I find pronouns in Latin it be one of the most difficult parts of the language; partly because of the varied roles they play; partly because I was never formally taught English grammar, and English pronouns retain some vestiges of a declined language (who and whom, for instance). Both English and Latin are littered with pronouns, so the good news is that with a decent grasp of pronouns you will be much more at ease with either language.
A pronoun is simply a word that sits in for (i.e. pro-) a noun. Thus, to begin learning about pronouns you need to be comfortable with nouns, how they decline, and what the jobs of the various cases are. Pronouns decline just like nouns do. The problem with a word sitting in for a noun is that there are lots and lots of ways where this can happen. Take, for instance, the sentence:
In my case this sentence could just as easily read Matthew hit Matthew., though that would be a rather odd way of putting things. Instead there are two types of pronouns here, the personal pronoun I, which tells you that the speaker is talking about themself (and no-one else) doing something, and the reflexive pronoun myself, which tells you that the subject of the verb is the same as the object. (In colloquial English it is usual to hear people using the reflexive pronouns myself and yourself incorrectly, in an attempt to sound ‘proper’. It is wrong.)
Another way in which pronouns are used is to describe particular places or things, or as place-holders for unknown people or things:
Here we have another two types of pronoun, the interrogative pronoun who, and the deictic pronoun there. Interrogative pronouns are used when we don’t know the correct noun to put somewhere, because we don’t know who or what is doing something. Deictic pronouns are those that depend on the context in which we’re talking, particularly the time and place (they’re often referred to as demonstrative pronouns). If, for example, someone asked me if I liked London, I might say “Yes, I live here.” This immediately tells you that the conversation is happening in London. If I were in London and replied “Yes, I live there.” to the same question, it would no-doubt confuse the questioner.
Who and there are two excellent examples of the confusing nature of pronouns in English, because both perform different roles (one of them needn’t even be a pronoun). Who is also a relative pronoun, whose job is to refer to someone already mentioned in a sentence (though not in the same way as a reflexive pronoun), such as “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Here, who refers back to the him who is about to cast a stone. We don’t use a reflexive pronoun because the clause who is without sin is known as a relative clause, which modifies the main clause Let him … cast the first stone. In Latin these two uses are distinguished by slightly different words; quī and quis.
Besides being a pronoun, there may also be an adverb, such as in the sentence “There are lots of people.” Here, there is modifying the verb to be. If we were asked where (another interrogative pronoun) there were lots of people, we might point and say “There there are lots of people!” Pronouns, no doubt, were born to confuse.
The above serves as a brief introduction to a few of the main jobs done by pronouns, and is relevant to both English and Latin. Throughout the remainder of this guide we will introduce the particular pronoun(s) about which we’re talking in English, before drawing comparisons with Latin.
Most of the time a pronoun acts as a straight stand-in for a noun and needs to match the noun for which it stands in, in number, gender, and case. So, while English has a single word for this (for those at the back, it’s this), Latin has two numbers, times three genders, times five cases—thirty—different words for this.
There is some good news, however. Firstly, the personal pronouns ego and tū (me and you) do not change depending on gender (naturally one wouldn’t expect there to be a neuter form of me, but neither is there a masculine or feminine). Secondly, there are no first- or second-person reflexive pronouns.
The bad news is worse. Firstly, there are third-person reflexive pronouns, which decline like the first- and second-person personal pronouns, and there is a third person demonstrative pronoun is, ea, id which varies by number, gender, and case, and doesn’t really have an analogue in English. Generally, it means he, she, it where he, she, or it is someone or something just mentioned. Secondly, the genitive, which you’ve dutifully learned describes possession of something by something, is not used to show possession when a noun is missing, nor is it replaced by a pronoun, but by a possessive adjective. To add insult to injury, this possessive adjective, being an adjective and not a pronoun, agrees with the thing so possessed in gender, and not the person or thing which owns it. Thus vīlla Iūliī—Julius's villa—becomes villa sua—his villa—where sua is the third-person singluar feminine possessive adjective, because villa is feminine. As annoying as the appearance of possessive adjectives may be, it is the same in English: we can think of the genitive of possession to be of me in English, while to show possession we use the word my (itself a possessive adjective).
One final thing that is important to remember is that, when dealing with possessive adjectives, we have two different numbers to worry about. Firstly, there is the number of people or things doing the owning, and the number of people or things being owned. For instance, mālum meum is my apple, and māla mea is my apples. Meum and mea are the singular and plural first-person neuter singular possessive adjectives. Meanwhile, mālum nostrum is our apple, and māla nostra is our apples. Nostrum and nostra are the singular and plural first-person neuter plural possessive adjectives. This table should make that somewhat clearer:
|Singular||My apple||Our apple|
|Plural||My apples||Our apples|
Personal pronouns in English decline, to a very limited degree. We have the first-person personal subject pronoun I (the nominative case in Latin), and the first-person personal object pronoun me (the accusative and dative cases in Latin). You doesn’t change between the subjective and the objective, but he becomes him and she becomes her.
As mentioned above, there are no third-person personal pronouns, but there are third-person reflexive pronouns, and so as we just use the personal pronouns as reflexive pronouns in the first- and second-person, we include the third-person reflexive pronouns here. Also mentioned before, we don't use the genitive to show possession (it can be read as of me), we have possessive adjectives for that.
Here are the personal and reflexive pronouns in Latin:
|Case||First Person||Second Person||Third Person|
(There is no nominative reflexive pronoun because you can’t ‘reflect’ onto something that doesn’t exist yet: Myself talked to you.)
|Case||First Person||Second Person||Third Person|
Thus, if I were telling you that Julius gave me an apple, I would write Iūlius mihī mālum dat (Julius to me an apple gave). We know what the direct and indirect object of the verb to give are because the indirect object is in the dative, just as if it were an actual noun.
Another important point is that, because the object of a verb is determined by its ending, we don’t need to use the nominative pronouns ego, tū, nōs, and vōs with a verb, except for emphasis. So I love you is, famously, tē amō (ignoring macrons it is identical to the Spanish). To give emphasis one could say ego tē amō—I (and no-one else) love you, though the object of your affections may find that slightly threatening.
Here we take a slight diversion and discuss possessive adjectives. Adjectives, as we know, modify nouns, but those which show possession look a bit like pronouns proper (me and my, you and your), so we’ll worry about them here.
While possessive adjectives may lull you into thinking they’ll behave like pronouns, they really are adjectives, which mean they match the noun they are modifying in number, gender, and case (as mentioned above).
There are only five possessive adjectives in Latin, because the third person suus is singular or plural, depending on context. The feminine adjectives are all first declension; the masculine and neuter are all second declension. They are as follows:
The first three decline like bonus, bona, bonum; the last two like pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum.