Third Person Pronouns

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What are third person pronouns?

Third person pronouns are an essential tool in writing because they are less cumbersome and cut down on the repetition of nouns. Third person pronouns are widely used in writing, for anything from fictional and traditional forms of academic writing to product descriptions, guides, blogs, articles and more. Singular third person pronouns are “he,” “she,” “it,” “his,” “hers,” “him” and “her,” and third person plural pronouns are “they,” “them” and “their.” The number of people to which you are referring should always match the pronoun you choose (“he” to refer to one male, “they” to refer to more than one male).

Subjective pronouns

A subjective pronoun acts as the subject of a sentence and performs the action of the verb. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: After breakfast, he went to school (“he” is the subject of the verb “went”).

Example 2: They spent hours looking at the stars (“they” is the subject of the verb “spent”).

Objective pronouns

An objective pronoun acts as the object of the sentence and receives the action of the verb or preposition. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Grandfather gave him a book (“him” is the object that receives the action of the verb “gave”).

Example 2: Take a picture of them! (“them” is the object of the preposition “of”).

Possessive pronouns

When pronouns are possessive, a noun usually follows the pronoun. Possessive pronouns show ownership or possession of the object. Remember that collective nouns (teams, businesses, groups) use the singular pronoun of “its” and not the plural pronoun of “theirs.” Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Her dog is a golden retriever (“her” shows ownership of the object “dog”).

Example 2: His brother scored the winning point (“his” shows ownership of the object “brother”).

The possessive form “it” does not take an apostrophe. Consider the following example:

Example: The lacrosse team won its first game of the season. (“its” shows ownership of the object “game”).

Gender distinction

Third person pronouns have genders (masculine and feminine) and a neuter category. The gender pronouns are clear; the neuter pronouns are “they,” “them” and “their.”

“He or she” versus “they”

With third person singular pronouns, a person’s gender is clear. There are not personal pronouns that refer to someone (as opposed to something) without first establishing whether the person is male or female. Today’s approach suggests using a gender-neutral solution in these cases. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: If your child is thinking about studying abroad, he or she can receive good advice from his website (since “child” is singular and not gender specific, “he or she” offers a gender-neutral solution).

Example 2: If your children are thinking about studying abroad, they can receive good advice from this website (since “children” is plural and not gender specific, “they” offers a gender-neutral solution).

Using “he or she” can sound a bit formal, but if you are writing according to a specific style guide, such as MLA, APA or AP, most prefer the use of the male pronoun when there is no gender specified. However, an easy way to work around this is to make the noun to which the pronoun refers plural, as is the case in previous example using “children” and “they.”