One basic grammar rule is that subjects and verbs have to agree in a sentence according to whether they are singular or plural. Plural verbs need plural subjects. This is also true of pronouns that act as subjects. For some types of pronouns, adding an "s" is enough to turn a singular pronoun into a plural pronoun. For some pronouns, a different word may be required to show the plural form. Discover what plural pronouns are and how to use them.
Examples of pronouns that are always plural include:
- demonstrative pronoun - these, those
- indefinite pronoun - both, few, fewer, many, others, several
- possessive pronoun - our, their, theirs
- subject pronoun - we, they
- object pronoun - us, them
- reflexive and intensive pronoun - ourselves, yourselves, themselves
The following pronouns can be singular or plural, depending on how they are used in relation to subjects or objects.
- subject/objective/possessive - you, your, yours
- interrogative pronoun - who, whom, whose, what, which
- relative pronoun - who, whoever, whom, whomever, which, whichever, whose, that
Determining whether a pronoun should be singular or plural requires considering subject-verb agreement, antecedent agreement and point of view. There are also special considerations for indefinite pronouns.
When using a pronoun as the subject of a clause or sentence, it must match the verb of the same clause or sentence in number. This is the most basic rule of subject-verb agreement.
- singular - If the pronoun is the subject of a clause and the verb in the clause is singular, then the pronoun should be singular. (Bob is going to the store.)
- plural - If the pronoun is the subject of a clause and the verb in the clause is plural, then the pronoun should be plural. (Bob and Jane are going to the store.)
Antecedent agreement is also important. In some sentences, or even between two sentences, there is a pronoun that refers to a noun, pronoun, clause, or phrase that comes before (precedes) it. The word, clause or phrase that comes first is the antecedent. The pronoun has to agree with it in number.
- singular - A pronoun that represents a singular antecedent must be singular. (“Claire called me. She wants to visit.” Since “Claire” is a singular subject, so is the pronoun.)
- plural - A pronoun that represents a plural antecedent must be plural. (Claire and Samantha called me. They want to visit. Since “Claire and Samatha” is a plural subject, so is the pronoun.)
The second example above represents a compound subject, because the subject includes more than one noun (Claire and Samantha). With compound subjects, antecedent-pronoun agreement (and subject-verb agreement) depends on the word that joins them.
- or or nor - If the words "or" or "nor" are used instead of “and”, then the subject closest to the pronouns determines the agreement. (“The cat or the dogs like their treats." Since "dogs" is plural, so is "their.")
- and - If "and" is used, then the pronoun must be plural. (“Sue and Marie took their dogs to the park." Since "and" is used, the subject is plural and the pronoun must also be plural.)
Other problems can arise if there are several words or phrases between the pronoun and its antecedent. Sometimes, a pronoun's antecedent is in the preceding sentence. In this case, just overlook the words between and that will help you determine the form needed.
Indefinite pronouns pose a unique challenge. When the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun (some, none, all, most, any) that is followed by a prepositional phrase, agreement depends on the type of object.
- uncountable - If the object is uncountable (like sugar, butter, air, money, or furniture), the pronoun needs to be singular. (This butter is stuck to its wrapper.)
- countable - If the object is countable, the pronoun will be plural. (“Most of the pennies fell out of their wrapper." "Pennies" is plural, so "their" is plural.)
Another difficulty arises with indefinite pronouns because ones that end in -one or -body (such as everyone or everybody) are always singular, even though they refer to multiple people. This is because these words treat multiple people as a single group.
- It is correct to say “Everyone is going to the beach this weekend.” It would not be correct to use the plural form of the verb (are going) with the pronoun everyone.
- Review examples of indefinite pronouns to see a full list of indefinite pronouns, organized by whether they are singular or plural.
To help you better understand proper pronoun usage, review some examples of how they can be used correctly in sentences.
- These girls are my best friends.
- Those shoes are the ones I want.
- My parents were born in July. They are Leos.
- How many people are here? Fewer than last year.
- We have chocolate and lemon cake? I’d like both.
- Many guests were invited, but there are fewer here than expected.
- The kids are in the other room. Please take cookies to them.
- Those brownies look great. I would like a few.
- We are hungry. Please share your snacks with us.
- The children are in second and third grade. Both attend Sands Elementary.
- Please don’t serve peanut butter to the kids. Several have peanut allergies.
- Our neighbors? Many don’t decorate for the holidays, but several do.
- How many others would like to participate?
- Please take this plate to your friend’s parents. It is theirs.
- Will the party be at your house or theirs?
- Please dress yourselves warmly.
- The teacher asked us to share fun facts about ourselves.
- People who are concerned with self-sufficiency want to be able to take care of themselves.
- I’m sure you’ll be happy with whichever destinations you choose.
- You boys, be sure to stay warm.
- I bought this for the two of you to share. It is yours.
- Girls, where are your coats?
- I hear voices. Who is talking?
- There are three gym bags on the floor. Whose are these?
- Who are your three best friends?
- My cousins, three of whom live in Alabama, are coming to visit.
- You’re going with friends? Which ones?
- Did you pack for the trip? What are you taking in your carry-on bag?
- Whoever wants to go on the field trip needs to turn in their permission slip.
- I was not happy about the loose rocks on the trail that caused me to fall.
- Whomever receives an offer letter this week will be able to start work next Friday.
Using pronouns correctly is an important part of English grammar. Start by deciding the type of pronoun and review subject-verb and antecedent agreement rules. If a plural pronoun is needed, decide on the proper plural form at that point.
Practice will make it easier to apply the rules of plural pronouns. Start expanding your skills with a variety of pronoun activities. Start with general worksheets on types of pronouns, then follow-up with additional practice on certain types. Indefinite pronoun worksheets are particularly helpful since that type can be especially tricky.