What are the functions of personal pronouns

By definition a pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun or a noun phrase. Pronouns therefore take the positions of nouns in sentences. For example, instead of saying: “Peter is the thief”, I can replace the noun “Peter” with the pronoun “he” and form the sentence like this: “He is the thief”.

There are several types of pronouns in the English language. Examples of the kinds of pronouns we have include: personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, relative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, interrogative pronouns, etc.

We will take a look at the different types of pronouns in another lesson, but in this lesson we want to focus all our attention on the grammatical functions of pronouns.

What is the grammatical function of a pronoun?

The grammatical function of a pronoun is said to be the work or the job that the pronoun is doing in a sentence.

Pronouns can perform any of the following five functions:

  • Subject of the verb
  • Object of the verb
  • Complement of the verb
  • Object of the preposition
  • Apposition to a noun

Let us now take a look at each of these functions of a pronoun one after the other.

Pronoun functioning as the subject of a verb

Here, the pronoun will always come before the main verb in the sentence. It is also the one the entire sentence focuses on. Simply put, whenever a pronoun is used as the subject in a sentence, then it functions as the subject of a verb.


  • He is very sick.
  • You may let them come in.
  • I hate the way the movie ended.
  • She likes me.
  • It is a shame the way you mistreat the child.
  • They love soccer.
  • We voted for Barack Obama in the last election.

All the highlighted pronouns in the sentences above are all subjects and they are therefore functioning as subjects of their respect verbs. For example, in sentence 1, the pronoun “he” is functioning as the subject to the verb “is”.

Pronoun functioning as object of a verb

A pronoun will function as an object of a verb when it comes after an action verb and receives the action of the verb.

Examples of pronouns functioning as object of verbs include the following:

  • James slapped me.
  • I kissed her.
  • Elton likes her a lot.
  • The hunter killed it.
  • You showed him the money.
  • The security spotted us.

Each of the highlighted pronouns above is functioning as an object of the verb coming before it. They are all objects because they are receiving action from their respective action verbs.

Pronoun functioning as a complement of a verb

When a pronoun functions as a complement of a verb, what it basically does is it comes after a linking verb or state-of-being verb and receives no action from the verb.

Examples of pronouns functioning as complements of verbs include the following:

  • The thief was he.
  • It was I who called you last night.
  • The winner was he.
  • The visitor was she.
  • The men arrested in China were they.
  • It was you.

Every highlighted pronoun in the sentences above is functioning as a complement of the verb preceding it. The reason they are complements is because they come after linking verbs and state-of-being verbs and are receiving no action from these verbs.

Pronoun functioning as object of the preposition

When a pronoun functions as an object of a preposition, it comes after a preposition. Any pronoun coming after a preposition is the object of the preposition.

Examples are as follow:

  • I bought the book for her.
  • The teacher is angry with us.
  • I want to go with you.
  • It is for you.
  • I took a picture of her.
  • Please give it to me.

The words for, with, of, to are all prepositions. It therefore goes without saying that all the highlighted pronouns coming after them are objects of the prepositions. For example, in the first sentence, the pronoun “her” is functioning as the object of the preposition “for”.

Pronoun functioning in apposition to a noun

When a pronoun functions in apposition to a noun, it comes after a noun in the sentence or statement and renames the noun or tells readers something more about the noun. Examples of pronouns functioning in apposition to nouns include the following:

  • The boys, those who killed the dog, have gone.
  • My friends, those who stood by me, have all been rewarded.

The pronoun “those” is functioning in apposition to the noun “boys” in the first sentence and the noun “friends” in the second sentence.

You can clearly see that the pronoun “those” can be used to rename the nouns in the sentences above.

NOTE: Of all the functions of pronouns, it is the last function that is rarely used in sentences.

Now that you have seen the various grammatical functions of the pronoun, let us see if you can tell the grammatical functions of the pronouns in the sentences below:

  • Jesus he knows me.
  • Come with me.
  • Please remind me when we get there.
  • I hate what you are doing to yourself.
  • I think I love you.
  • The captain of the team is he.
  • He is my friend.
  • Do you believe in him?
  • We hate it when our friends become successful.
  • I will buy a bicycle for you if you pass your examinations.