A pronoun is a word that stands in place of (“pro”) a noun. The word for which a pronoun stands (or refers back to) is called the antecedent of the pronoun.
In the sentence above, “he” is a (personal) pronoun that refers back to the subject “Jesus.” Notice that the pronoun agrees with the antecedent in gender, number, and person.
Rather than repeating the proper noun Moses in the two sentences, we can replace the second occurence with the personal pronoun he: Moses fled Eygpt. He went to Midian.
Properties of Pronouns
Like the nouns they take the place of, pronouns have certain properties:
Gender is a property that indicates the sex of the referrent (masculine or feminine). In Hebrew, however, the correlation between the gender of a noun and its referrent is generally accidental. Regarding pronouns, this can be a potential source of confusion. You must remember the gender of the noun (antecedent) when you see the Hebrew pronoun or you will not understand the connection. For example, the word Torah in Hebrew is feminine, and if it is refered to by a pronoun in a sentence, you might translate it as “she” when it is better English to say “it.”
Number is the property that indicates whether one or more than one object is referenced when using the word. Hebrew has singular pronouns (singular antecedent) and plural pronouns (plural antecedents).
Person refers to the relationship between the pronoun and the speaker. A pronoun can be in the first person (I am here, We are here), second person (you are here, y’all are here), or third person (he/she/it is here, they are here).
Case indicates the grammatical function of the pronoun in a sentence. A pronoun can be a subject of a sentence (he is a king), an object in a phrase or clause (John loves her), or in a possessive relationship with an object (his Hebrew book). Note that the possessive relationship may be expressed with prepositional phrases in Hebrew.
Types of Pronouns
As in English, there are several types of pronouns in Hebrew:
- Personal Pronouns
Demonstrative Pronouns replace a noun by answering the question “which?” (This is the good one).
- Subject Pronouns: used as the subject of a clause (He is a king).
- Object Pronouns: used as the object of a verb (Moses saw him).
Interrogative Pronouns ask a question about the antecedent (Who is coming? What did you see?)
Relative Pronouns introduce a relative clause (i.e., a clause that cannot stand alone). E.g., The king saw the woman who was crying. He ran to the temple that was in Jerusalem.
Personal Pronoun Inflections
Since there are two possible genders (m/f) and three different persons (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), there are six forms for singular personal pronouns, and six more forms for plural personal pronouns. All said, there will be a total of 12 forms (with some spelling variants) that you will need to learn.
Study Tip: When learning the personal pronouns, you will simply have to memorize the forms. It is not that difficult if you will create simple flash cards and quiz yourself regularly.
Personal pronouns can be either subjects or objects. The independent (subject) form of personal pronouns are used primarily as subjects in sentences -- typically of verbless sentences where the copula “to be” is implied. When a personal pronoun is the object of a verb, pronomial endings (suffixes) are attached to the definite direct object marker. The usage of demonstrative, interrogative, and relative pronouns function in the same way as they do in English..