pro·​noun | \ ?prō-?nau?n How to pronounce pronoun (audio) \

Definition of pronoun

: any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose referents are named or understood in the context

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What is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns refer to either a noun that has already been mentioned or to a noun that does not need to be named specifically.

The most common pronouns are the personal pronouns, which refer to the person or people speaking or writing (first person), the person or people being spoken to (second person), or other people or things (third person). Like nouns, personal pronouns can function as either the subject of a verb or the object of a verb or preposition: "She likes him, but he loves her." Most of the personal pronouns have different subject and object forms:

pronoun table

There are a number of other types of pronouns. The interrogative pronouns—particularly what, which, who, whom, and whose—introduce questions for which a noun is the answer, as in "Which do you prefer?"

Possessive pronouns refer to things or people that belong to someone. The main possessive pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.

The four demonstrative pronounsthis, that, these, and those—distinguish the person or thing being referred to from other people or things; they are identical to the demonstrative adjectives.

Relative pronouns introduce a subordinate clause, a part of a sentence that includes a subject and verb but does not form a sentence by itself. The main relative pronouns are that, which, who, whom, what, and whose.

Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of a sentence or clause and are formed by adding -self or -selves to a personal pronoun or possessive adjective, as in myself, herself, ourselves, and itself.

Indefinite pronouns, such as everybody, either, none, and something, do not refer to a specific person or thing, and typically refer to an unidentified or unfamiliar person or thing.

The words it and there can also be used like pronouns when the rules of grammar require a subject but no noun is actually being referred to. Both are usually used at the beginning of a sentence or clause, as in "It was almost noon" and "There is some cake left." These are sometimes referred to as expletives.

Examples of pronoun in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Shawnee State punished a professor for refusing to acknowledge a student's gender identity by using their preferred pronouns. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "College professors donate to Democrats over Republicans by ratio of 95-to-1: Study," 23 Jan. 2020 This is frequently the case in language where, for example, the correct conjugation of a verb or gender of a pronoun at the end of a sentence can depend on a subject that occurs at the start of the sentence, or even several sentences back. Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, "A.I. breakthroughs in natural-language processing are big for business," 20 Jan. 2020 How can businesses maintain a friendly, welcoming environment while ensuring patrons address workers using their preferred gender pronouns? Alix Wall,, "Businesses to customers: Stop misgendering our staff," 27 Nov. 2019 Having a nonnormative gender identity and preferring the use of nonstandard pronouns means that I am often misgendered by people who have just met me. Lucy Parks, Outside Online, "How Being LGBTQ Affected My AT Thru-Hike," 22 Jan. 2020 Given the problems with he, lots of people have invented new, gender-free pronouns. The Economist, "Johnson Who do they think they are?," 18 Jan. 2020 Consciously or unconsciously, non-Southerners may be letting prejudice keep them from accepting the obviously superior pronoun. Lila Maclellan, Quartz, "The trends that may end the “y’all” vs “you guys” debate," 26 Nov. 2019 Such training included the use of preferred pronouns. David Oliver, USA TODAY, "American Airlines begins offering non-binary gender options during booking process," 21 Dec. 2019 Some people, including members of the LGBTQ community, slammed Che for deadnaming Jenner and not noting her true pronoun. Rachel Yang,, "Michael Che called out for 'ageist' SNL jabs one week after controversial Caitlyn Jenner joke," 4 Nov. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pronoun.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of pronoun

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pronoun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin pronomin-, pronomen, from pro- for + nomin-, nomen name — more at pro-, name

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Time Traveler for pronoun

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The first known use of pronoun was in the 15th century

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Statistics for pronoun

Last Updated

9 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pronoun.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for pronoun


How to pronounce pronoun (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of pronoun

grammar : a word (such as I, he, she, you, it, we, or they) that is used instead of a noun or noun phrase


pro·​noun | \ ?prō-?nau?n How to pronounce pronoun (audio) \

Kids Definition of pronoun

: a word used as a substitute for a noun

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Britannica English: Translation of pronoun for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about pronoun

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