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Author: Dan Reade
  1. Explain what the different pronouns are for first, second, and third person and how they function in a sentence.

  2. Explain how to avoid common errors with pronouns (e.g. possessive pronouns, unknown pronoun reference, and pronoun agreement).

This packet should help a learner seeking to understand English grammar and who is confused about pronouns. It will explain first person, second person, and third person pronouns.

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Basics of Pronouns

Pronouns are words that replace nouns and other pronouns. While the term may sound strange, pronouns are actually incredibly common. Writers use them everyday. While there are many types of pronouns, the PDF below provides a basic introduction to three types of personal pronouns: subject, object, and reflexive.


Source: Dan Reade

Introduction to Pronouns: A Primer

This simple video provides both definitions of various pronouns and shows how they are used.

Source: Youtube

Common Pronoun Errors

Because pronouns are so common, pronoun mistakes are common as well. What follows is a list of some of the most common pronoun mistakes. Being aware of these will make it easier to avoid them when writing.

  • Mistakes in number and gender: Pronouns must agree in number and gender with the nouns to which they (the pronouns) refer.


When an artist performs, they are often quite nervous.

"Artist" is a singular noun, but "they" is a plural pronoun. The two do not agree in number (singular vs. plural). Instead of "they," the sentence should use "he or she."

If one is humble, he will go a long way.

"One" is non-gendered pronoun, but "he" is a gendered pronoun. The two must agree in gender, so "he" should become "one." (Or "one" should become "he.")

  • Mistakes in person: Pronouns must agree in person (first, second, third) to the noun or pronoun to which they refer.


After the lecture, we got to work on our experiments. You had to measure liquids to determine their salt content.

The paragraph starts with the first person plural pronoun "we," but then switches to the second person pronoun "you." Pronouns should remain consistent when they refer to the same person or group (in this case, both "we" and "you" refer to the students doing the experiments). To correct this, "you" should become "we."

  • Imprecise pronouns: So as not to confuse the reader, it should be clear which noun is being referred to. This can be a particular problem when using singular gendered (male or female) pronouns.


Carla and Jill said goodbye to each other, and then she went home.

Does the "she" in the second half of the sentence refer to Carla or Jill? Because it isn't clear, "she" should be replaced by the name of whichever woman went home.

  • Your/You're - Their/They're - Its/It's: One of the most common sources of confusion is between the possessive pronouns your, their, and its, and their contractions, which are pronounced in the same ways but have different meanings

Your, Their, and Its are possessive pronouns. They show that an object belongs to someone or something.

Your dress is beautiful. (The dress belongs to you.)

Their car was totalled. (The car belongs to them.)

The dog loves its bone. (The bone belongs to the dog.)

You're, They're, and It's are contractions

You're = you are.  You're going to regret it.

They're = they are.    They're having too much fun.

It's = it is.  It's very late.

Here's a rule to help remember: If you can split the word into two (you're into you are), then use the contraction form. If you can't, then use the possessive pronoun.


Source: Dan Reade


Because pronouns are so common in English, it is important to use them correctly. Failure to do so can make a reader take an essay less seriously, and in some instances even confuse the reader so much that he or she doesn't know what is going on! Through study of this packet, writers have learned:

  • The nature and identity of basic pronouns.
  • Common pronoun mistakes to be avoided.

Proper use of pronouns can help ensure that essays and papers are both easy to read and understand.

Source: Dan Reade