pro·​noun | \ ˈprō-ˌnau̇n 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 Can a Christian professor be disciplined or fired for refusing to call a transgender student by a preferred pronoun? The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Pronouns and the Philosophy Professor," 30 Mar. 2021 The second is is the verb for the pronoun who, whose antecedent in this sentence is people. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Which one is correct: ‘an historic’ or ‘a historic’?," 20 Mar. 2021 All of the intimacy of that two-letter lowercase plural pronoun and all the majesty and contradiction of the U.S. David Marchesephoto Illustration By Bráulio Amado, New York Times, "Ken Burns Still Has Faith in a Shared American Story," 12 Mar. 2021 And then what happens to the neutral pronoun when adjectives need to be used? Alex Ledsom, Forbes, "Le, La But Not ‘They’: An Explainer On France’s Language Problem," 10 Mar. 2021 France doesn’t have a pronoun for ‘they’–in the third person plural, people must choose between the masculine ils or feminine elles. Alex Ledsom, Forbes, "Le, La But Not ‘They’: An Explainer On France’s Language Problem," 10 Mar. 2021 In all, the group could have accessed material from 150,000 Verkada cameras, according to Kottmann, who doesn’t identify as male or female and uses they as a pronoun. Micah Maidenberg, WSJ, "Hacker Group Says It Accessed Tesla’s, Others’ Internal Video-Surveillance Feeds," 10 Mar. 2021 Peterson objected on the grounds that the law could force him to address a transgender student by his or her preferred pronoun or else be faced with prosecution under human rights laws. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "Penguin Random House Canada staff reportedly cry after news of Jordan Peterson book," 24 Nov. 2020 Yeah, a lot of dance songs have come-hither lyrics about beguiling women who are referred to exclusively via pronoun. Katie Bain, Billboard, "First Spin: The Week's Best New Dance Tracks From Zhu & 24kGoldn, Shimza, Rina Taniguchi & More," 6 Nov. 2020

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

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for pronoun

Last Updated

6 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pronoun.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for pronoun



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 | \ ˈprō-ˌnau̇n How to pronounce pronoun (audio) \

Kids Definition of pronoun

: a word used as a substitute for a noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on pronoun

Nglish: Translation of pronoun for Spanish Speakers

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

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