Could someone explain to me this part "used by itself" in the definition of a pronoun?

Pronoun: a word that can function as a noun phrase used by itself and that refers either to the participants in the discourse (e.g. I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (e.g. she, it, this).

  • As a learner: I think the author meant to underline the fact that a single term (the pronoun) can be used as a noun phrase, you know a noun phrase can be composed of several nouns or adjectives.
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 16:28
  • 1
    Pronouns aren't always references to dialogue participants or things / people mentioned elsewhere in the conversation. Think about things like It's raining, or I've got to go. It's late (where it makes no sense to ask What's raining? or What's late?). Commented May 27, 2019 at 16:36
  • Where is this definition taken from? Please provide a source when quoting. Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


"Uesd by itself" here means that the pronoun alone, without any other words, functions as the entire noun phrase.

He was born in 1960.

Here "He" is the grammatical subject, and stands in place of a noun or noun phrase such as "John Smith" or "The man who I met last night". A pronoun can also serve as the grammatical object, or in other grammatical role. But it always takes the place of a noun or a noun phrase.

  • Jane packed up the box and gave it to him. (indirect object)
  • John married her. (direct object)

Pronouns do not always refer to people or things mentioned in nearby text. Sometimes they are generic, and sometimes they serve as placeholders in set phrases.

  • It's late. (Implied "the time is late" or "the hour is late")
  • It's raining. ("It" here has no real antecedent or referent, even implied.)
  • It is a good idea to be honest. (It refers to the idea.)

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