What is a pronoun.

There is a full stop, not a question mark, at the end of this page title because it’s a statement. “What” is a pronoun.

Hello and welcome to a brief essay on pronouns.

“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.”
—Merriam-Webster

A noun is what you might have heard referred to in school as a “person, place, or thing”. Concepts, ideas, and abstractions can also be nouns. Here are some nouns:

  • cat
  • gemlog
  • protocol
  • Europe
  • daydream

Now, why would you need pronouns? Well, the entry that November is currently writing would be very unwieldy if November refrained from using pronouns in the text of the entry that November is currently writing.

I’m not actually 100% sure that last sentence was correct. “That” can be both a pronoun and a conjunction. Which is it in the context I used it in there? I don’t actually know!

First-person pronouns

“I” and “me” are pronouns. If you’ve ever heard anyone say the sentence “I don’t use pronouns”, they’ve already contradicted themself.

Then you have your plurals: “We”, “us”, “ourselves”. For another example phrase, “separating ourselves into groups with pronouns” makes no sense, because “ourselves” is already a pronoun that specifies a group of people.

Second-person pronouns

“You” is a pronoun, and one I’ve already used several times on this page. It’s both singular and plural. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further on it, but as an interesting historical note, English actually used to have a dedicated singular second-person pronoun, “thou”.

Third-person pronouns

This is the largest group of pronouns, because there are a lot more ways to refer to people-other-than-you-and-me.

You’re likely familiar with the personal pronouns we use every single day to refer to other people:

  • She/her
  • He/him
  • They/them

There are other examples floating around, dating as far back as the 80s and 90s, such as “xie/zir” and “per/pers”, because of the xkcd 927 problem:

standards.png
[CC BY-NC xkcd.com]

But the right-wing stereotype of the Angry Trans Person who screams at you for not instinctively knowing that ze wants you to call zem “ze” is a fairy tale, a bedtime story chuds tell themselves to make themselves believe there’s anyone on the planet they’re superior to. (If you don’t believe the previous sentence describes you, then you may have been taken in by the lies said people have told you. It’s okay, it happens.)

These alternate third-person pronouns still have fairly predictable declensions, as far as you can predict anything about an inherently irregular word class. “Xe went to the store” would be correct, but “How are xymself today?” is wrong, and obviously so if you think about it for more than three milliseconds.

Third-person pronouns, part 2

But wait, there’s more!

  • Who
  • What
  • Which
  • Someone
  • No one

All of these are pronouns!

Not pronouns

Nouns are not pronouns.

  • Woman
  • Ma’am
  • Dude

These are nouns. They are not pronouns. “Pronoun” does not mean “gender-related word”.

Yes, Virginia, “what” is a pronoun.

And if you didn’t know that before, you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000!

Other fun facts you may not have known:

  • The word “intersexuality” was coined in 1917, and “intersex” entered common usage around 1993.
  • The acronym “LGBTQIA” has been in use for at least ten years — that’s how long ago I recall seeing it, anyhow.
  • You not being aware of a linguistic fact does not mean it’s new.