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A History of Pronouns: Little Words That Say a Lot

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“Pronouns’ main purpose is to replace nouns so that we don’t have to repeat the same words or phrases over and over and over again,” explains sociolinguist and “certified word nerd” Dr. Erica Brozovsky.

“It’s really a matter of convenience. Imagine if you had to say, ‘Did you tell Archibald that Archibald’s mother is looking for Archibald?’

“And while there are lots of different kinds of pronouns, there’s one type in particular that people tend to care about the most: the personal pronoun, the short little words we use as a substitute for a person’s name.”

Thou, thee, ye, and you
What are all the different ways we use “we”? How have we used pronouns to be more or less formal? How do “thou,” “thee,” and “ye” fit in? And how long has the singular “they” been in use? Answer: The Oxford English Dictionary traces singular “they” back to a Medieval novel in 1375.

Learn more about the history of pronouns with Brozovsky in this episode of Otherwords from PBS Storied: Pronouns: Little Words That Say a Lot.

personal pronouns
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