Third-Person Pronouns | List, Examples & Explanation
Third-person pronouns are words such as “she,” “it,” and “they” that are used to refer to other people and things that are not being directly addressed, without naming them specifically with a noun. Like first- and second-person pronouns, they are a type of personal pronoun.
There are quite a lot of third-person pronouns, since they differ based on the gender (or lack thereof) and number of who or what is being referred to. They also change based on whether they are used based on case: subject, object, possessive, or reflexive/intensive. The table below shows all the third-person pronouns.
|Neuter / inanimate singular||it||its||itself|
|Gender-neutral singular (epicene)||they||them||theirs||themself|
Masculine singular pronouns (“he”)
The masculine singular pronouns are he, him, his, and himself. The masculine singular possessive determiner (used to modify a noun instead of replacing it) is also his.
These words are used to refer to individual men and boys—and sometimes to male animals.
|Subject||Ahmad is good at math, but he doesn’t particularly enjoy it.|
|Object||After Jim started a fight with another attendee, event security kicked him out.|
|Possessive||This isn’t my jacket, but Dolf was sitting here earlier. I think it’s his.|
|Reflexive||Eric introduced himself already. We had a nice chat!|
Feminine singular pronouns (“she”)
The feminine singular pronouns are she, her, hers, and herself. The feminine singular possessive determiner is also her.
These words are used to refer to individual women and girls—and sometimes to female animals.
|Subject||Laura says she can’t make it to the party.|
|Object||It’s not Ida’s fault. Leave her alone!|
|Possessive||Whose gift do you like better, mine or hers?|
|Reflexive||Mei ought to realize she can just be herself around us, but she always tries to act tough.|
Neuter singular pronouns (“it”)
The neuter singular pronouns (also called inanimate singular pronouns) are it (used in both the subject and object position), its, and itself. The neuter singular possessive determiner is also its.
These words refer to something other than a person: a concept, object, place, or animal (although gendered pronouns are sometimes used instead for animals). It’s considered very rude to refer to a person as “it”; to refer to someone without specifying gender, use the singular “they” instead.
|Subject||It wasn’t a great concert, but I’ve seen worse.|
|Object||Don’t say it! I know what you’re thinking.|
|Possessive||The flashing light on the side of the device indicates its remaining battery life.|
|Reflexive||The average cat spends a lot of time washing itself.|
Third-person plural pronouns (“they”)
The third-person plural pronouns are they, them, theirs, and themselves. The third-person plural possessive determiner is their.
These words are used to refer to more than one of anything: people, things, concepts, places, animals, and so on. No distinction is made between people and things or between male and female in this case; the plural pronouns are always the same.
|Subject||Principles are important, but they can develop and change over time.|
|Object||I can’t decide whether to go to Paris or Berlin; I’d love to visit them both.|
|Possessive||My flight home is on Sunday morning, and theirs is in the afternoon.|
|Reflexive||Teaching can be stressful when the kids won’t behave themselves.|
The singular “they”
The third-person plural pronouns and possessive determiner—they, them, theirs, themselves, and their—are now commonly used as gender-neutral singular pronouns (also called epicene pronouns) to refer to people. This usage is often called the singular “they.”
The singular “they” has existed for a long time, but it was typically viewed as an error in the past. However, most style guides now endorse it, recognizing the need for a way to refer to individuals in a gender-neutral way.
These words are used (instead of “he or she”) when referring to a generic individual whose gender is unspecified or to an individual who identifies as neither male nor female.
|Subject||When someone signs up to participate in the trial, they are given a preliminary questionnaire.|
|Object||It’s important to show the customer that you are listening to them.|
|Possessive||Max is really smart. Theirs are always the best ideas.|
|Reflexive||Sacha will have the place all to themselves.|
Frequently asked questions
- What are the first, second, and third person?
In grammar, person is how we distinguish between the speaker or writer (first person), the person being addressed (second person), and any other people, objects, ideas, etc. referred to (third person).
Person is expressed through the different personal pronouns, such as “I” (first-person pronoun), “you” (second-person pronoun), and “they” (third-person pronoun). It also affects how verbs are conjugated, due to subject-verb agreement (e.g., “I am” vs. “you are”).
In fiction, a first-person narrative is one written directly from the perspective of the protagonist. A third-person narrative describes the protagonist from the perspective of a separate narrator. A second-person narrative (very rare) addresses the reader as if they were the protagonist.
- What are preferred pronouns?
The term preferred pronouns is used to mean the (third-person) personal pronouns a person identifies with and would like to be referred to by. People usually state the subject and object pronoun (e.g., “she/her”) but may also include the possessive (e.g., “she/her/hers”).
Most people go by the masculine “he/him,” the feminine “she/her,” the gender-neutral singular “they/them,” or some combination of these. There are also neopronouns used to express nonbinary gender identity, such as “xe/xem.” These are less common than the singular “they.”
The practice of stating one’s preferred pronouns (e.g., in a professional context or on a social media profile) is meant to promote inclusion for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. The first- and second-person pronouns (“I” and “you”) are not included, since they’re the same for everyone.
- Can I write about myself in the third person?
In most contexts, you should use first-person pronouns (e.g., “I,” “me”) to refer to yourself. In some academic writing, the use of the first person is discouraged, and writers are advised to instead refer to themselves in the third person (e.g., as “the researcher”).
This convention is mainly restricted to the sciences, where it’s used to maintain an objective, impersonal tone. But many style guides (such as APA Style) now advise you to simply use the first person, arguing that this style of writing is misleading and unnatural.
Sources in this article
We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.This Scribbr article Sources Show all sources (3)