The subject pronouns are some of the most useful words you will learn in English. We use them when we talk about ourselves, to other people, and about other people.
The basic subject pronouns
There are 7 basic subject pronouns in English. You probably know them already: I, you, he, she, it, we and they. Remember, in English we use you for singular people and plural groups. Subject pronouns are the pronouns that refer to the person doing the action in a sentence. In normal sentences, the subject pronoun comes before the verb in English. Word order is not generally flexible. For example:
I made cookies.
You drove home.
She wrote an email.
It arrived too late.
We went to school.
They like dogs.
We use subject pronouns when we don’t want to repeat a noun, or if it is obvious who we are talking about. For example:
- Without subject pronouns: John won the lottery. John is really happy and John is going to buy a new house.
- With subject pronouns: John won the lottery. He is really happy and he’s going to buy a new house.
The second sentence sounds much more natural.
First, second and third person pronouns
You might hear people talking about pronouns in these different ways.
- First person pronouns are used when the speaker is involved: I and we.
- You is the second person pronoun; it refers to the person or people you are speaking to.
- He, she, it and they are third person pronouns; they refer to the person or people you are talking about.
The pronoun it is a gender neutral pronoun in English. He is for males, and she is for females, but it is for things which are not male or female, or if we don’t know which gender they are. We use this pronoun most often to talk about objects:
That house is huge. It is like a mansion.
Give me that old book, it needs a new cover.
We use the subject pronoun it when we talk about time and weather:
It is 5 pm.
It’s sunny today.
We also use it to talk about countries and other geographical features in English.
Spain is a beautiful country. It has lovely weather too.
The river is very fast. It’s dangerous to swim in.
Pronouns for animals
My students often ask me which pronoun they should use for animals. And the answer is: it depends. If you’re talking about a pet, especially a dog or a cat, you will probably want to use he or she. If you’re talking about an animal you don’t have a connection with, use it.
Our new puppy is playing in the garden. She’s so sweet.
There’s a mouse in the kitchen. It is eating our biscuits!
One is a subject pronoun. It means a person. It’s often called an impersonal pronoun, and it is used to talk generally about people. Grammatically, it is usually used as a third person singular pronoun. We don’t use it very often in English because it is formal and old-fashioned language. But, it is important for you to recognise it, because you might see it in writing or hear it on TV shows like Bridgerton. Here’s an example:
One needs to work to have money. Or: One should always be polite.
In more normal language we would say: You need to work to have money / You should always be polite. You, in this case, doesn’t mean the person you are talking to, it just means people in general.
Who can be a subject pronoun, and we usually see it in questions. For example:
Who made this mess? John (made this mess).
O Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?
There’s a lot of very old-fashioned language in this famous sentence from Shakespeare, including the word thou (pronounced like how). Thou means you and it was used in old English for friends or people who had a lower status than you. It’s a bit like tu in French or du in German. We don’t use it any more in English, but you will see it in older texts.
Do you think one should learn the subject pronouns? I think you definitely should!