Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Pronouns

Pronouns are words which substitute another word, often a noun. It is a mixed group of words, which first and foremost have in common, semantically, that they substitute something else. Here we will go through some of the most important groups of pronouns separately.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns refer to people or other ‘real’ referents such as animals or objects. The pronouns are inflected for person, number and case. In the 3rd person singular, they are also inflected for gender. On one hand there are the pronouns den and det, which are inflected for grammatical gender, and on the other hand there are those 3rd person pronouns that are typically used to refer to humans: hun, han, hen and de. The latter four pronouns are inflected for social gender, i.e. the gender categories that we assign other people and ourselves. Most traditional grammars only account for hun and han and describe them as inflected for biological sex, but in practice it is not (only) biological factors that determine which pronoun is used to refer to a person. Therefore, we see it as more accurate to talk about social gender.

The pronouns can be systematized according to who they refer to (person and number) and their position in the sentence (case):

Person 

Nominative 

Accusative/oblique

Genitive

1. pers. sg.

"jeg" [jɑj, jɑ, ja, (ʔ)ɑ, (ʔ)a]

"mig" [mɑj, mɑ]

"min" [miʔn, min]

2. pers. sg.

"du" [du]

"dig" [dɑj, dɑ]

"din" [diʔn, din]

3. pers. sg. fem

"hun" [hun, hon, hən, hn̩]

"hende" ['henn̩, hen]

"hendes" ['henn̩s, hens]

3. pers. sg. masc

"han" [hæn, han, hən, hn̩]

"ham" [hɑm, hm̩]

"hans" [hæns, hans, həns, hn̩s]

3. pers. sg. gender neutral
"hen" [hɛn, hɜn,  hən, hn̩ ]
  "hens"  [hɛns, hɜns,  həns, hn̩s]   
3. pers. sg. gender neutral "de" [di] "dem"  [dɛm]   "deres" ['da:ʌs, daʌ̯s]  

3. pers. sg. common gender

            "den" [dɛnʔ, dɛn, dən, dn̩]

"dens" [dɛnʔs, dɛns, dəns, dn̩s]

3. pers. sg. neuter gender

                       "det" [de]

"dets" [des]

1. pers. pl.

"vi" [vi]

"os" [ʌs]

"vores" ['vɒ:s, vɒs]

2. pers. pl.

"I" [i]

"jer" [jaʌ̯]

"jeres" ['ja:ʌs, jaʌ̯s]

3. pers. pl.

"de" [di]

"dem" [dɛm]

"deres" ['da:ʌs, daʌ̯s]

The 1st and 2nd person pronouns are sometimes called deictic (pointing), because they ‘point at’ somebody in the situation (the person speaking plus possible others, or the person spoken to plus others). There are furthermore two types of personal pronouns: anaphoric and cataphoric. Anaphoric pronouns refer back to something/someone previously mentioned or implied. Cataphoric pronouns refer to something/someone not previously mentioned, but which is subsequently mentioned.

In the cases above where more than one form is listed, the first form is used when the word is stressed. If more forms follow, they are ordered from most stressed to least stressed.

The nominative pronominal forms are used when the word is the subject of a sentence (see Clause constituents). In all other constituents and positions, including when the word occurs by itself in a turn or otherwise outside a sentence, the oblique (accusative) form is used.

The genitive forms are used both as determiners in noun phrases (see Phrases), by themselves as predicates (see Clause constituents), or by themselves in a turn.

Reflexive pronouns

The reflexive pronoun in Danish is sig [sɑj, sɑ]. It is used along with verbs indicating that a person is subjecting themselves to an action, e.g. vaske sig (‘to wash oneself’). In this example the reflexive pronoun is the object of the sentence. The form sig is used when the subject is in the third person. When the subject is in first or second person, the oblique form (accusative) is used.

The genitive form of the reflexive pronoun is sin [siʔn, sin]. Just like the personal pronouns, this form is used as a determiner in noun phrases.    

Possessive pronouns

The personal pronouns in the genitive case can be classified as a distinct group: possessive pronouns. Three of these forms can furthermore inflect according to what comes next. In talk-in-interaction, this is:

Person

Common gender

Neuter Gender

Plural

1. pers. sg.

"min" [miʔn, min]

"mit" [mid]

"mine" [mi::n, mi:nə]

2. pers. sg.

"din" [diʔn, din]

"dit" [did]

"dine" [di::n, di:nə]

Reflexive

"sin" [siʔn, sin]

"sit" [mid]

"sine" [si::n, si:nə]

These inflections are similar to the gender and number inflections of adjectives.

Reciprocal pronouns

The reciprocal pronoun in Danish is hinanden (‘each other’), which also exists in the genitive form hinandens (‘each other’s’). This word refers back to a plural subject and expresses reciprocity.

Demonstrative pronouns

As the name suggests, demonstrative pronouns are used to point specifically at what is being referred to. In Danish talk-in-interaction, a combination of words is used to express this: den her (lit. ‘it here’, or ‘this’, common gender); den der (lit. ‘it there’, or ‘that’, common gender);, det her (lit. ‘it here’, or ‘this’, neuter gender);, det der (lit. ‘it there’, or ‘that’, neuter gender); de her (lit. ‘they here’, or ‘these’, plural); de der (lit. ‘they there’, or ‘those’, plural); dem her (lit. ‘them here’, or ‘these’, plural, oblique case); and dem der (lit. ‘them here’, or ‘those’, plural, oblique case). These constructions can stand before the head of a noun phrase, as in

kigge   på den der   EURES
look.INF on it.C there NAME
Look at that EURES

 or they can surround it, as in

 jeg får    så meget ros   for de  boller der
I   get.PRS so  much  praise for they bun-PL  there
I get so much praise for those buns

When these constructions are used demonstratively, there is always a stress on at least one of the words.

In written Danish, the demonstrative pronouns are denne (‘this/that’ common gender), dette (‘this/that’ neuter) and the plural disse (‘these/those’). They are only very rarely used in talk-in-interaction.

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns substitute something which the speaker expresses a lack of knowledge about. They normally occur at the beginning of sentences (see Sentence diagrams). In grammatical descriptions of Danish, the interrogatives beginning with hvor- will appear under adverbs, because they occur in adverbial phrases. However, for simplicity’s sake, we will present examples of all the words which we have discovered function as interrogatives in talk-in-interaction.

First, we present the interrogatives which can stand as independent constituents, and are normally regarded as individual words:

  • Hva [va, væ] laver du  (‘What are you doing’) (about things, activities, events)     
  • Hvordan du hvad [væð]  (‘How you what’) (mostly pointing to something in an earlier utterance, about things, activites, events)       
  • Hvem [vɛm] er det (‘Who is that’) (about people)
  • Hvor [voʌ̯ʔ, ʔ] mødte vi hende (‘Where did we meet her’) (about places)
  • Hvordan [vʌ'dæn] ser han ud  (‘How does he look’) (about manners and states)    
  • Hvodden ['vɔdn̩, vɔn] har Kamilla det  (’How is Kamilla’) (about manners and states)    
  • Hvornår [vʌ'nɒʔ] ve' de gerne ha det  (‘When do they want it’) (about time)    
  • Hvorfor ['vʌfʌ] går jeg her  (‘Why do I walk here’) (about reasons, causes)    
  • Hvorfor [vʌ'fʌ]  (‘Why’) (normally by itself, about reasons, causes)    
  • Hvorfra [vɒ'fʁɑʔ]  (‘Where from’) (often by itself, about place of origin)    

Secondly, here is a list of pronouns which stand as determiners in other phrases (see Phrases). The most important of these is hvor [vʌ] (a more specific translation of this word follows below):  

  • Hvor [vʌ] langt kom vi nu (How far did we come’)    
  • Hvor [vʌ] mange unger blir der ('How many children will there be’)    
  • Hvor [vʌ] meget ka man gå til (’How many activities can you attend’)

The word hvor [vʌ] is never stressed, and in talk-in-interaction it is not the same word as the independent interrogative word hvor [voʌ̯ʔ, ʔ] (‘where’). Hvor [vʌ] can occur before adjectives, adverbs and pronouns which signify quantity. Just as in the written tradition, we see hvor [vʌ] as an independent word in e.g. hvor langt (‘how long’), hvor meget (‘how much’) etc., but as a part of a compound interrogative in hvordan (‘how’), hvornår (‘when’), hvorfor (‘why’), hvorfra (‘where from’). The first part of these compound words can be pronounced differently and the distribution of stress can be changed, whereas the independent word hvor [vʌ] can be put in front of many different quantifiers, is always unstressed, and is more or less always pronounced the same.

Other attributive (pre-positioned) interrogatives used in talk-in-interaction are:

  • Hvaffor ['væfʌ] noget sir du (lit. ”What for something are you saying” (contraction of hvad “what” and for “for”))
  • Hvaf' [væf] en dato er det (lit. ”What for a date is it” (further reduction of the above expression))    
  • Hva [væ] farve har du så valgt  (”What color did you choose”) 

In written Danish the form hvilken “which (one)” would have been used in the second and last example.

Most likely the form hvis [ves] (‘whose’) – and perhaps other variants like hvisses [vesəs] (‘whose’) – also occur as both independent and attributive interrogative e.g. hvis er det “whose is that” or hvis bil er det “whose car is it”. However, we have not observed this in our data (yet).

Some interrogative-like words almost always occur alone in a turn. This is the case for words whose function is to initiate repair, that is, to make someone else correct what they have said. This holds true for the words hvar [vɑ] and hvad [væð], which both mean ”what”, but have different functions (see What1 and What2). In this grammar we consider these words Interjections.

Interrogative pronouns can also occur in indirect interrogative clauses, as in Ve' du noget om hvornår han kommer hjem (‘Do you know something about when he will come home’). Here they have the same meaning and function as they do in direct interrogative clauses.

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are words which initiate relative clauses and stand as constituents in them. They refer to content in the main clause that the relative clause is a constituent of. The most important relative pronouns in talk-in-interaction are som [sʌm] (‘which/that’) and der [dɑ, dɒ] (‘which/that’). Some grammars consider these words to be Conjuntions. However, we have chosen to consider them pronouns, given that they substitute a constituent in the relative clause (see Clauses and Sentences) even though they cannot be inflected – as opposed to most other pronouns.

In talk-in-interaction the following words are used as relative pronouns:

"som" [sʌm]:

  • så fandt jeg det her kaffe som jeg selv købte noget af  (lit. ’Then I found this here coffee which I bought some of myself’). Here som is the object of the sub-clause and refers to det her kaffe “this here coffee”.    
  • for der bygget et helt nyt hus på Kirkevejen som ligger midt- lige midt i den  – (lit. ’Because there is built a brand new house on Church Road which lies in the middle – right in the middle of it’). som is the subject of the sub-clause and refers to et helt nyt hus på Kirkevejen ”a brand new house on Kirkevejen”.    
  • hun har et barn i forvejen som han ikk- som han ikke er far til  (lit. ’She has a child from before which he isn- which he isn’t father to’). som is here the complement of the preposition til “to” and refers to et barn “a child”.    

In some cases, som kan be omitted (when it is the object or complement). For example, we can say hun har et barn i forvejen (som) han ikke er far til lit. ”she has a child from before (which) he is not the father of”. This is – seemingly – done less in talk-in-interaction than in writing.

"der" [dɑ, dɒ]

  • et af mine børnebørn der er der  ( lit. ’One of my grandchildren who is there’). Here som is the subject of the sub-clause and refers to et af mine børnebørn (‘one of my grandchildren’).    

This word is normally the subject in the sub-clause and cannot be omitted. Note that this word is not the same as the spatial adverb der “there” or the formal subject der  (see Adverbs) which has alternate pronunciations.

"hvor" [vɒ]

  • det kommer en gang imellem hvor man lige får en tur med maven jo  (lit. ‘it comes once in a while where you get something with the stomach’). Hvor is the adverbial constituent in the sub-clasue and refers to en gang imellem ”once in a while”    
  • den der udsendelse hvor de vurderer  ( lit. ‘that there broadcast where they assess’). Here hvor is the adverbial constituent in the sub-clause and refers to den der udsendelse (‘that there broadcast’).

In written language there are relative pronouns which can be inflected for case, gender and number:  hvilken (“which” common gender), hvilket (“which” neuter), hvilke (plural), hvis (genitive).

Indefinite pronouns

Most pronouns are ‘born’ definite because they refer to, or substitute, something which is known in the conversation. Nevertheless, there is a group of indefinite pronouns which normally stand alone.

One of the indefinite pronouns can, just like the personal pronouns, be inflected for case. This is the case for man (‘one’), as in man kan forestille sig (‘one can imagine’).    

Nominative 

Accusative/Oblique

Genitive

"man" [man, mæn]

"en" [eʔn, en]

"ens" [eʔns, ens]

Many other indefinite pronouns have a special form for the neuter gender, but the same form for common gender and plural. A few have different forms in all three cases. Some have a genitive form which is constructed by adding an -s.

Common gender

Plural

Neuter gender

Genitive

"nogen" [no:n, non]

"nogen" [no:n, non]

"noget" [nɔːð, nɔð]

"nogens" [no:ns, nons]

"ingen" ['eŋŋ̩] eller "ikk nogen" ['egno:n, egnon]

"ingen" ['eŋŋ̩] eller "ikk nogen" ['egno:n, egnon]

"ikk noget" ['egnɔːð, egnɔð] 

"ingens" ['eŋŋ̩s] eller "ikk nogens" ['egno:ns, egnons]

"alt" [æld]

"alle" ['æll̩]

"alt" [æld]

"alles"  ['æll̩s]

"hver" [vaʌ̯ˀ]

"hver" [vaʌ̯ˀ]

"hver" [vaʌ̯ˀ]

-

"enhver" [en'vaʌ̯ˀ]

"ethvert" [ed'vaʌ̯ˀd]

-

("enhvers")

Other pronouns: relational, quantitative

There is a residual group of pronouns, which are classified differently depending on the grammatical description. They can be relational i.e. expressing a relationship to something else, e.g. anden [ˈænn̩]  (‘other’), sådan ['sʌdn̩, 'sʌnn̩, sʌn] (‘such/so’); and/or quantitative, that is, indicating an undetermined amount, e.g. nogen [no:n, non] (‘some’), ikke nogen ['egno:n, egnon] (‘none, nobody’), meget [ˈmɑːð, mɑːd̥, ˈmɑːjəd̥] (‘much’) etc. These pronouns often stand attributively as part of the noun phrase (see Phrases).

Where can pronouns occur?

As mentioned, pronouns can occur in a variety of syntactic positions, and different kinds of pronouns can occur in different positions. The typical positions in which pronouns are found are:

  • alone, as subjects in clauses. Here we find the nominative forms of personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns, relative pronouns der and som along with the interrogative pronoun hvem (‘who’). In talk-in-interaction we often find ‘pronominal copies’ in the front field of the sentence (see Heavy constituent in front-field and pre-front field).
  • alone as objects in clauses and as complements of ‘stranded’ prepositions (see Prepositions). Here we find the oblique forms of the personal pronouns, two of the interrogatives (hvem “who”, hva “what1”), the relative pronoun som “which/that” alongside the indefinite pronouns.
  • alone as adverbial phrases. Here some of the interrogative pronouns occur, such as hvor (‘where’), hvorfor (‘why’) etc. (that is, the group which in many grammars is described under Adverbials), and finally the relative pronoun hvor (‘where’).
  • as determiners in noun phrases (see Phrases). In this case the most common forms are the genitive forms of the personal, reflexive, reciprocal and indefinite pronouns; the possessive, the interrogatives hvaf(for) (‘what for’) and hva (‘what1’) plus quantitative and relational pronouns.

All pronouns that can stand alone as constituents in clauses, can also stand alone as an individual word in a conversational turn.

Relevant entries:

Further reading:

Hansen & Steensig (2018) discuss hvaffor en (‘which one’, lit. ‘what for one’) and hvaffor n'en (‘which one’, lit. ‘what for a one’), and whether they should be considered multi-word constructions or words.