Grammar is way more than simple definitions or rules. It’s important that you equip your students to correctly and effectively use grammar in their written and spoken English, and today we’re going to tackle pronouns.
Pronouns can be found in all sorts of writing. They’re used in fiction, non-fiction, personal letters, conversation, and so much more. Since they’re so widely used, it’s important for both you and your students to be familiar with how, when, and why to use pronouns in the English language.
Learn More About ESL Grammar with
What is a Pronoun?
Defined: A pronoun is simply a word that replaces or is used as a substitute for a noun. The most used pronouns are I, You, He, She, We, and They. However, there are many different types of pronouns, which we’ll discuss below.
Q & A: Each of the 8 parts of speech are used to answer a question, and pronouns are no different. Because pronouns simply replace nouns, they answer the same question: Who or What. When trying to identify a pronoun in a sentence, simply ask ‘who’ or ‘what’ performed the action, and you’ll be sure to find either a noun or pronoun.
This same technique can be use within a larger section of text in order to identify ‘who’ or ‘what’ the pronoun is replacing and pointing back to. For example, take a look at the sentences below:
Sarah is going to adopt a dog. She wants a dog that is good with kids.
In the second sentence we can ask who wants a dog that is good with kids, and know that ‘she’ is the one performing the action. However, we can also point back to the previous sentence to know that ‘Sarah’ is the noun that ‘she’ refers to.
(I, You, He, She, We, They) am/are going to the park.
Did Lin see (Me, You, Him, Her, Us, Them)?
Kristy is the girl (Who, That) Hank is bringing to prom.
I spilled my coffee which is why I’m late.
Types of Pronouns
Just as there are many types of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, there are also many types of pronouns. If you’re teaching a beginner-level pronoun lesson, this information may be too much for your beginner-level learners. However, it’s good information for you, as the teacher, to be familiar with if nothing else because it shows us how, when, and why to use certain pronouns in certain situations.
A subject pronoun is simply a pronoun that can be the subject of a sentence, such as I, You, He, She, It, We, and They. It can be easy for your students to confuse ‘he’ and ‘she’ in a sentence, so be sure you go over the definitions of each of these pronouns and when to use them. The meaning of ‘they’ should also be addressed, as it can be used to refer to a group of people or an individual.
Another common error that is made with subject pronouns is to forget the subject pronoun altogether. For example, ‘I love Brazil. Is great country.’ Make sure you stress the importance of a subject pronoun to refer back to the previous sentence or statement.
She is my sister.
They are going to Oregon tomorrow.
When will we leave for the party?
An object pronoun can be either the direct object, indirect object, or object of a preposition, such as Me, You, Him, Her, It, Us, and Them. Students can very easily use a subject pronoun in an object slot, such as in ‘These shirts are for they.’ It can be helpful to teach subject and object pronouns together or at least one after the other in order to address this potential error.
These shirts are for her.
How many times did I tell her?
The gift is for us.
A relative pronoun connects a clause or phrase to the rest of the sentence, such as Who, That, Which, and Whom. Be careful that your students don’t use ‘what’ instead of ‘that’ in an adjective clause (I want to borrow the book what you bought last week). Make sure you identify that three of the four relative pronouns are wh- words, while the last begins with th-.
I really wanted a cookie, which is why I went to the store.
Chris, who is buying his first house, is looking for new furniture.
Which dog did you want?
An indefinite pronoun doesn’t refer to a specific person or thing, but it refers to a general group of people, such as Anyone/thing/body, Everyone/thing/body, Someone/thing/body, and No one/thing/body. Students often confuse these pronouns and/or assume that they are plural. However, such as in the case of the word ‘family,’ these collective nouns are grammatically singular.
If you’re addressing indefinite pronouns, which I don’t recommend for beginner- or even lower intermediate-level learners, be sure to carefully define each of them. Start by defining the prefix before moving onto the suffix.
Everyone is invited tonight!
Someone stole my keys.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys collard greens.
A reflexive pronoun is used when a word refers to the same subject, such as Myself, Yourself, Himself, Herself, Itself, Ourselves, Yourselves, and Themselves. Confusing reflexive pronouns and reciprocal pronouns (below) is an easy mistake. Be sure to stress that reflexive pronouns always point back to the subject, while reciprocal pronouns point to a different subject.
I had to remind myself to plant those flowers.
We went to the park by ourselves.
A demonstrative pronoun stands in place of a specific thing or person, such as This, That, These, and Those. These pronouns can be tricky because, technically speaking, all pronouns stand in place of a noun. However, a demonstrative pronoun points to a specific object. It’s typically used when speaking about an object that is physically there.
A common error that many students make is to confuse the plurals. However, ‘this’ and ‘that’ are the singular demonstrative pronouns, while ‘these’ and ‘those’ refer to the plurals. There’s no need to add an ‘s’!
This is your gift.
I don’t know what that is.
These shoes are for Bruce.
Don’t Forget About Verbs!
Possessive pronouns are so common and so important for your students to be familiar with. They refer to a thing or person and it’s owner. They show who or what belongs to someone else, for instance, Mine, Yours, His, Hers, Ours, and Theirs. Students often use definite articles with possessive pronouns, but it’s not necessary (Your shirt is new, but them mine is really old.)
Take note that all possessive pronouns except for ‘mine’ end in an -s, but the same form is used for both singular and plural. You don’t need to add an -s.
Those shirts are mine.
Is this yours?
His backpack is in my car.
A reciprocal pronoun is a little tricky to explain. I think the easiest way to explain it is to demonstrate swapping something with another person. For instance, if two people each have a gift and they swap gifts, it is similar to how a reciprocal pronoun is used.
Another great way to explain reciprocal pronouns is to just give examples. You can find the examples for Each Other and One Another below. Take note that the most common error is to confuse these pronouns with reflexive pronouns, which is address above.
Ben and Alexis love each other.
Let’s get along with one another.
We gave gifts to each other for the Holidays.
As I wrote this article, I couldn’t help but notice every time I used a pronoun unintentionally. I would bet that there isn’t a single conversation, email, letter, or article that goes by without pronouns. They’re such an unnoticed, but very important, part of English grammar.
While they’re seemingly pretty simple, there are many different types of pronouns and uses for pronouns, which is where it can get tricky. If you’re teaching beginners, be sure to start with just the basics. However, as your students get more and more familiar with pronouns, grammar, and the English language, you can begin to introduce more complex ideas and terms to them to help them better understand and use grammar for their own conversations.
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you like to teach grammar?
Do you find teaching grammar to beginners or more advanced learners more challenging?