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Pronoun Subjects

Personal Pronouns

Pronouns make things a little more complicated. With personal pronouns, only he, she, it, (and they used as a singular–check with your prof to see if this is acceptable) require use of explicitly singular verbs. I, we, you, and they all take the “normal” verbs… except with is and was. These guys are just tricky, so you more or less have to memorise which verb matches which personal pronoun.

First, we, you, and they agree with the “normal” verbs again, are and were in this case. Be careful here: this is one of the only times where the “normal” plural verb is different than the “normal” verb that would follow to in the infinitive construction. You will never see to were; instead, the proper infinitive is to be.

Second, heshe, and it (plus they used as a singular–again, ask your professor) agree with the “singular” verbs ending in S: is and was.

Third, our good friend I (which we don’t want to use too often outside of reflection papers) agrees with am in the present tense and was in the past tense. Weird.

If you have trouble keeping these straight, try saying your sentence out loud. Many people who have difficulty with these rules in writing remember them more easily when speaking.


Other Pronouns

Most non-personal pronouns follow the same patterns as singular nouns, taking singular verbs (ending in S), even if some do not “feel” like they should be singular all the time. Some such pronouns include whatever, everyone, nobody, and everything. Be extra careful when checking these pronouns for subject-verb agreement because a few of them are not always acting like subjects even when they seem like they are (the who, what, and which families especially). Further information about these special cases can be found in our Related Links toward the end of this Quick Start Guide.

Your Turn: Test Your Understanding!