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 Zaya's inspirational words come shortly after her dad spoke about the heartwarming details of how Zaya asked her parents to use her new name and refer to her with she and her pronouns. Brittney Mcnamara, Teen Vogue, "Zaya Wade Opened Up About Coming Out and Being “True”," 11 Feb. 2020 Billy Dee Williams talking about his preferred pronouns and feelings about his gender identity at age 82 just makes my heart melt. Lisa Respers France, CNN, "Billy Dee Williams praised for using gender-fluid pronouns," 2 Dec. 2019 According to a civil lawsuit filed this week, Nike and Mainz Brady Group, a staffing firm that hired workers for Nike, discriminated against computer engineer Jazz Lyles, who identifies as transmasculine and prefers the pronouns they/them/their. Sarah Min, CBS News, "Transgender worker suing Nike for $1.1 million cites pronoun abuses," 20 Dec. 2019 But surely that dynamic cannot apply to rudimentary linguistic building blocks such as pronouns. Josh Hammer, National Review, "The Fifth Circuit Rejects the Lie of Transgender Pronouns," 27 Jan. 2020 Baggs’s death on social media used gender-neutral pronouns, while others used the traditional feminine ones. Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, "Mel Baggs, Blogger on Autism and Disability, Dies at 39," 28 Apr. 2020 Employees at Oregon facilities must refer to children using their preferred pronouns. oregonlive, "Oregon should license out-of-state programs where foster children are sent to live, lawmaker says," 31 Jan. 2020 Other state lawmakers have introduced bills to add a non-binary pronoun to driver’s licenses. Dorothy Dworkin,, "The singular ‘they’ | Opinion," 17 Oct. 2019 QTViet Cafe member Jessie Nguyen, who uses they/them pronouns, has always had a close working relationship with their mother, Kim., "A queer path to Vietnamese food & tradition in the Bay Area," 21 Feb. 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

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

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Statistics for pronoun

Last Updated

14 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pronoun.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for pronoun


How to pronounce pronoun (audio)

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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pronoun

Spanish Central: Translation of pronoun

Nglish: Translation of pronoun for Spanish Speakers

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

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