What Is an Impersonal Pronoun?

N. Madison

A pronoun is a part of speech used to replace nouns. An impersonal pronoun is used when a person does not want to indicate a specific noun. For example, if a person wants to use a pronoun for his teacher, he may use the word "he" instead of "teacher" or "Mr. King." If he doesn't want to indicate someone or something in particular, however, he may use impersonal pronouns such as "it," "everyone," "one," or "anyone." An example of impersonal pronoun use may be a case in which a person says, "It's fine" or "It's never easy."

"Everyone" may be used as an impersonal pronoun to indicate many people.
"Everyone" may be used as an impersonal pronoun to indicate many people.

The lack of specification is key when it comes to understanding how impersonal pronouns work. Often, people use pronouns in a manner that defines the person, place, or thing to which it refers. An example of this can be found in the following sentence: He let the door slam as he left the building. In such a case, a particular person let the door slam and the word "he" is used to identify the person, or specific noun.

The use of "you" in the sentence, "You should never neglect your teeth," is an example of an impersonal pronoun.
The use of "you" in the sentence, "You should never neglect your teeth," is an example of an impersonal pronoun.

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In contrast, an example of an impersonal pronoun can be found in the following sentence: Anyone could have slammed the door. Since the word "anyone" does not reveal who is being discussed, it is an impersonal pronoun. Other examples of impersonal pronouns include no one, everyone, it, nobody, and anybody, though there are many others as well.

Sometimes people use the word "they" as an impersonal pronoun, but many frown upon this practice. For example, the sentence, "They say change is coming," does not identify who "they" are, and as such, the listener or reader may feel confused about the people who are being discussed. Some people also use this pronoun incorrectly in general by using it to refer to a single person or a business as a whole.

Often, impersonal pronouns also translate into problems when it comes to subject and verb agreement. For example, many people use the word "everyone" with a plural verb form because they think of "everyone" as meaning lots of people. "Everyone," however, really means every one person and takes on a singular verb. In many cases, an individual realizes this mistake when he makes a sentence using "everyone" and the verb "are" and notices how awkward it sounds.

Even the word "you" can be used as an impersonal pronoun. An example of this is when a person makes a general statement, such as "You should never neglect your teeth." In such a case, the speaker usually means anyone or everyone should brush his teeth rather than directing this comment at a particular person.

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Discussion Comments


@RoyalSpyder - You bring up some very good points. There have been many times where people were confused at what I was saying, as I didn't clarify who/what I was talking about. In fact, they even seemed a bit offended.

However, on the flip side of things, I've also felt offended by others as well. I misunderstood who/what they were referring to, and I took it personally. Lately, I've been more aware of how I use impersonal pronouns, always making sure to clarify if need be.

From reading the article, it's not hard to see how impersonal pronouns can lead to problems. As the article indirectly states, they can even create miscommunications. I'm not saying that we should refrain from using them, but it's always a good idea to be cautious, and more importantly, clarify what we're saying to one another.

As an example, if a teacher was reprimanding a misbehaved class, and said to them, "you will be punished", it sounds like she's referring to all the students in the class. However, it's possible that she's only referring to those who were out of line. Without clarification, impersonal pronouns are ambiguous at best.

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