The English personal pronouns are a subset of English pronouns taking various forms according to number, person, case and grammatical gender. Modern English has very little inflection of nouns or adjectives, to the point where some authors describe it as an analytic language, but the Modern English system of personal pronouns has preserved some of the inflectional complexity of Old English and Middle English.


Unlike nouns which are not inflected for case except for possession (woman/woman's),[a] English personal pronouns have a number of forms, which are named according to their typical grammatical role in a sentence:[b]

Possessive pronouns (mine, ours, etc.) replace the entity that was referred to previously (as in I prefer mine) or serve as predicate adjectives (as in this book is mine). For details see English possessive. As they are pronouns they cannot precede any noun.


The basic personal pronouns of modern English are shown in the table below.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive (determiner) Independent possessive Reflexive
First I me my mine myself
Second you your yours yourself
Second (poetic/dialect) thou thee thy thine thyself
Third Masculine he him his himself
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Epicene they them their theirs themself
First we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourselves
Third they them their theirs themselves

Other English pronouns which have distinct forms of the above types are the indefinite pronoun one, which has the reflexive oneself (the possessive form is written one's, like a regular English possessive); and the interrogative and relative pronoun who, which has the objective form whom (now confined mostly to formal English) and the possessive whose (which in its relative use can also serve as the possessive for which).

Note that singular they is morphosyntactically plural: it is used with a plural verb form, as in "they laugh" or "they are". See the singular they section for more information.

Archaic and non-standard

Apart from the standard forms given above, English also has a number of non-standard, informal and archaic forms of personal pronouns.

Subject Object Dependent possessive Independent possessive Reflexive
Second thou thee thy thine thyself

Complete table

A more complete table, including the standard forms and some of the above forms, is given below. Nonstandard, informal and archaic forms are in italics.

Subject Object Dependent
First-person Singular I me my
mine (before vowel)
me (esp. BrE)
mine myself
Plural we us our ours ourselves
Second-person Singular Standard (archaic plural and later formal) you* your* yours yourself*
Archaic informal thou thee thy
thine (before vowel)
thine thyself
Plural Standard you your yours yourselves
Archaic ye you your yours yourselves
Nonstandard ye
you all
etc. (see above)
y'all's (or y'alls)
y'all's (or y'alls)
y'all's (or y'alls) selves
Third-person Singular Masculine he* him* his* himself*
Feminine she* her* hers herself*
Neuter it its its itself
Epicene (see singular they) they them their theirs themselves
Plural they them their theirs themselves
Generic Formal one one's oneself
Informal you your yourself

*In religious usage, the pronouns He/She/You, Him/Her/You, His/Her/Your, and Himself/Herself/Yourself are often capitalized when referring to a deity.[8]

For further archaic forms, and information on the evolution of the personal pronouns of English, see Old English pronouns.

Generic you

Main article: Generic you

The pronoun you (and its other forms) can be used as a generic or indefinite pronoun, referring to a person in general. A more formal equivalent is the indefinite pronoun one (reflexive oneself, possessive one's). For example, you should keep your secrets to yourself may be used in place of the more formal one should keep one's secrets to oneself.


Use of he, she and it

Main article: Gender in English

The masculine pronouns, he, him, and his are used to refer to male persons. The feminine pronouns she, her, and hers are used to refer to female persons. It and its are normally used to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept; however, babies and young children may sometimes be referred to as it (e.g. a child needs its mother).[9][10] Outside of these very limited contexts, use of it as a pronoun for people is generally avoided, due to the feeling that it is dehumanizing.[11]

Traditionally, in English, if the gender of a person was not known or ambiguous, then the masculine pronouns were often used by default (e.g. a good student always does his homework). Increasingly, though, singular they is used in such cases (see below).[12]

Animals are often referred to as it, but he and she are sometimes used for animals when the animal's sex is known and is of interest, particularly for higher animals, especially pets and other domesticated animals.[9] Inanimate objects with which humans have a close relationship, such as ships, cars and countries considered as political, rather than geographical, entities, are sometimes referred to using feminine pronouns such as she and her.[9] This may also be extended to other entities, such as towns.

Singular they

Main article: Singular they

The singular they emerged by the 14th century, about a century after the plural they. Even when used with singular meaning, they takes a plural verb: If attacked, the victim should remain exactly where they are. Due to this supposed grammatical inconsistency, use of singular they was discouraged by some grammarians during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in favor of using generic he. Since the 1970s, however, this trend has reversed,[13] and singular they now enjoys widespread acceptance.[14][15]

In the early 21st century, use of singular they with known individuals emerged for some non-binary people, or when the sex or social gender of a person is unknown or unspecified. This is a way of producing gender-neutral language while avoiding other pronouns like he or she, he/she, or s/he.[16]

Gender agreement of genitives

In English, genitive pronouns agree with the gender of the antecedent or referent. This is in contrast to many languages in which such pronouns agree with the gender of the head noun of the NP in which they appear. For example, in She saw her brother, the genitive pronoun her agrees with antecedent she. Both are feminine. In Italian, in contrast, the same sentences is Lei ha visto suo fratello. Here suo is a third-person, singular, masculine genitive pronoun. It agrees with fratello (brother), not with the feminine antecedent lei.[citation needed]

Case usage

As noted above, most of the personal pronouns have distinct case forms[1][17] – a subjective (nominative) form and an objective (oblique, accusative) form.[b] In certain instances variation arises in the use of these forms.

As a general rule, the subjective form is used when the pronoun is the subject of a verb, as in he kicked the ball, whereas the objective form is used as the direct or indirect object of a verb, or the object (complement) of a preposition.[1][17] For example: Sue kicked him, someone gave him the ball, Mary was with him.

When used as a predicative expression, i.e. as the complement of a form of the copula verb be, the subjective form was traditionally regarded as more correct (as in this is I, it was he), but nowadays the objective form is used predominantly (this is me, it was him), and the use of the subjective in such instances is normally regarded as very formal[1][17] or pedantic; it is more likely (in formal English) when followed by a relative clause (it is we who sent them to die). In some cases the subjective may even appear ungrammatical, as in *is that we in the photograph? (where us would be expected).

When a pronoun is linked to other nouns or pronouns by a coordinating conjunction such as and or or, traditional grammar prescribes that the pronoun should appear in the same form as it would take if it were used alone in the same position: Jay and I will arrive later (since I is used for the subject of a verb), but between you and me (since me is used for the object of a preposition). However, in informal and less careful usage this rule may not be consistently followed;[18] it is common to hear Jay and me will arrive... and between you and I. The latter type (use of the subjective form in object position) is seen as an example of hypercorrection, resulting from an awareness that many instances of and me (like that in the first example) are considered to require correction to and I.[1][17]

Similar deviations from the grammatical norm are quite common in other examples where the pronoun does not stand alone as the subject or object, as in Who said us Yorkshiremen [grammatical: we Yorkshiremen] are tight?

When a pronoun stands alone without an explicit verb or preposition, the objective form is commonly used, even when traditional grammarians might prefer the subjective: Who's sitting here? Me. (Here I might be regarded as grammatically correct, since it is short for I am (sitting here), but it would sound formal and pedantic, unless followed by am.)

A particular case of this type occurs when a pronoun stands alone following the word than. Here the objective form is again predominant in informal usage[1] (they are older than us), as would be expected if than were analyzed as a preposition. However traditionally than is considered a conjunction, and so in formal and grammatically careful English the pronoun often takes the form that would appear if than were followed by a clause: they are older than we (by analogy with ...than we are), but she likes him better than me (if the intended meaning is "...than she likes me").

For more examples of some of these points, see Disjunctive pronoun.

See also


  1. ^ As well as number (singular and plural), nouns normally inflect for case (plain case and possessive). Some authorities talk of a genitive case, the inflected word being the last word in a phrasal genitive construction; others regard the genitive marker as a clitic.[1]
  2. ^ a b Terminological note:
    Authorities use different terms for the inflectional (case) forms of the personal pronouns, such as the oblique-case form me, which is used as a direct object, indirect object, oblique object, or object of a preposition, as well as other uses. For instance, one standard work on English grammar, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, uses the term objective case, while another, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, uses the term accusative case. Similarly, some use the term nominative for the form I, while others use the term subjective. It is stressed that case is here used to refer to an inflectional category, not the abstract case (the case roles) used in some formal grammars.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 455–483. ISBN 978-0-521-43146-0.
  2. ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 355–361. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
  3. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1483–1499. ISBN 978-0-521-43146-0.
  4. ^ Gowers, Ernest (1973) [1954]. The Complete Plain Words. revised by Sir Bruce Fraser (2 ed.). HMSO. p. 138. ISBN 0-11-700340-9.
  5. ^ Morse-Gagne, Elise E. 2003. Viking pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM. University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation. University Microfilms International. The conclusion that these pronouns are of Scandinavian origin had earlier been published by Kluge in Geschichte der Englischen Sprache in 1899 and by Bjorkman in Scandinavian loan-words in Middle English in 1900, although some scholars have disputed it.
  6. ^ "hisself". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ "hoo". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  8. ^ The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. 25 October 2011. ISBN 9780312643027. Retrieved 27 December 2011. Pronoun references to a deity worshiped by people in the present are sometimes capitalized, although some writers use capitals only to prevent confusion: God helped Abraham carry out His law. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  9. ^ a b c Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 314–318. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
  10. ^ Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (2001). The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing (2nd ed.). Lincoln, Nebraska:, Inc. p. 55. ISBN 0595159214.
  11. ^ Nadal, Kevin L. (2017). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender. SAGE Publications. p. 702. ISBN 978-1483384283.
  12. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 493–494. ISBN 978-0-521-43146-0.
  13. ^ Pauwels, Anne (2003). "Linguistic sexism and feminist linguistic activism". In Holmes, Janet; Meyerhoff Miriam (eds.). The Handbook of Language and Gender. Malden, MA: Blackwell. pp. 563–564. ISBN 978-0-631-22502-7.
  14. ^ Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (1995) [1981]. Kate Mosse (ed.). The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers (3rd British ed.). The Women's Press. pp. 1–9. ISBN 07043-44424.
  15. ^ Baranowski, Maciej (2002). "Current usage of the epicene pronoun in written English". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 6 (3): 378–397. doi:10.1111/1467-9481.00193.
  16. ^ "They". Merriam-Webster dictionary. The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.
  17. ^ a b c d Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (2008) [1985]. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Index by David Crystal. Longman. pp. 336–339. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
  18. ^ Pinker, Steven (1994). The Language Instinct. Penguin. pp. 390–392. ISBN 0-14-017529-6.

Further reading