Tema 41- Los pronombres: características, función y clasificación.

Tema 41- Los pronombres: características, función y clasificación.


One category of pro-forms is particularly associated with noun phrases and this is the pronoun. This category is very wide-ranging and heterogeneous. But as with pro-forms in general, all the pronouns have one thing in common: their referential meaning is determined purely by the grammar of English and the linguistic or situational context in which they occur.

Classes and subclasses of pronouns:

  1. Central:

a) Personal (I, me, they)

b) Reflexive (myself, themselves)

c) Possessive (my/mine, their/theirs)

  1. Relative (which, that)
  2. Interrogative (who, what)
  3. Demonstrative (this, those)
  4. Indefinite:

a) Positive: universal (both, each), assertive (some, several), non-assertive (any, either)

b) Negative (nobody, neither)

  1. Central pronouns:

a) Personal pronouns:

Like all the central pronouns, they display a person contrast, that is, they have separate 1st, 2nd and 3rd person forms. In the 3rd person singular, there is a three-way gender contrast: masculine, feminine and non-personal. There are also number contrasts (singular and plural) and a 1st and 3rd person contrast in case (subjective, objective).


Determiner function

Independent function







I (me)





We (us)















He (him)





She (her)










They (them)




– Person: distinguishes the speaker or writer (1st person) from the addressee (reader or listener) (2nd person) and from those persons or things which are neither (3rd person). If pronouns of different persons are coordinated, the sequence is treated as 1st person, if it includes I or we, 2nd person if it includes you but not I or we.

– You and I can go together, can´ t we?

– You and she agree with that, don´ t you?

If neither 1st nor 2nd person pronouns occur in coordination, the sequence is 3rd p.

– Fred and Mona met in Tunis, didn´ t they?

The ordering of pronouns in coordination: the 1st p. comes last and the 2nd p. comes first.

– You, he and I will still be at work.

3rd p. coordinates usually the masculine before the feminine, the pronoun before the noun phrase.

– He and she were both elected.

– She and another student were both elected

– Gender: enforces a three-way distinction on the 3rd p. singular, with masculine, feminine and non-personal forms. This causes problems when there is no basis for deciding between masculine and feminine, either because the gender is unknown or because it must be inclusive.

– Someone is knocking so I´ d better go and let h… in.

Traditionally the masculine can be used as the unmarked form, uncovering male and female references.

– Number: With the 3rd p. number is closest in value to that with nouns. With the 2nd p. there is a number contrast only in the reflexive pronoun:

– Look at your hand, jack, you´ ve cut yourself.

The plural of the 1st p. is different, because we is not the plural of I (we is not I+ I+ I+) but a pronoun meaning “I and one or more other people”.

– Case: involves a distinction marking the grammatical roles of subject and object.

– He detained her.

Corresponding to the genitive case in nouns, we have the subclass of possessives, treated below.

The pronoun it:

Any singular noun phrase that does not determine reference by he or she, si referred to by it: f.i: collectives, noncount concretes and abstractions

– The committee met soon it had been appointed

It can refer to the content of whole sentences and sequences of sentences. It is a cataphoric use of it with sentential reference:

– It has to be said that you have lost your job because of your unpunctuality.

Analogous too is the anticipatory it in cleft sentences

– It was only last week that the death was announced

The 1st person plural forms:

The pronoun for the 1st p. plural is a device for referring to “I” and one or more other people. The latter may be inclusive of the addresse(s). Artificial inclusiveness is found in the informal we used by doctor to patient.

– How are we feeling today?

Modification of pronouns:

There is very limited scope for modification and it concerns the personal pronouns with the objective case:

1) Adjectives in informal exclamations:

– Poor me!

2) Appositive nouns with plural 1st and 2nd p.

– You nurses have earned the respect of the entire country and we politicians must see that you get a proper reward

3) Here and there, with 1st p. plural and 2nd p. respectively

– Whatever you others do, we here would be willing to leave now.

4) Prepositional phrases with 1st p. (usually plural) and 2nd p.

– It is very much the concern of us in the learned professions

5) Emphatic reflexives: I myself, she herself, they themselves

6) Universal pronouns with plurals

– We all accept responsibility

7) Relative clauses in formal style

– He or she who left a case in my office should claim it as soon as possible.

b) Reflexive pronouns:

The reflexive pronouns are always coreferential with a noun or another pronoun, agreeing it in gender, number and person.

– The dog was scratching itself

The coreference must be within the clause. We have the contrast

– Penelope begged Jane to look after her (Penelope)

– Penelope begged Jane to look after herself (Jane)

But the item determining the reflexive may be absent from the clause.

– Look at yourself in the mirror!

A few transitive verbs require that subject and object are coreferential

– They pride themselves on their well-kept garden.

Prepositional complements coreferential with an item in the same clause take reflexive form where the preposition with the verb: look after, listen to. But where the prepositional phrase is adverbial (especially relating to space) coreference can be expressed without the reflexive.

– Fred closed the door behind him.

c) Possessive pronouns: Most of the possessive pronouns differ in form according as they function as determiners or as independent items.

– That is my bicycle

– That bicycle is mine

When the emphatic very (own) follows a possessive, there is no difference between determiner and independent function.

– That is my own bicycle

– That bicycle is my own

Possessives are used with items such as parts of the body without any feeling of tautology.

– She shook her head.

Pronouns without a person contrast:

  1. Relative pronouns:

They comprise 2 series:

1) Wh-items: who, whom, whose, which.

2) That and zero

– I´ d like to come and see the house which/that/—- you have for sale.

In neither series are there distinctions of person or number but in 1 we have some distinction of gender and case. With who and whom the antecedent must have personal gender, with which it must have nonpersonal gender, with whose the antecedent is usually personal but can also be nonpersonal.

– Are you the doctor who looked after my daughter?

– That is the hospital which is to be expanded.

– That is the doctor/hospital whose phone number I gave you.

While who and whom share gender reference, their difference in form reflects the case distinction, subjective and objective respectively

– The man who greeted me is a neighbour.

– The man whom I greeted is a neighbour.

– The man to whom I spoke is a neighbour.

That can be used without reference to the gender of the antecedent or the function within the relative clause, except that it cannot be preceded by a preposition.



Zero has a simliar range, lacking only the subject function


A major difference between the 2 series is that items in 2 can operate only in defining or restrictive clauses.

  1. Interrogative pronouns:

There are 5 interrogative pronouns: who, who, whose, which and what. The first 4 are identical with series 1 of the relative pronouns but there are notable differences both in their reference and in their grammar within the clause.

Whose a swell as who and whom can be used only with reference to items of personal gender, nor is whose restricted to determiner function. Whom can function only a subjective case. Who can be both subjective and objective except after a preposition

– Who owns the house?

– Who(m) does this house belong to?

– To who(m) does this house belong?

– Whose is this house?

With which reference can be both personal and nonpersonal

– Of these cars/ students, which is best?/ do you like most?

When what is used as a pronoun, the questioner assumes that the reference is nonpersonal

– What is in that box?

But what and which can also be determiners and in this function the noun phrase can be personal or nonpersonal, the difference being that which assumes a limited choice of known answers.

– What doctor(s) would refuse to see a patient?

– Which doctor(s) (of those we are discussing) gave an opinion on this problem?

As determiner whose retains its personal reference.

  1. Demonstrative pronouns:

The demonstrative have the same formal range and semantic contrast both as pronouns and as determiners: this/these suggesting relative proximity to the speaker, that/those, relative remoteness.

– We shall compare this/these picture(s) here with that/those picture(s) over there.

But while all can be used as determiners irrespective of the gender of the noun head, as pronouns the reference must be to nouns of nonpersonal gender.

– In the garden, I noticed this plastic bag-this

– this woman- *this

3 exceptions:

1) An exception is where the demonstrative pronoun is subject of a be-clause with a noun phrase of specific reference as a complement:

– That is my kitten.

2) Occasionally too the demonstratives may be used as pronouns with animate reference where there is ellipsis.

– I attended to that patient but not this (one).

3) A further partial exception is that “those” with postmodification can readily have personal reference:

– Success comes to those who have determination

As determiners or pronouns the demonstratives can be modified by predeterminers

– She painted all (of) those (pictures) last year.

The deictic or pointing contrast between this/these and that/those is not confined to spatial perception. This/these have more immediate or impending relevance that that/those. In consequence, this/these tend to be associated with cataphoric reference and that/those with anaphoric reference.

– This is an announcement: will Mrs. Peter soon please go to the enquiry desk.

– And that was the six o´ clock news.

  1. Indefinite pronouns:

They are heterogeneous in form and they embrace also a wide range both of meanings and of grammatical properties but they are characterized by having a general and non-specific reference, by having functions involved in expressing quantity from totally (all) to its converse (nothing). Reference in some cases invokes gender, such that items in -body are personal, items in –thing nonpersonal. Several of the indefinites can function both as determiners and as pronouns.

The universal items:

The compound indefinites are: everyone, everybody, everything, no one, nobody, nothing. All except no one are written as single words. They function only as pronouns and despite their plural meaning they take singular verbs:

– The room was full of youngsters and everyone was listening to the speeches.

2 further indefinites are each and none, both able to operate irrespective of gender with singular reference.

– Many members hesitated but although each was pressed to act, none was in the end willing

Each but not none can also function as determiner (like every).

– Each/Every candidate will be individually interviewed

But each is more targeted on the individual among the totality, every on the totality itself.

Each and none are not restricted to singular reference

– Hundreds were examined but none were acceptable.

With all and both we make plural and dual universal reference

– The factory produces luxury cars and al are for exports

– Police interviewed the (two) suspects and both were arrested

The 2 items have a predeterminer function

– All these cars are for export

The converse of all is no(ne) and of both is neither.

Partitive indefinites:

There are 2 groups:

1) Those in assertive use (affirmative): someone, something, some

2) Those in nonassertive use (negative and question): anyone, anything, any.

When used pronominally, some and any have a contextual reference to a noun phrase. Both occur more freely as determiners.
The partitives include quantifiers which may increase or decrease the implications of some: “There are some who would disagree”.

– There are many who would disagree

– There are a few who would disagree.

As well as being pronouns many, a few, a little and much can be determiners.

The of-partitives:

It is typical of the indefinites which have both a pronoun and a determiner role to fuse these roles in of-expressions. Where the final part is a personal pronoun or a noun preceded by definite determiner


As well as one, the other cardinal numbers are used in of-partitives

– Three of my friends are coming to dinner.