You can’t escape the fact that grammar is important for success in the TOEFL exam. Even though there is no dedicated part of the TOEFL exam like a grammar test, it is obviously a part of all the other sections – listening, reading, writing, and speaking. That means that without a decent grasp of grammar, there is no chance of a good TOEFL score.
Of course, grammar is a vast subject and there is so much to learn. Where do you begin? What do you prioritize? Well, one of the most basic and important parts of grammar is pronouns, and knowing how to use these can give you a better chance of succeeding at all parts of the test.
In this article, we will look at pronouns and explore the rules for using them so that you can feel prepared before your next TOEFL test date.
The Basics of Pronouns
From a young age, we learn that pronouns are words to refer to people without actually saying their name, like “he” and “she.” This is probably the most basic use of this part of speech, and it is what most English learners learn first. These are actually quite important to English learners because they tell us a lot about how to use verbs. I’m sure you know you need to change the verb form according to the pronoun used: “I walk” and “She walks” are two very basic examples. Then there are possessive pronouns, so “she” changes to “her” and so on. But these are still quite simple and you can teach them to a child quite easily.
But pronouns can actually be more complicated than that… much more complicated. Those pronouns I mentioned in the previous paragraph all refer to someone specific (or, in the case of “it,” something specific). These are called definite pronouns, but there are also indefinite pronouns, and these are ones that don’t refer to something specific. These include words like “someone” or “anyone.” Yes, that’s right, they are also pronouns. You don’t often see them listed as example of pronouns, but that’s exactly what they are and they function basically in the same was as others do.
Let’s look in a bit more detail at some different kinds of pronoun.
These are the most commonly used types of pronouns and you will encounter them every day in normal English. As such, you will definitely encounter them in the TOEFL exam. Can you imagine how hard it would be to avoid their use?
As I said above, it is pretty easy to use personal pronouns and you probably learned most of the important things when you were first learning. However, there are definitely some problems that still trouble intermediate or advanced users from time to time.
One such problem is subject-verb disagreement. As pronouns often function as the subject of a sentence, they must match with the verb. Above, I gave the example of “I walk” and “She walks.” Well, this is important because some people get it wrong. At a certain level, it becomes less likely that a personal will make that sort of mistake, but it is harder when you have a complicated sentence perhaps with two subjects or with a subject and verb split far apart, with other words in between them. In those cases, mistakes become common.
You also have problems choosing the right pronoun in certain situations. Should you say, “Me and my friend go to the cinema on the weekend”? Actually, many native speakers even use this expression, but it is totally incorrect. Think about it: Could you remove “my friend” from the sentence and still have it make sense? Let’s see:
- Me go to the cinema.
Is that right?
Strangely, though, when people add multiple subjects, they get confused and choose the wrong pronoun. The correct answer should be:
- My friend and I go to the cinema.
In similar situations, you should try reducing the sentence to just one subject and see if it still makes sense. If it does, you have made a mistake and need to change it.
In English, we often add ‘s to the end of a word to denote possession. For example, “The student’s book was ruined in the thunderstorm.” However, when you are using pronouns, there is no need for this. There are possessive pronouns that already show possession without the addition of an apostrophe.
The possessive pronouns are:
Hopefully you are aware that we do not say “I’s brother is in the army.” Of course, we say “My brother is in the army.” We can put the two together for as well: “My brother’s friend is in the army.” Here, we have a possessive pronoun followed by a more traditional noun with an apostrophe and “s” making it into the possessive form.
One of the common problems facing English learners is the distinction between “its” and “their.” This is because you may introduce an idea in one sentence and then attempt to refer back to it in a later sentence. However, the problem is that you may forget whether you are referring back to a plural or singular word. Take a look at this example:
- When I was younger, I went to a school that was really far from my house. Their buildings were very old, but recently they moved to a new location with newer buildings.
So what is the problem here? We are talking about a single school and so we should refer back to it with the pronoun “it” and “its.” This is a troublesome piece of grammar because perhaps in your mind you are thinking about the people who run the school, who should be “they” and “their,” but this would need to be clear from your words. Instead of the above, we should write:
- When I was younger, I went to a school that was really far from my house. Its buildings were very old, but recently it moved to a new location with newer buildings.
Possessive pronouns can also change form according to their position in a sentence. Look at the following:
- That is my
- That car is mine.
In those examples, both “my” and “mine” are possessive pronouns with the same basic meaning, but because of the change in position within the sentence, “my” has changed form. It is an irregular form, and other pronouns are easier to use. They just take “s” at the end (with no apostrophe).
- That is your
- That car is yours.
- That is his
- That car is his.
You can see that “his” doesn’t take an extra “s” because it already ends in that letter. However, if you changed the gender, it would become “hers”.
The Tricky Topic of Gender
It can also seem a little difficult to talk about gender sometimes. When you are dealing with a person whose gender you definitely know, you can just say “he” or “she” or “him” or “her” accordingly. However, sometimes you don’t know, and so you might insert both. Look at the following example:
- If a company looks for a new employee, he or she must be responsible first and foremost.
This is perfectly acceptable, but if we have to repeat this idea several times, it can look or sound rather messy:
- If a company looks for a new employee, he or she must be responsible first and foremost. His or her work ethic must also match his or her reliability and integrity. He or she must have a good education and relevant experience before he or she is considered for the job.
Now this does not sound good because of the repetition of that phrase. Instead, it might be good to replace some or all of those with “they” or “their.” This has become particularly common in recent years due to cultural developments that suggest people should not focus so much on the idea of gender. Take a look at how we could rewrite the above passage:
- If a company looks for a new employee, they must be responsible first and foremost. Their work ethic must also match their reliability and integrity. They must have a good education and relevant experience before they is considered for the job.
Even though we have just replaced the pronouns with another pronoun, it already seems better because “they” and “their” are shorter. The repetition is much less noticeable, and if we left one or two of the original pronouns in place, it would seem even less repetitive.
Pronouns seem easy because it’s one of the first things that we learn when we first study English. Even young children manage to get a good grasp of pronouns, so we assume that they are not important for TOEFL. However, that is not true. There are many layers of complexity to the use of pronouns, and if you want to succeed at TOEFL, it’s important that you spend some time polishing your skills in this particular area. Remember that it’s really easy to make a mistake with pronouns, so you should be ready to use them with accuracy in your speaking and writing, while knowing them will also give you a good chance when you do the reading or listening tests.