Pronouns—words like “we,” “it,” “they,” “those,” “something”—stand in for nouns, sort of how someone might hold your place in line: they aren’t you, exactly, but they’re the equivalent of you in the structure of the line.
This proxy relationship is very similar to that between nouns and pronouns in a sentence: pronouns do the same work as nouns (and some other jobs to boot), but they’re not exactly the same.
The key difference is that nouns are self-defining—they are what they are—while pronouns are generic placeholders that acquire meaning as writers use them in concert with nouns:
Elizabeth I was 25 when she assumed the throne on January 15, 1559.
Why do we need such a tool? Primarily to avoid nearly maddening amounts of repetition:
Clausewitz argues this. Clausewitz further argues that. Clausewitz then expands on Clausewitz’s theory that Clausewitz set forth in Clausewitz’s prior volume.
It’s enough to put your readers at their witz’ end.
That said, while pronouns are certainly useful, their shifting signification can become ambiguous—and therefore an impediment to clarity—if writers don’t use them carefully.
That’s no reason to avoid them, though, and the following sections offer tips on adept pronoun use, while the links below further lay out the many useful things that pronouns can do for you, me, and everyone.
Subject vs. Object Prounouns
Deciding whether to use the subject pronoun or the object pronoun can trip writers up when pronouns and nouns appear together, resulting in errors like these:
- Me and you will reformat the tables while the others revise the analysis section.
- The director consulted Charmaine and I about the glue budget.
Temporarily removing the noun(s) from these constructions can help clarify which pronoun is correct:
- No: Me will reformat the tables while the others revise the analysis section.
- Yes: I will reformat the tables while the others revise the analysis section.
- Yes: You and I will reformat the tables while the others revise the analysis section.
- No: The director consulted I about the glue budget.
- Yes: The director consulted me about the glue budget.
- Yes: The director consulted Charmaine and me about the glue budget.
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