I am sure all of us remember the definition of pronouns as being substitutes for nouns.  When a sentence has some nouns punctuated by pronouns we are able to make some sense out of what the pronouns have possibly been used to replace. But consider some sentences that have pronouns without antecedents or  full of unprecursed pronouns-it can drive you mad…!!! I will give you some examples of what communication in such pronouns can result in.  (Please bear with me… this is not a post on Grammar, I assure you! ) Though the post is in English the actual conversations can happen in any language ( in my case Tamil or Hindi besides English)

The year 1985….my mother  at her angry best  shouts at me “ What is that thing doing there?” I immediately remove the offending item- my school bag from the sofa and transfer it to my study table.

 My sister and myself were once overheard by my father having this conversation “  Let us get rid of these things” My father is always exasperated when this happens because he is usually unable to figure out what noun that pronoun is used for.  He is sometimes told by my mother to “return these and get that ”. He is puzzled and always wants to know what “ these “ and “ that” are to which Amma gives him one of those stares which seem to indicate” why did I have to marry this man?”  But strangely I find that when I am given directions like that I can usually pick up what the unstated nouns stand for. I have not noticed my sister having any difficulty on this either. I think it has to do with the alignment of the thought process. As women, I supposed the three of us understand each other well. But my father’s understanding is obviously different.

Alignment of the thought process is a very interesting concept because sometimes we say things expecting that the person who is receiving the message would understand what the unstated part of our message is all about. My friend and colleague  CV once told me about how one of the new girls to join his team  has a tendency to speak like this - “ He always does these things and that gives me a problem” . He said that her predecessor  also used to speak like that. “ How do they expect me to  understand”? I guess as their boss they expected he would know what was in their mind. It is funny because I remember I used to do the same with my former boss – “Can I do this first and then complete that” and the strange thing was  the rapport we shared was so good he often knew what the “this” and the “that”  were. So I told CV to treat it as a compliment because it indicates that his direct reports were of the opinion that he was completely in line with their thinking ! 

But speaking in pronouns is not all rosy pictures about loyalty and rapport. It can lead to a lot of confusion. I remember this incident where I was to take my parents to see an apartment. My parents were with my sister in the same city. She called me to say that she will “ be there” with “them”  at 2.00PM which I understood to mean that they would all come to the apartment by 2.00PM. So I left home by 1.00PM and waited for them outside the apartment. At about 2.00PM I received a call on my mobile. My sister was who was on the line was asking me “ We are here but where are you?” .  “ I am also here” I told her. “ But you are not there”.  I was now puzzled. I asked her to state the exact location. “ We are outside the gate of your house”.. Imagine!!! I never guessed that they were planning to come to my house pick me up and then all of us go together to see the apartment!  I was also not exactly sure about who would constitute the “ they”

“I  am always against speaking like this in pronouns” grumbles my father.  

I am not a stickler for grammar.  In India many women use pronouns to refer to their husbands because they cannot address their husbands by their first names. Therefore in such cases pronouns seems to take on the character of a noun. When my mother says           “ Avar”  meaning he - we usually know which “he”  she is referring to ( Gosh this is again running into too many pronouns!) .  Similarly in Hindi the use of the word “ Woh” is usually for the “Pati Dev.” .!!!

But I have noticed something very interesting about Malayalam – people do not use pronouns much. They use the noun repeatedly. For e.g instead of asking “ Do you like Aapams?”  I may ask “ Does Meera like Aapams?” Now, I am not a Malayalee by birth ( I am Malayalee only by marriage) so I am not very confident about this. I would be interested if any of my Mallu Followers would like to comment on this.

Anyway to conclude I would say that language is after all for communication and so long as people understand what is being said then who cares if we are using nouns or pronouns…! Let us leave that to the purists!


  1. true...language is just for communication...trying to make is organized we have ended up making it complex...better leave the perfection for the purists...

    nice post...


  2. Hahaha! I can imagine your predicament when you were there, waiting for them to arrive! I too feel that in Malayalam they use far lesser pronouns than Tamil. And i love the way they use Kutty, Mol and Mon, Muthe for the little ones. It is so sweet to hear. We usually call ' dei' or ' thambi' and 'di' or 'papa' for the children which doesn't look so cute as the Mallu counterparts. And this "avar" thing is so irritating at times...My husband is comfortable with " Athaan". How much ever my cousins poke fun of me, i still love to call him so. He too is happy when he sees most of his collegaue's Missus addressing their husbands by name;))) Good post, Meera!

  3. grammar or long as there's understanding..
    I want to learn hindi though cos I really like the indian i make great chapati..

  4. This was good! I think I am fairly good at understanding those things and what they mean. No problems there! :)

  5. @ Dammy Jewel welcome to my blog. Nice to know that you like the Indian culture. Curious to know from where you learnt to make chappatis. @ Cloud nine, yes Malayalam is a very sweet sounding language ( more vowels I guess). @ Sub and Purnima glad you agree with my point of view.

  6. nice post Meera ji....
    while going through the SMSs and the status updates at times i often think that what will be the future of Grammar or the language itself for that matter....but again, as you said "language is after all for communications" its ok, as long as it serves the purpose of making our points clear.....!!!


  7. long as am problemo.

    p.s...translating native languages into english atimes lost it's meaning.

  8. I faced some similar confusions due to the use of pronouns, you may read it here

  9. mother would say adu anda dabba kitta iruku...:-)
    enjoyed reading this..

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments. Looks like this is a malady everywhere :-)

  11. I am still struggling with "this" and "that" and I recently found that I am not the only one. I think being specific is verrrrry essential in IT, be it network management, programming languages or server setups. A comma instead of a semi-colon can be all that is needed to land one in hell. What I cannot understand is why use a pronoun when a noun is just as handy and brings about more clarity? Every time I listen to these pronoun laden sentences, I have to ask for specifics - something that takes time and can easily be avoided. Or are my direct reports testing my intelligence? They certainly test my patience sometimes!

    I liked the post as these pronouns affect all of us some time or the other.

  12. Hahaha...Nice post. I remember in Hindi, 'wo dena', 'wahan rakhna' and all that. Sometimes, they are funny and sometimes irritating.

    There are comic characters in movies these days who always use pronouns in place of nouns.

    Good observation.

  13. Ha, ha, the confusion itself has been of educative value isn't it?

  14. Hi,

    I followed the link you left in the comment post in my blog today. Interesting piece you have here. Yes you are right about Mallus more or less.

    It may sometimes reflect gauche if we are content with conveying the idea and not bother about the language. don't you think so?

    As for nouns, pronouns . conjunctions etc well, I wonder how I could write and speak a bit of English considering , I do not know what an adverb is and what a predicate is. To me language is through feeling and grammar too. Guess has been not very disappointing so far.

    The piece about you waiting elsewhere from what your sister intended , ha that was the fun about the language and understanding.

    Again good read here, thanks.


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