What are Pronouns?

Look at this picture, and write a sentence or two about what is going on here:

Tired student studying at library

What kind of sentence did you get? More than likely one of your sentences used the word ‘he’. Maybe you said something like “ The boy is studying for school. He looks tired.”

In a sentence like this you have used a pronoun. “He” is a pronoun.

Pronouns are words that replace nouns- people, places, and things- in your writing.
Common pronouns include words such as: I, me, my, he, she, we, us, them, they, and it.

A pronoun must agree with the word it refers to (this referred to word is called its "antecedent").

The student was frustrated because he did not understand the homework assignment.

Here, “student” is the noun and “he” is the pronoun that replaces it.

Pronouns help keep sentences shorter and easier

They make reading easier by keeping sentences shorter, so we do not end up with sentences like this:

The student was frustrated because the student did not understand the homework assignment. The student did not finish the homework assignment. Instead, the student went out with friends.

By using pronouns, we can make these sentences much clearer and much easier to read:

The student was frustrated because he did not understand the homework assignment. He did not finish it. Instead, he went out with friends.

Making Pronouns Agree

Plural goes with plural, singular with singular

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent, which is the word that the pronoun is referring to. If a pronoun refers to a singular noun then the pronoun must also be singular, and vice versa for plural.

For example:

Susan and Alan published their book this year.

Here you have a plural noun because you are referring to two people (Susan and Alan), so the pronoun that takes the place of the names needs to be plural too.

When nouns are joined by the word "or"

When the nouns are joined by the word or, you may need to use a singular or plural pronoun. If both nouns are singular, then use a singular pronoun. If both nouns are plural, then use a plural pronoun.


Do more men or women have their degree in English?
Does California or Florida have its own tourist industry?

When nouns are joined with the word "and"

When the word “and” is used to join two nouns together in a sentence then you will use the plural form for the pronoun. Because you have more than one of something it will be plural and not singular.


Billy and Sally rode their bikes to school every day.
Sushi, brussel sprouts, and liver are the three foods I will not try because they make me sick.

Interactive Exercise:

Click on the correct pronoun from the choices given:
1. The committee will meet tomorrow to discuss (its / their) plans for the vacant lot.
2. Sarah and Joan are working on the quilts (her / their) mother gave them.
3. The jury members have been bating (its / their) verdict all day.
4. Mary wanted to spend all of (her / she) money at the mall.
5. Where did Mark and Susan put (them / their) book reports?
6. How many days has the police failed in (their / its) task of finding the murderer?
7. Zachary walked all the way to (his / him) house after school.
8. Paul and Peter have been best friends ever since (his / their) fathers met at the sports bar.

Understanding Indefinite Pronouns

Most pronouns refer to a specific person, place, or thing. When you talk about people or things whose identity is not known or when that is not important you can use indefinite pronouns. Some common singular and plural indefinite pronouns include:

Singular: each, nobody, someone, other, everybody, anything, everything, one, and another.

Plural: both, few, many, others, and several.

Singular or Plural: any, some, half, more, most, and none.

Mentioning both genders when using indefinite pronouns

When using indefinite forms of pronouns (e.g. "each", "nobody", "someone", "everyone", "anyone"...), we generally refer to the subject in this sentence as "he or she", or "his or hers", because we are not specifically referring to either male or female.


Each student must ensure he or she does the homework that is assigned in class.

Thus, when the sex of the individual being discussed is not clear, we must refer to both male and female

Another example:

Anyone can be a good parent.

In this sentence, we do not know if we are talking specifically about males or females, so it is an indefinite pronoun. If we were to add to this sentence we would have to mention both genders, like this:

Anyone can be a good parent because all he or she wants to do is take care of their child.

Another example:

Each member of the group is responsible for submitting his or her paperwork on time.

In this example the subject of the sentence isn't specifically male or female, so we refer to both by saying "his or her". Remember to use whatever pronoun set that fits the sentence!

Interactive Exercise:

Click on the correct pronoun from the choices given:
1. Each member of the committee will present (his or her / their) reports at the meeting.
2. Everyone is responsible for (his or her / their) own safety at work.
3. Both committee members presented (his or her / their) year-end reports to the president.
4. There are many students who wish (they / he or she) could skip out on class today.
5. A parent may at times wonder if (they / he or she) is doing the best they can.
6. There are several employees who can make (their / his or her) co-workers insane.
7. Most of the committee members left in a hurry to get back to (his or her / their) offices.
8. Most of the jury were very quick to arrive at (their / its) verdict.