Pronouns in Academic Writing – Explanations With Examples

Time to read: 5 Minutes
Pronouns-Definition

Pronouns may reference specific and nonspecific things. For this reason, most scholars have termed them as understudies of English Grammar.

In this post, we explain what these words are, how to use them in sentences, what they do and mean in academic writing, and give examples.

Pronouns in Academic Writing – In a Nutshell

Academic writing would have been repetitious and clumsy if pronouns did not exist. Using these words correctly is next to mastering your academic writing and passing academic essay papers.

Therefore, you should understand the following:

  • The different types and when to use them
  • The antecedents
  • When to use antecedents as objects in a sentence
  • The main differences between these words, nouns, and determiners

Definition: Pronouns

Pronouns represent nouns, helping you to refrain from repeating the same words. They may refer to people, places, and concepts.

Examples:

  • Me
  • Himself
  • First-person
  • She
  • Yours
  • Mine
  • Etc.

A personal pronoun could refer to you, the people you are addressing, or other things.1 Speak with your tutor because some academic writing styles encourage the use of these words while others do not.

Using pronouns in a sentence

The function of a pronoun is to replace the noun, but you can use it as a direct or indirect object in a sentence.

A direct object is someone or something that a verb acts on, while an indirect object is something or someone receiving the direct object.

For example:

Direct object Indirect object
• The man thrashed them.
• The family is drinking tea.
• Tell him the story.
• To whom does this book belong?

The antecedents of pronouns

These are noun replacements used before or after a pronoun. The antecedent may also be something the person you are talking to said.

Before:

  • As she planned to return home, Jamie became increasingly adamant.

After:

  • Peter was late again for practice because he dreaded the shortcut passing through the woods.

Always ensure that the antecedent is evident, or you may need to use the actual noun for clarity.

For example:

Incorrect use

  • After manufacturing the milk and the health inspector passed by, it was delivered to the market.

In the above sentence, it is unclear what the term “it” means; hence, you can make it more understandable as follows:

Correct use

  • After the oil manufacturing and the health inspector passed by, the milk was delivered to the market.

Pronouns vs. nouns

While pronouns are a relatively small class of words, they do not change over time, unlike the broader class of nouns that are constantly expanding. As nouns, pronouns refer to people, things, concepts, and places; however, nouns do so in greater specificity.

Both are similar to objects or subjects of a verb and heads in noun phrases. A complete sentence may look like “Joan ate,” just like when saying “she ate.”

However, nouns have fixed forms, so they never change spellings depending on grammatical roles in a sentence.

Pronouns vs. determiners

Determiners modify the words or noun phrases and do not act as objects or subjects. In contrast, pronouns stand on their own as objects or subjects.

Still, the two are closely related because a possessive pronoun like “yours,” closely relates to a determiner like “your,” while demonstrative pronouns like “that” are similar to demonstrative determiners.

For example:

  • That restaurant is full, but that one will help you.
  • You have to taste their meat; I have attended many meat festivals, but theirs is worth it.

Personal pronouns

These words refer to yourself, someone you are addressing, or other things and people, and they may change their form depending on the following:

  • Person (first-, second-, or third-person)
  • Number (singular or plural)
  • Case (subject possessive, object, or reflexive)
  • Gender (feminine, epicene, masculine, or neuter)

You can use the impersonal pronoun “it” in general statements referring to no particular person.

For example:

Personal pronouns:

• My name is Sierra, and I am a nurse (person).
• You are better at this, Geneva (second person).
Impersonal pronouns:

• She lied, and she knows it.
• Here is your novel; take it.

Interrogative pronouns

These introduce questions; either on their own or get help from other interrogative words. They include:

  • Which and what (asks about things)
  • Whose (asks ownership)
  • Who and whom (asks about people)

For example:

  • Whom do you admire the best?
  • What is your favorite subject?
  • When are you coming?

Demonstrative pronouns

The four types include:

  • These
  • This
  • That
  • Those

They indicate something you mentioned previously, clear from the context, or in a conversation.

For example:

  • But, sir, this is not fair!
  • These oranges are unique to those apples.

Indefinite pronouns

These words refer to unspecific things or people.

Many of these are created by a combination of:

  • some-
  • -where
  • any-, or no- with -thing
  • every-
  • -one, or -body

Some describe quantity, like

  • Enough
  • Little
  • None
  • Many

For example:

  • Think of somewhere nice for a holiday.
  • Several glasses are missing.

Relative pronouns

These words introduce relative clauses, phrases that say more about the preceding noun. They include:

To show relation to things

  • Which(ever), what(ever), and that

To show relation to people

  • Who(ever) and whom(ever)

To indicate ownership

  • Whose

For example:

  • Whoever did it should come forward.
  • The first thing that I did after going home was sleep.

Reciprocal pronouns

These words describe two things or people that perform actions relative to the other; they include one another and each other.

For example:

  • Athletes always compete with one another for the top prize.
  • Treat each other with respect.

Dummy pronouns (expletives)

A dummy or expletive pronoun does not contain explicit meaning but is necessary to the sentence structure.2 They include there and it.

Use them to emphasize certain elements in sentences, talk about the weather, or introduce the existence of something.

For example:

  • It snowed yesterday, but today, it is warmer.
  • There are thousands of bird species in the world.

FAQs

First-person is popular in some academic disciplines, while others prohibit its use.

Academic writing styles like APA and Harvard encourage the use.3

You may refer to yourself in the third person in some academic papers. Writing styles like APA accept the first-person description of yourself.

No. You cannot use these words as such essays require a formal tone.

Sources

1 LearnEnglish. “Personal Pronouns.” March 23, 2022. https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-reference/personal-pronouns.

2 Academic Writing in English. “Dummy Pronouns.” Lund University. https://www.awelu.lu.se/language/selective-mini-grammar/pronouns/dummy-pronouns/.

3 American Psychological Association. “First-Person Pronouns.” Accessed December 12, 2022. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/grammar/first-person-pronouns.