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third-person pronouns

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Definition:

Pronouns that refer to people or things other than the speaker (or writer) and the person(s) addressed.

In contemporary standard English, these are the third-person pronouns:

  • he, she, it, one (singular personal pronouns in the subjective case)
  • they (plural personal pronoun in the subjective case)
  • him, her, it, one (singular personal pronouns in the objective case)
  • them (plural personal pronoun in the objective case)
  • his, hers (singular possessive pronouns)
  • theirs (plural possessive pronoun)
  • himself, herself, itself, oneself (singular reflexive/intensive pronouns)
  • themselves (plural reflexive/intensive pronoun)

In addition, his, her, its, one's, and their are the singular and plural third-person possessive determiners.

Unlike first-person and second-person pronouns, third-person pronouns in the singular are marked for gender: he and she, him and her, his and hers, himself and herself. For a discussion of issues related to this gender distinction, see generic pronoun.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Someone in this room knows a lot more than he or she is admitting, and I intend to find out who it is."
    (James Flavin as Inspector Wellman in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, 1949)


  • "Woman must have . . . the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she shall be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man's attitude may be, that problem is hers."
    (Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race, 1920)


  • "It's really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs."
    (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951)


  • "Ground's too hard. If them men wanted a decent burial, they should have gotten themselves kilt in summer."
    (Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, 2010)


  • "The same things are done by us, over and over, with terrible predictability. One may be forgiven, in view of this, for wishing at least to associate with beauty."
    (Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift. Viking, 1975)


  • "Incidentally, one can get beaten up in school simply by referring to oneself as one."
    (Jim Parsons as Sheldon in "The Lunar Excitation." The Big Bang Theory, May 2010)


  • Untypical Uses of Pronouns and the Singular They
    "Note that although it is true to say that first person refers to speaker/writer, second person to hearer/reader and third person to third parties, English shows some untypical uses. . . . [Y]ou can be used to refer to people in general (preferable in some varieties of English to the indefinite one), e.g. Chocolate is actually good for you; in special cases of extreme politeness third person forms can be used to refer to the hearer (a kind of distancing technique), e.g. If Madam so desires, she could have the waist taken in a little; they often appears as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun, e.g. If anyone wants it, they can have pavlova with extra whipped cream. We often hear the argument that this 'singular they' is grammatically incorrect because a plural pronoun shouldn't refer back to a singular word and that he should be used instead, but clearly this is linguistically unfounded. As we've just discussed, English has many examples where for special purposes pronouns depart from their central meaning--as so often is the case, there is no perfect match between form and meaning here."
    (Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Hodder, 2010)


  • Grammar and Lexis
    "[T]he choice among he, she, and it referring to a sheep reflects a common fact of English usage: the pronoun for referring to an animal is the same as the pronoun for referring to a lifeless object, it, except that a pet-owner or farmer, who cares about the animal, can refer to a pet or farm animal with the same distinction as is made in referring to people (Halliday and Hasan 1976: 47). Thus the grammatical system of English makes distinctions that the lexicon often ignores."
    (Charles W. Kreidler, Introducing English Semantics. Routledge, 1998)


  • The Impersonal Third-Person Pronoun
    "The third-person pronoun lacks what the other two pronouns capture, namely positive participant involvement in discourse. That is why the referents of third-person pronouns may be seen as 'nonpersons,' since their position in the speech act is defined in exclusively negative terms, in contrast to the referents of 'I' and 'you' (Lyons 1977, 638). Contrary to 'I' and 'you,' the third-person pronoun referents are not defined in terms of speech roles. . . .

    "[C]onsider that although 'I' and 'you' possess the 'correlation of personality,' the third-person pronoun appears impersonal or a nonperson (Benveniste 1971, 228). It falls outside the scope of direct address and so loses the peculiar discourse-dependent meaning. It indicates neither to the one who speaks nor the one spoken to but the one spoken of; it might be an inert object or a dead body that does not reverse between I and you but freezes into an irreversible it. Static, fixed, the third-person pronoun referent is deprived of speaker/addresee involvement. Even though this pronoun is consistently ascribed to people, it designates them as a nonparticipatory third party, as passive, distant, nonpresent, even though they might be in physical proximity."
    (Beata Stawarska, Between You and I: Dialogical Phenomenology. Ohio Univ. Press, 2009)
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