Third-Person Pronouns | List, Examples & Explanation

Third-Person Pronouns

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.

Subject Object Possessive Reflexive
Masculine singular he him his himself
Feminine singular she her hers herself
Neuter / inanimate singular it its itself
Gender-neutral singular (epicene) they them theirs themself
Plural they them theirs themselves
Note
There is still some disagreement about the correctness of the gender-neutral singular “they,” but it is now endorsed by most style guides.

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.

Examples: Masculine singular pronouns
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!

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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.

Examples: Feminine singular pronouns
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.

Examples: Neuter singular pronouns (& possessive determiner)
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.
Note
Its is very commonly used as a possessive determiner, modifying a noun (e.g., “We have to consider its advantages and disadvantages”). As a possessive pronoun standing alone (e.g., “The advantages are its”), its is much rarer and reads somewhat unnaturally. While it’s not incorrect to use its in this way, it’s often better to rephrase.

In both cases, make sure not to confuse its and it’s (a contraction of “it is” or “it has”).

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.

Examples: Third-person plural pronouns
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.

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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.

Examples: Gender-neutral singular pronouns
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.
Note
Themself is sometimes used in this context as a singular form of the reflexive pronoun themselves. Although its popularity is increasing rapidly, this word is still considered nonstandard by many authorities, and the safest option in terms of correctness is still to use themselves for the singular.

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

Caulfield, J. (2023, February 24). Third-Person Pronouns | List, Examples & Explanation. Scribbr. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/nouns-and-pronouns/third-person-pronouns/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.