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Subject Pronouns in English Grammar

Pronouns are small words that can take the place of nouns, noun phrases, and other grammatical forms. Subject pronouns are pronouns that perform two functions in clauses: subject and subject complement. Subjects are words, phrases, and clauses that perform the action of or act upon the verb. Subject complements are words, phrases, and clauses that follow a copular, or linking, verb and refer back to modify, describe, or complete the grammatical subject of the clause. Pronouns from the five categories of pronouns in the English language can function as subject pronouns.

Personal Pronouns as Subject Pronouns

Personal pronouns may function as subject pronouns. Personal pronouns are pronouns that take the place of common and proper nouns with known antecedents. The subject pronouns in English are:

  • I (first person singular)
  • you (second person singular)
  • he (third person singular masculine)
  • she (third person singular feminine)
  • it (third person singular neuter)
  • we (first person plural)
  • you (second person plural)
  • they (third person plural)

For example:

  • I am a librarian. (subject)
  • He wrote the book. (subject)
  • My aunt is she. (subject complement)
  • The tourists are they. (subject complement)

Demonstrative Pronouns as Subject Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns may function as subject pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that provide additional information about the proximity of the word, phrase, or clause replaced by the pronoun. The four demonstrative pronouns in English grammar are:

  • this
  • that
  • these
  • those

All four demonstrative pronouns can function as subject pronouns. For example:

  • That gives me a headache. (subject)
  • Those belonged to your great grandmother. (subject)
  • The problem is this. (subject complement)
  • The donations for the sale are these.

Indefinite Pronouns as Subject Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns may function as subject pronouns. Indefinite pronouns refer to unspecified persons, places, things, and ideas and are most commonly used in impersonal constructions, or sentences that make general statements without a specified grammatical agent. The seven types of indefinite pronouns in English grammar are:

  • Singular Indefinite -one Pronouns
  • Singular Indefinite -body Pronouns
  • Singular Indefinite -thing Pronouns
  • Other Singular Indefinite Pronouns
  • Plural Indefinite Pronouns
  • Singular or Plural Indefinite Pronouns
  • Other Indefinite Pronouns

All seven types of indefinite pronouns can function as subject pronouns. For example:

  • Anyone may attend the lecture. (subject)
  • Little matters to him anymore. (subject)
  • All is lost. (subject)
  • You can never have enough socks. (subject)
  • The culprit could be anybody. (subject complement)
  • The problem has to be something. (subject complement)
  • The assigned books are both. (subject complement)

Interrogative Pronouns as Subject Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns may function as subject pronouns. Interrogative pronouns are question pronouns that are most often used in questions to gather more information about an unknown antecedent. The ten interrogative pronouns in English grammar are:

  • who1
  • whom2
  • what
  • which
  • whose
  • whoever1
  • whomever2
  • whatever
  • whichever
  • whosever

All ten interrogative pronouns can function as subject pronouns. For example:

  • Who ordered the extra large cheese pizza? (subject)
  • Whose are those? (subject)
  • Whoever would want to do such a nasty thing? (subject)
  • Your best friend was whom2? (subject complement)
  • The secret of the old clock is what? (subject complement)
  • Our family activity can be whatever. (subject complement)

1. Some English speakers will hypercorrect and use the object pronouns whom and whomever in the subject position. Hypercorrection is when a speaker or writer overgeneralizes a rule to the point of making a new error.
2. Prescriptive grammars proscribe the use of the object pronouns whom and whomever in the subject complement position similar to the proscription of the personal object pronouns as subject complements.

Relative Pronouns as Subject Pronouns

Relative pronouns may function as subject pronouns. Relative pronouns are a type of subordinating conjunction that introduce adjective, or relative, clauses. In addition to functioning as subordinators, relative pronouns also perform syntactic functions within adjective clauses. Of the nine relative pronouns in English grammar, the three relative pronouns that can function as the subject of an adjective clause are:

  • that
  • who
  • which

For example:

  • My aunt really enjoyed the pie that is covered in whipped cream.
  • Harry Potter is the boy who lived.
  • The problem, which may delay production, resulted from a miscommunication.

Subject pronouns are pronouns that perform the grammatical functions of subject and subject complement. Pronouns from all five categories of English pronouns can function as subject pronouns within English grammar.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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