutable for a noun and marked for a person." Pronouns continued to be regarded as a part of speech in "Latin grammar (the Latin term being pronomen, from which the English name – through "Middle French – ultimately derives), and thus in the European tradition generally.
In more modern approaches, pronouns are less likely to be considered to be a single "word class, because of the many different syntactic roles that they play, as represented by the various different types of pronouns listed in the previous sections.
Certain types of pronouns are often identical or similar in form to "determiners with related meaning; some English examples are given in the table on the right. This observation has led some linguists, such as "Paul Postal, to regard pronouns as determiners that have had their following noun or noun phrase deleted. (Such patterning can even be claimed for certain personal pronouns; for example, we and you might be analyzed as determiners in phrases like we Brits and you tennis players.) Other linguists have taken a similar view, uniting pronouns and determiners into a single class, sometimes called "determiner-pronoun", or regarding determiners as a subclass of pronouns or vice versa. The distinction may be considered to be one of "subcategorization or "valency, rather like the distinction between "transitive and intransitive verbs – determiners take a noun phrase "complement like transitive verbs do, while pronouns do not. This is consistent with the "determiner phrase viewpoint, whereby a determiner, rather than the noun that follows it, is taken to be the "head of the phrase.
The grammatical behavior of certain types of pronouns, and in particular their possible relationship with their antecedents, has been the focus of studies in "binding, notably in the Chomskyan "government and binding theory. In this context, reflexive and reciprocal pronouns (such as himself and each other) are referred to as "anaphors (in a specialized restricted sense) rather than as pronominal elements.
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