Pronouns are used to substitute for nouns in most speech. They are words like "I", "you", "he", "they", "anybody", "who", and many more. They are not a requirement of a sentence, and it is possible for them never to be used in sentences. However, they are useful because they help avoid repeating the same noun over and over again; and they make it easier for a sentence to be understood. For an example without using any pronouns, see this sentence:

  • Alistair is doing what Alistair thinks is best for Alistair's rights as a human being.

Because it repeats "Alistair" so much it seems strange and tedious. A more usual way to say the above, using pronouns, would be:

  • Alistair is doing what he thinks is best for his rights as a human being.

There are different types of pronouns:

  • Personal pronouns - usually refer to specific persons or objects
  • Interrogative pronouns - used to ask questions of identity like Modern English "who", "what", and "which one"
  • Relative pronouns - used after another substansive to add additional information, like Modern English "whom" in "John is the person whom I like"
  • Demonstrative pronouns - words used often when pointing to something, with with a sense of location, as in Modern English "this" or "that"
  • Indefinite pronouns - used to talk about nobody in particular, or about everyone in general, like Modern English "anybody" and "everybody". Also includes negative pronouns - pronouns used to talk about "nobody" or "nothing".

Like nouns and adjectives, pronouns are declined according to case, gender (only sometimes), and number.

Personal pronouns


The simple personal pronouns are declined like this:

First person


First person pronouns are pronouns that refer to the speaker (in singular), or the speaker and other people (in dual and plural), like Modern English "I" and "we".

Case Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ƿit ƿē
Accusative unc ūs
Genitive mīn uncer ūre
Dative unc ūs

Notice that there is a dual number; it means "both" or "two" as in "we both" or "we two". The separate dual number is exceptional and rare. If used with an adjective or a verb, it should take the same declensions and conjugations as plural. Since there is a dual number for each set of pronouns, the plural form should only be used for three or more.

In Anglian dialects, in the accusative, "mec" was used instead of "mē"; "uncit" was used instead of "unc"; and "ūsiċ" was used instead of "ūs". Also in Anglian dialects, "ūser" was sometimes used instead of "ūre".

Second person


Second person pronouns are for the person who is being spoken to, like Modern English "you" (and “thou” and “ye” in dialects).

Case Singular Dual Plural
Nominative þū ġit ġē
Accusative þē inc ēoƿ
Genitive þīn incer ēoƿer
Dative þē inc ēoƿ

In Anglian dialects, "þec", "inċit" and "ēoƿiċ" were used in the accusative instead of "þē", "inc", and "ēoƿ" respectively.

Third person


Third person pronouns refer to another person not involved in a conversation, like Modern English "he", "she", "it", and "they".

Case Masc. sg. Neut. sg. Fem. sg. Pl. all genders
Nominative hit hēo hīe
Accusative hine hīe
Genitive his hiere heora
Dative him him

In Anglian dialects, "hēo" was used for feminine and plural nominative and accusative. In earlier Old English, both in West Saxon and Anglian dialects, "hīo" was used instead of "hēo".

Interrogative pronouns


Interrogative pronouns are pronouns used to ask questions of identity, such as Modern English "who" and "what" as in "Who are you?" and "What is that animal?" The following are Old English interrogative pronouns:

"Hƿā" - "who"
Case Sg. and pl.
Nominative hƿā
Accusative hƿone, hƿæne
Genitive hƿæs
Dative hƿǣm, hƿām
Instrumental hƿȳ
"Hƿæt" - "what"
Case Sg. and pl.
Nominative hƿæt
Genitive hƿæs
Dative hƿǣm, hƿām
Instrumental hƿȳ

Note that "hƿæt" was used when a person had been identified, and that was the person who was being enquired about. "Hƿā" was used when no person had been identified. Consider, "Hƿæt is hē?" - "Who is he?", where "hē" shows that we are aware of which person the question applies to. But "Hƿā ǣt mīnne hlāf?" - "Who ate my bread?", where no one is indicated.

The instrumental form of "hƿæt" (hƿȳ) is used to mean "why". Also used for "why" is for hƿȳ.

In Old English, they had a word meaning "which of two" as might be used in "Which of the two children went with you?", declined the same as the strong adjective declension.

"Hƿæðer" - "which of two"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hƿæðer hƿæðre hƿæðer hƿæðra
Accusative hƿæðerne hƿæðer hƿæðere
Genitive hƿæðres hƿæðerre hƿæðerra
Dative hƿæðrum hƿæðrum
Instrumental hƿæðre

Like hƿæðer is āhƿæðer "some one, something; any one; anything", ǣġhƿæðer "of two" "either, both, each"; "of many" "every one, each", nāhƿæðer "neither", sƿæðer "whichever of two, whosoever of two".

The following word is also used as an interrogative adjective, like Modern English "which" as in "Which fruit did you eat?" Used standalone as a pronoun, though, it means "which one". Because it is an adjective, it also simply takes the strong adjectival declension.

"Hƿilċ" - "which one"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hƿilċ hƿilċe hƿilċ hƿilca
Accusative hƿilcne hƿilċ hƿilċe
Genitive hƿilċes hƿilcre hƿilcra
Dative hƿilcum hƿilcum
Instrumental hƿilċe

Like hƿilċ is sƿilċ "such", ġehƿilċ "each/every one", ǣġhƿilċ "each one, every one", nāthƿilċ "someone I know not", samhƿilċ "some".

Relative pronouns


Relative pronouns are pronouns that are used to refer to an earlier substansive, called an antecedent, and give additional information, as the "who" in the following examples:

  • "It was John who did that" - Hit ƿæs Iohannes se þe dyde þæt
  • "I like men who know what they're doing" - Mē līciaþ menn þā þe ƿiton þæt hīe dōþ

And the "that" in the following examples:

  • "The thing that I hate most about it, is the stupidity of it all" - Þæt þing þæt iċ þæs mǣst hatġe, is his dƿola
  • "All the trees that I cut down had green leaves" - Eall þā treoƿ þā iċ fylede hæfdon grēnu lēaf

And the "which" in the following examples:

  • "The squirrel, which was red, ran away" - Þæt ācƿeorna þæt þe rēad ƿæs, earn aƿeġ
  • "The house which I live in is old" - Þæt hūs in þǣm þe iċ ƿuniġe is eald

In Old English, the relative pronoun was the same as the definitive article, but it could be followed in addition by þe. You could also use just þe by itself.

"Se (þe)" - "who, which, that"
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural all genders
Nominative se (þe) þæt (þe) sēo (þe) þā (þe)
Accusative þone (þe) þā (þe)
Genitive þæs (þe) þǣre (þe) þāra (þe)
Dative þǣm (þe), þām (þe) þǣre (þe) þǣm (þe), þām (þe)

Note that because se by itself could also mean "that (one", alongside this relative pronoun meaning; and þe alone could be a relative pronoun, se þe could actually be just a relative pronoun, or a relative pronoun and an indicative pronoun combined, e.g. "that which" or "he who".

A kind of word which in Modern English could be confused with a relative pronoun, is an indirect interrogative. The bold words in the following examples are indirect interrogatives:

  • "I asked him what he was doing"
  • "Do you know who they are?"

As in Modern English, the indirect interrogative pronouns in Old English were the same as the normal interrogative pronouns, for which see the "Interrogative pronouns" section of this page.

Demonstrative pronouns


Demonstrative pronouns are the kind of pronoun you might use while pointing at something, often having also a sense of location, as in Modern English "this" and "that", where "this" has a meaning like "the one here" and that has a meaning like "the one there".

"Þes" - "this"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine All genders
Nominative þes þis þēos þās
Accusative þisne þās
Genitive þisses þisse, þisre þissa, þisra
Dative þissum þissum
Instrumental þȳs - -

The plural of þes (þās) has the meaning of "these".

"Se" - "that"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine All genders
Nominative se þæt sēo þā
Accusative þone þā
Genitive þæs þǣre þāra
Dative þǣm, þām þǣm, þām
Instrumental þȳ - -

It is obvious to see that the Modern English word "that" came from the neuter form of this word - þæt. This word was also the definitive article (like Modern English "the") in Old English, so if it was used to modify a noun, it might either mean "the" or "that", depending on context.

Indefinite pronouns


Indefinite pronouns are pronouns which don't refer to anything specific. They can have the sense of "any" or "every". They also include negative pronouns - pronouns that mean "nothing" or "nobody".

  • Ġehƿā - "anybody" or "everybody"; declined just like the interrogative pronoun hƿā.
  • Ġehƿilċ - "anything/anyone" or "everything/everyone"; declined just like the interrogative pronoun hƿilċ.
  • Ġehƿæt - "anything" or "everything"; declined just the interrogate pronoun hƿæt.

Negative pronouns


Negative indefinite pronouns, or simply negative pronouns, are pronouns which refer to a lack of someone or something, like "nothing" in Modern English.

Nā(ƿi)ht - "nothing"
Case 'Sg. (no need for plural)
Nominative nā(ƿi)ht
Genitive nā(ƿi)ht-es
Dative nā(ƿi)ht-e

Note that nā(ƿi)ht is actually a compound of - "not" and ƿiht - "something". The declension is simply the strong singular neuter noun declension.

"Nobody" is in Old English nān mann, which is actually just the negative article (which is declined like a strong adjective) and the noun mann - "human", "person", for whose declension see here.



A part of the text in this article was taken from the public domain English grammar "The Grammar of English Grammars" by Goold Brown, 1851.