Stuck on Structure
The Eight Parts of Speech – Part Five

For those keeping track, so far we’ve covered Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs. This week we’re looking at the Pronoun.

A pronoun stands in for a noun. Sometimes it’s called a noun substitute. Pronouns can add flexibility and variety to a sentence by keeping us from restating the same noun in that sentence. Unfortunately, pronouns can be more confusing in usage than nouns.

There are four main types of pronouns:

Personal pronouns are the most common type of pronoun and take form in three cases: subjective – I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they; objective – me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them; possessive – my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our/ours, your/yours, their/theirs.

Personal pronouns are pretty straight forward until they become possessive, which is where many people run into problems. When selecting the correct possessive pronoun, a writer is sometimes lured by the unnecessary but seductive apostrophe. The most common problem involves the its/it’s decision. For example:

Phantom of the Opera is in its eighth straight week of performances.
its is a possessive pronoun

It’s a wonderful experience to see live theatre.
it’s is a contraction of it is

One reason for confusion about the use of apostrophes with pronouns as possessives is that the noun uses an apostrophe to form its possessive while the pronoun does not.

This is Judy’s book. - proper noun
This book is hers. – possessive pronoun

Here’s another example for further clarification (hopefully):
It’s (contraction of it is) evident that the stock market’s (possessive noun) gain has a great deal to do with the public’s (possessive noun) perception of its (possessive pronoun, no apostrophe) connection to interest rates.

Indefinite pronouns such as anyone, enough, many, most, none, andseveral reveal little if anything about their gender or number. When handled incorrectly, they can cause problems with subject, verb, and antecedent (a word to which the pronoun refers) agreements.

A handful of indefinite pronouns can take either a singular or plural verb, depending on the sense of the sentence. These are: all, most, none, some.

Most (pronoun) of the coastal village was (singular verb) severely damaged by the storm.
Most (pronoun) of the passengers were (plural verb) rescued from the burning ship.

Some indefinite pronouns – both, few, many, several – are obviously plural.

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Indefinite pronouns such as anybody or somebody can be confusing when it comes to gender identification and can cause awkward writing.

Anybody can cast his ballot for mayor. This is incorrect because it excludes women. You should write:

Anybody can cast their ballot for mayor. OR Anybody can cast his or her ballot for mayor.

Relative pronouns such as that, which, and who are easy to recognize, but they can be difficult to use properly.

Note the difference in the correct choices of the following sentences:

(Who/Whom) did the grand jury elect?
She is the type of leader (that/who) commands unwavering loyalty.
The aircraft carrier Enterprise, (that/which) is steaming now toward the Persian Gulf, is an intimidating spectacle.
This is one of those pens (that/which) (write/writes) upside down.

Who or whom must be chosen instead of that when the antecedent is human or when it takes on human qualities.

The police officers that stopped my car were polite but firm. (incorrect)
The police officers who stopped my car were polite but firm. (correct)
The candidate that the voters selected has been indicted. (incorrect)
The candidate whom the voters selected has been indicted. (correct)

Be aware that who has a separate possessive form. The possessive form of who is whose. Who’s is a contraction of who is.

Demonstrative pronouns are “pointers”. They have a measure of specificity that leaves little room for doubt. They include this, that, these, and those. They can stand alone as in:

This is exactly the kind of situation that will land you in court. (this refers to a specific instance)

Or they can modify other nouns (and become an adjective in the process):

These kids are driving me crazy! (these modifies kids)

And now that you’re brain is most likely hurting from an overload of information, I’ll leave you with some Grammar Rocks to sooth it. :-)

1 comment:

Bish Denham said...

One of my pet peeves is how prevalent using THAT has become when it should be WHO. I even hear it on commercials. I was taught long ago, THAT is for things, WHO is for people.