This page discusses the different types of pronouns. and the problems they can cause.


Pronouns are one of the eight parts of speech. Some modern grammarians do not classify pronouns as a separate part of speech, but subsume them under nouns. They form a limited set. In other words, no new pronouns are added to the language in the way that happens to nouns and verbs. Pronouns are important because they are very common in all spoken and written communications in English.

Pronoun classification

Below are the seven pronoun classes with their members:

this, that, these, those
any, each, none, some, anybody, everybody somebody, anything, etc.
what?, which?, who/whom/whose?
I/me, you, he/him, she/her, it, we/us, they/them
mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs
myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
which, what, who/whom/whose, that

Pronoun problems

The pronouns in each of these categories can cause difficulties for English language learners. I want to focus here on just two problems: agreement and cohesion.


One aspect of agreement is the correct grammatical connection between a pronoun and its verb. So, for example, it needs to be I go but she goes. This isn't too difficult.

Problems typically arise with the agreement of the indefinite pronoun with the verb or other pronoun associated to it. Should it be, for example, None of the students is from Korea or None of the students are from Korea? And should it be Somebody has left his or her phone on the chair or Somebody has left their phone on the chair? These are problems that many native speakers have too.

Here you can read more about agreement. The page has links to further information and quizzes. The answer to the questions in the paragraph above is that both variants are acceptable in modern English.


Cohesion is the term for the quality of a piece of spoken or written text, such that it 'hangs together' without ambiguity. There are various ways to achieve cohesion. But the one we are concerned with here is the use of pronouns.

For example, the sentence John put his phone on the table and Mary put hers on the chair is cohesive and unambiguous. We use the possessive pronoun hers to remove the redundancy Redundancy is the inclusion of words that are unnecessary because the message is clear without them. in John put his phone on the table and Mary put her phone on the chair.

Sometimes, however, pronoun use does result in ambiguity. Consider, for example, the following sentence. Mary likes John a lot, but Molly doesn't. She doesn't allow him to talk to her.To whom are the personal pronouns she/her in the second sentence referring?

An authentic sentence from an ESL student reads Merrick's mother loved books and she passed it to her son. The personal pronoun it is ambiguous. Is it a mistake, since the student wanted to refer back to books - in which case it should be them? Or did the student mean it to refer to the love of books? In this case there is no alternative but to use a noun phrase: Merrick's mother loved books and she passed this love to her son.

There is more about cohesion elsewhere on this site, including an analysis of several examples of poor cohesion resulting from the misuse of pronouns. The page has links to further information and quizzes.


Pronouns are important and generally quite easy to use. But learners who aspire to communicating grammatically and unambiguously need to be aware of the problems of agreement and cohesion.