Personal pronouns take the place of the name of the person or thing that we are talking about. When you refer to yourself in a sentence you don't say your name all the time. Instead you say "I" or "me". These two words, "I" and "me", are personal pronouns which we use when we refer to ourselves. Other personal pronouns take the place of other people and things in a sentence. For example we use "she" and "her" to talk about another (female) person. Here's an example:
John: I like Kate. She's very nice to me. I think I'll call her.
If it wasn't for personal pronouns then John would have to say this:
John: John likes Kate. Kate is very nice to John. John thinks John will call Kate.
This is possible, and there might even be a context where John would choose to say it this way, but he would usually replace the nouns "John" and "Kate" with personal pronouns (I, me, she and her).
We'll look at the other personal pronouns in a minute. First, though, we need to know why we have two personal pronouns for each person. Why do we have both "I" and "me" and both "she" and "her"? Well, have a look at these four sentences - which are correct?
I play tennis.
Me play tennis.
John pushed I.
John pushed me.
If you answered that the first and last sentences are correct, then you'd be right. The reason has to do with subjects and objects. So before we see why only the first and last sentences are correct, we need to explain a bit more clearly what we mean by subjects and objects.
Have a look at this sentence:
John ate an apple.
In this sentence there are two nouns – John and apple. Both of them are related somehow to the verb (ate), in the sense that one of them (John) is doing the eating, and the other one (the apple) is being eaten. We could put this in another way – we could say that:
- John is the person (or it could be a thing) who is "doing" the action
- the apple is the thing (or it could be a person) being acted upon, or having the action done to it.
When we talk about the subject we are talking about the person or thing doing the action, and when we talk about the object we are talking about the person or thing being acted upon. So in this example "John" is the subject and "apple" is the object.
We'll be talking about subjects and objects in a lot more detail in module 3, but this will be enough for now to help us with our personal pronouns. So, let's look at the first and last sentences again:
I play tennis.
In this sentence, "I" am doing the action of playing. So "I" must be the subject in this sentence.
John pushed me.
This time though it's John who is doing the action, so John is the subject. He's pushing me, so I'm having the action "done" to me - I'm being acted upon! So "me" is the object in this sentence.
And now we're ready to answer our original question, "Why do we have two personal pronouns for each person?"
- I replaces the noun when it is the subject
- me replaces the noun when it is the object
Here are "I" and "me" in a table with all the other personal pronouns:
|First person singular||I||me|
|Second person singular||you||you|
|Third person singular||he / she / it||him / her / it|
|First person plural||we||us|
|Second person plural||you||you|
|Third person plural||they||them|
First, second and third person
You'll see that we've talked about something called first, second and third person in this table. What does this mean? Well, imagine yourself in a conversation with a friend at a party. You see someone across the room who you don't like, and you say to your friend:
I like you, but I don't like her.
If you look back to the table you'll see that this sentence contains a pronoun in the first person (I), a pronoun in the second person (you) and a pronoun in the third person(her).
- The first person (I) is the person talking.
- The second person (you) is the person being talked to.
- The third person (her) is the person or thing being talked about.
And that's always the case! The first person is always the one talking, the second person is being talked to, and the third person is being talked about. It doesn't matter if the pronouns are subjects (I/she/we) or objects (me/her/us). Here's another example:
John: She told him to get lost.
Deborah: Really! How did he react?
This time all the pronouns are in the third person (she; him; he). All of these pronouns are referring to people who John and Deborah are talking about.