Explicit Approaches to Personal Pronouns: Teach and Learn This Way

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A personal pronoun that refers to specific persons, things, or places includes I, we, you, he, she, it, they, me, him, her, us, them, etc. Look at the table below.

Numbers and Cases of Personal Pronouns

Numbers Subjective cases Objective cases
Singular forms You

I

He

She

you

me

him

her

Plural forms It

We

You

They

it

us

you

them

A personal pronoun can function as the subject and object of a sentence (verb).

Rudiments and Uses of Personal Pronouns

  1. We say ‘I, He, She, You and It’ are subjective cases, and they are singular forms.

Consider the following illustrations:

(i)         I hate that statement.

(ii)        The man is gormless.          

(iii)       She killed a rat.

(iv)       It is raining heavily.

In the sentences above, the four personal pronouns serve as subject of a sentence and they are singular forms because ‘I, he, she and it’ refer to one person or one thing. For example, ‘I’ refers to one person that hates and ‘she’ also refers to one person that killed.

Note that the subjective pronouns cannot be used as the object of a sentence (verb). So, don’t say:

(i)         I told he.

(ii)        Bola abused she.

(iii)       Toyin holds I.

Apart from ‘I’ and ‘you’ that seem like plurals, the pronouns – ‘he’, and ‘it’ take singular verbs. For example:

(i)         He carries a chair.

(ii)        She was a science student.

(iii)       It has collapsed

It is not correct to say:

(i.) He carry a chair.

(ii.) She are a science student

(iii.) It have collapsed.

  1. We also say ‘we’ and ‘they’ are subjective cases, but they are plurals. Consider them in the sentences below.

(i)         We are here.

(ii)        They intimidated us.

In the sentences above, ‘we’ and ‘they’ serve as subject of a sentence (verb), and they are also plural forms because ‘we’ and ‘they’ refer to more than one person. Since ‘we’ and ‘they’ are subjective cases, they cannot be used as object of a sentence (verb).

Don’t say:

(i)         They beat we.

(ii)        Most of them greet they.

Remember that the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘they’ are plural forms, hence they should take plural verbs. Consider the examples below.

(i)         We work together.

(ii)        They have completed the work.

It is wrong to say:

(i)         We works together.

(ii)        They has completed the work.

  1. Under the objective cases, there are ‘me’, ‘him’, ‘her’ and ‘it’ as singular forms. These pronouns are singular forms because they refer to one person or one thing. Look at the following sentences:

(i)         My father beat me mercilessly.

(ii)        The lion killed him.

(iii)       Sola married her.

(iv)       I climb it.

In the examples above, the pronouns that occur under objective cases are singular forms. Okay, look at these illustrations: ‘My father beat me. Me refers to a person that his father beats. They are not many. ‘Sola married her’. ‘Her’ refers to a person that Sola married. They are not many too.

Since ‘me’, ‘him’, ‘her’ and ‘it’ can occur only as objective cases, it is wrong to say:

(i)         Him is around.

(ii)        Her sat there.

(iii)       Me eats.

But ‘it’ can be used both as subject and as object of a sentence. For example:

(i)         It is raining.

(ii)        I burnt it.

  1. Other subjective cases are – ‘us’, and ‘then’. These are plural forms because they can be expressed more than one person. For example:

(i)         He cheats us.

(ii)        Tunji tricked them.

(iii)       I can beat you all.

In the sentence above, those who he cheats or those who Tunji tricked or those who I can beat are many. So, the pronouns, ‘us’, ‘them’ and ‘you’, are plural forms.

Also, the pronouns ‘us’, ‘them’ and ‘you’ can only occur in the objective cases, so they cannot be used as subject of a sentence (verb). Therefore, don’t say:

(i)         Them are singing.

(ii)        Us have arrived.

Remember that the only ‘You’ is possible as subject and as object of a sentence or a verb. For example:

(i)         You are very stupid.     

(ii)        I won’t tell you.

Positions of Personal Pronouns

The position of personal pronouns gives understanding about them. There are certain positions in which each of them is grouped. Let us study the table below.

Forms 1st Position 2nd Position 3rd Position
Singular forms I You He/She/It
Plural forms We You They
  1. ‘I’ is the first person singular pronoun who refers to himself. For example:

(i)         I will do it.

The speaker ‘I’ says he will do it himself. This implies that it is the same speaker ‘I’ that refers to himself, and not another person.

  1. You’ is the second person singular pronoun whose another person is referring to. For example:

(i)         You are indolent.

This implies that it is the first speaker that tells the second person ‘you’ that he/she is indolent, and not the person ‘you’ himself/herself.

  1. He/She/It’ is the third person singular pronoun whose first person is talking about him/her to the second person. For example:

(i)         He has slept.

(ii)        She is eating.

(iii)       It was interesting.

The examples above mean that the first person is talking to the second person about ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’. It is not the third person that speaks.

  1. We’ is the first person plural pronoun. ‘We’ represent persons who are referring to themselves. For example:

(i)         We are going there.

It is obvious that the pronoun ‘we’ is more than one person and it suggests that the speakers ‘we’ are talking to themselves that they are going somewhere, not someone else.

  1. You’ is also the second person plural pronoun whose first person is referring to. For example:

(i)         You are teachers.

We can infer that it is the first person/speaker that tells the second person ‘you’ that they are teachers, not the second person plural ‘you’ themselves.

  1. They’ is the third person plural pronoun whose first person is talking about to the second person. For example:

(i)         They have slept.

Here, it is the first person that tells the second person that the third person ‘they’ have slept.

Confusion in the Use of Personal Pronouns

  1. In some cases, confusion occurs in the use of the two forms or two cases. If any personal pronoun follows ‘It is’ or ‘that is’ or ‘it was’ or ‘that was’ or ‘those are’ etc, it must be a subjective case, especially when it is used as the main clause in a complex sentence. Study the table below..
Subjective Cases (Correct) Objective Cases (Incorrect)
It is/was  he  who/that …

It is/was she  who/that …

It is/was   I    who/that …

It is/was they who/that …

It is/was  him  who/that …

It is/was  her   who/that …

It is/was  me    who/that …

It is/was them  who/that …

If your intention is different from those in the table above, it is correct to say ‘It is me’. For instance, if a person asks you who is there? You can respond that ‘it is me’.

The reason is that ‘it’ in this context is a non-personal pronoun which does not stand as subject of the sentence it appears. So, the subjective pronoun that follows is the subject of that sentence.

For example, ‘It is he who/that does the work’ means ‘He does the work’. The pronoun ‘He’ is the subject of that sentence, not ‘It’.  Let us examine more sentences:

(i)         It was I who bought that book.

(ii)        It is they that come to my house.

(iii)       It was she who swept the floor

(iv)       It is she that builds that house.

Don’t say:

(i)         It is him that builds that house.

(ii)        It was me who bought that book.

Consider the second table:

Subjective Cases (Correct) Objective Cases (Incorrect)
That was  he  who/that …

That was she  who/that …

Those are they who/that …

These are they who/that …

That was  him  who/that …

That was  her   who/that …

Those are them who/that …

These are them who/that …

It is correct to say ‘that was me’ or ‘that is me’ if your intention is different from those in the table above.

  1. Another confusion is that if two personal pronouns are used as a subject; make sure that the subjective forms are selected. If the two personal pronouns are used as an object, then make sure that the objective forms are selected. Look at the table below.
Subjective Cases Objective Cases
You and I

You and they

You and me

You and them

Examine the following sentences:

  1. (i) You and I will attend the meeting tomorrow.                

(ii)        You and they must be there.

In this sense, it is wrong to replace I and they with objective forms – me and them. For example:

  1. (i)    You and me will … ‘

(ii)    You and them must … ‘

It is also wrong to disarrange the two pronouns. For example:

  1. (i)       I and you will …’

(ii)      They and you must …’

  1. Compare these sentences with those above:

(i)         My father will beat you and me.

(ii)        They don’t respect you and them.

Here, it is incorrect to replace me and them with subjective forms – I and they. For example:

  1. ‘… will beat you and I.

‘… don’t respect you and they

It is also wrong to disarrange the two pronouns. For example:

  1. ‘… will beat me and you

‘… don’t respect them and you

Functions of Personal Pronouns

The personal pronoun can function as subject, object or complement of a sentence or a verb. Look at the examples below.

  1. Subject of a sentence (verb)

(i)         He angled his chair to gaze at Bola’s face.

(ii)        You and I must accord with our colleagues.

2. Object of a sentence (verb)

(i)         How you react floored me.

(ii)        Headaches have always dogged you and them.

3. Complement of a sentence (verb)

(i)         It was they.

(ii)        That is she.

   Evaluation

  1. What is a personal pronoun?
  2. Classify a personal pronoun into numbers and cases.
  3. Use the following personal pronouns in sentences:

I           she       me       he        it          him

we       they     you      them    her       us

  1. Group the following pronouns under the appropriate positions:
  2. I       ii. You            iii. He/She/It        iv. We          v. You       vi. They
  3. With relevant illustrations, discuss any confusion that occurs in learning personal pronouns.
  4. Correct the following wrong expressions:

(i)         It is them who go them.

(ii)        It was him that drove the car.

(iii)       He helped you and I.

(iv)       I and they must attend that party.

(v)        You and me slept by 8.00 p.m. last night.

Author: Deola Adelakun

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