Two weeks ago, we started the series on word classes. And last week, we delved into report writing. I thought it would be useful to intersperse the series, so we go back to word classes this week.

We talked about nouns and how useful they are for communication, given that we name just about everything we talk about! This week’s focus is on pronouns and how they function in communicative contexts. As you already know, pronouns replace nouns. If that is the case, it presupposes that pronouns do whatever nouns do. We identified that nouns serve as subjects, objects, complements, appositives, etc. Largely speaking, the pronoun does much of these as well. Take as an example, the function of ‘subject’. Where a noun functions as the subject of a verb (or sentence, as some prefer to call it), a pronoun can take its place. In the following sentence, ‘Ruth’ is the subject of the verb ‘dances’: Ruth dances so well. We can decide to use a pronoun to replace the proper noun ‘Ruth’, and the sentence will read: She dances so well. ‘She’, therefore, serves as a reference to the antecedent, ‘Ruth’. Please note that the antecedent can be a noun or a noun phrase, as in ‘The beautiful woman dances very well’. If we used ‘she’ to replace the subject, we find that what is being replaced, that is, the antecedent, is a noun phrase – the beautiful woman.

In the English language, pronouns are known to have what is called the person metrics. This means that there are first, second and third persons. The first person is the speaker ‘I’; the second person is always the person(s) being addressed ‘you’; and the third person is/are the person(s) being addressed ‘he/she/it/they/we’. The first person is always singular; the second person may be singular or plural; and the third person may be singular or plural. Singularity emanates from reference to one person; plurality emanates from reference to two or more persons. The concept of person in pronoun also determines the verb to be used. Well, it has always been said, hasn’t it, that a singular subject (now pronouns taking the place of nouns) takes a singular verb, and a plural subject takes a plural verb. Therefore, when pronouns take the place of nouns, they also follow the verb agreement rule. Thus, we have, ‘I am’, ‘you are’, ‘she is’, ‘he is’, ‘it is’, ‘they are’, ‘we are’, etc. Another thing about pronouns and persons to note is that there are pronouns that ought to be in the subject position and others in the object position – they are called subjective and objective case pronouns. Although there are some problems (this will be treated differently), most of the pronouns obey the subjective/objective case rule. This means, for example, that I wouldn’t say ‘Me am coming’’. That’s because ‘me’ is an objective pronoun and does not belong in the subject position. What belongs in the subject position is ‘I’. That noted, consider the following subjective and objective case pronouns written side by side: I/me; we/us; they/them; he/him; she/her; you/you; it/it. These pronouns are known as personal pronouns. We will return to types of pronouns in a bit.

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This brings us to the uses of the pronoun. One major use of the pronoun is to affirm gender identities. How do we know if a male or female is being referred to, or if the proper noun (name) mentioned refers to a man or woman? Mostly by the use of the appropriate pronoun. I’m not going to delve into the subject of persons who prefer to be called by plural pronouns, such as ‘they/them/their’ or other forms. The focus on pronouns will be on the naturally occurring male, female, and their plural pronouns. Examples: ‘Benson is a strict but loving father. He wants the best for his children.’ ‘Steven and Ihechi love a life of special full-time service, and their wishes have been granted. They are now serving as special pioneers.’ Note that in the examples, ‘Benson’ is the antecedent for the pronoun ‘he’, later used to replace the former; Steven and Ihechi, the compound subject, serve as the antecedent for the plural pronoun ‘they’. In this context, ‘their’ is a possessive adjective, as it modifies the noun ‘wishes’. From the examples used, you can tell that another major function of the pronoun is to help create logical bridges in your writing. You don’t want to be repetitive of the nouns you use, but you want to use pronouns and other synonyms to represent the antecedents so that you breathe life into your writeup and make it stand out. We will now move on to explicate the types of pronouns you can use for your speaking and writing purposes.

One type of pronouns worth mentioning is relative pronouns. They are used to connect relative clauses to independent clauses by introducing extra information about something mentioned in the sentence. Relative pronouns include the following: who, whom, what, which, and that. We use ‘who’ and ‘whom’ when we refer to people (note that ‘who’ is a subject pronoun while ‘whom’ is an object pronoun), and we use ‘which’ and ‘that’ when we refer to animals or things. Note the following examples: ‘The children who score high grades will be rewarded’. ‘The vehicles which were purchased from London are all faulty’. Did you notice the use of ‘who’ to refer to the subject ‘children’, and the use of ‘which’ in the second example to refer to the subject ‘vehicles’?

Another type of pronoun, one which is commonly known, is the demonstrative. They point to an antecedent or simply point to something that is contextualised in the sentence. Examples include ‘this (singular)’, ‘these (plural)’, ‘that (singular)’, ‘those (plural)’. Some assume that in the sentence ‘This letter is soul searching’, ‘this’ is a demonstrative pronoun. However, as used in this context, ‘this’ is really a demonstrative adjective because it describes the said letter. Any word that takes up the role of modifying or describing a noun is automatically an adjective. For ‘this’ to be a demonstrative pronoun, it would have to occur alone, without any noun, and take a verb right after it. Thus, we can have ‘This is mine’, where ‘this’ is a demonstrative pronoun.

•A future article will further discuss other types of pronouns.