English Grammar Guide for ESL

Subject Pronouns (e.g.: I, he, we)



Subject pronouns are pronominal forms that usually appear before a verb and refer to an agent (e.g.: I broke the vase; We watched the movie). The particular form a subject pronoun takes depends on the grammatical notions of person, number and gender. This is illusrated in the following table:

English Subject Pronouns

pronoun person number gender
I 1st singular
we 1st plural
you 2nd singular
you 2nd plural
he 3rd sing masc.
she 3rd sing fem.
it 3rd sing
they 3rd plural

Subject-verb Agreement

Make sure that the verb agrees with the subject. English has a simple agreement system in the present tense. It's only the third person singular forms (i.e.: she, he, it) that require an -s at the end of the verb:

I seem

you seem

she/he/it seems

we seem

they seem

Subject pronouns are not optional

In some languages, like Spanish, subject pronouns are optional. For example, I can say quiero or yo quiero, which both mean "I want". However, only the second structure, with an explict subject pronoun, is grammatical in English (with the excpetion of imperatives like Shut the door).

You and I or you and me?

Which of these is correct? It depends. Before answering this question, let's consider the words involved: you could be a subject or an object pronoun, and I is definitely a subject pronoun. This means that you could come before a verb (in subject position) or after a preposition. The word I can only function as a subject in standard English. As such, if these words follow a preposition, like between, then you and me is correct. On the other hand, if the sequence appears before verb, then you and I is correct. Therefore, one should write ... between you and me, but You and I are happy.

You, you, you, you

While some languages (e.g.: Spanish and French) have a fairly complicated second person system, English only uses you, regardless of number or grammatical function, e.g.:

You seem happy (singular or plural)

I saw you

I gave it to you

Is thou a thing?

English used to make use of the informal, second person singular pronoun thou. However this form is now considered antiquated. It was replaced by you, probably sometime in the 15th or 16th century. In all likelihood, the reason for this preference is that the formal you form was a safter option when interacting with strangers whose social rank was unknown.

*Make sure me, us, him and her are not used as subjects, e.g.: write He and I are friends and not Me and him are friends.

*Don't confuse you're (you are) with the possessive form your.

*Don't confuse it's (it is) with the possessive form its.

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