The forms of English personal pronouns
I’ve been mulling over how English personal pronouns preserve case, gender,
Like Greek and Latin nouns (and pronouns and adjectives), the form of English personal pronouns vary to show number, gender, and case (how the word is used in a sentence: whether it’s the subject or object or a possessive).
Nouns in English normally show number by using a suffix of “-s” or “-es,” but some English nouns do have a declension for plural: ox/oxen, for example, or goose/geese. Some use the same form for singular and plural, the number indicated by context—for example, fish, sheep, deer.. (In the case of “fish,” the plural form “fishes” can be used when referring to fish of different species: “the fishes of the deep.)
Most of the personal pronouns do indeed have a declension for number. When used in the nominative case (subject of verb), the forms are:
Singular: I, he, she, it
Plural: we, they
No variation for number: you, who
However, “you” and “who” in some dialects of English use the suffix “all” to make a plural form: “you all,” “who all.” E.g., “You all are going to have to clean up this mess.”
Classical Greek had, in addition to singular and plural forms, a dual form, used to denote a pair. For example, there was the word for “ox” (singular) and “oxen” (plural) but also the word for two oxen, since oxen were often used in pairs. The dual form was also used when speaking of the two brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus: “brother,” “pair of brothers,” “brothers” (plural without the “pair” connotation). You might use the dual form for sandals, gloves, and any other natural pair. In English, we have the word “brace” to denote a pair, either a natural pair (“a brace of dueling pistols”) or simply to denote two (“I bagged four brace of pheasants” refers to eight pheasants).
Gender variation is now found only in third person singular pronouns:
Masculine: he, him, his (nominative, accusative, possessive)
Feminine: she, her (nominative and accusative/possessive (same form))
Neuter: it, its (nominative/accusative (same form) and possessive)
Other personal pronouns do not vary for gender. “You,” for example, is the form used for both male and female (and for both singular and plural as well as for both nominative and accusative). “You” acts more like a noun that the other pronouns, though it does have a special form for the possessive: “your.”
Some English nouns also have a gender differences: king/queen, actor/actress, comedian/comedienne, waiter/waitress, steward/stewardess.
There has been a conscious effort to strip gender declension from nouns, either by substituting other words (e.g., “flight attendant” instead of “steward/stewardess”; “firefighter” instead of “fireman/firewoman”; “chair” instead of “chairman/chairwoman”; and using “actor” as the occupational title for both sexes).
Forms for use as an object of verb or preposition
English nouns do not differ in form when used as the object of a verb or preposition, but some personal pronouns do. When used in what would correspond to the Greek dative case (in English, as the indirect object of a verb or preposition) or accusative case (object of a verb), the forms that change are these:
Singular: me, him, her
Plural: us, them
No variation for number: whom
No variation for subject/object: you, it
Form to indicate possession
In general, nouns in English form the possessive by adding ‘s at the end of singular nouns and simply ‘ at the end of plural nouns: “the boy’s books,” “the boys’ books.” The apostrophe marks the possessive for nouns. (There are exceptions: some proper nouns that end in “s,” for example, simply add the apostrophe: Moses’ tablets.)
In contrast, none of the possessive pronouns use an apostrophe, since pronouns have a declension for the possessive:
Singular: my, his, her, its
Plural: our, their
No variation for number: your, whose
For some reason, I find this interesting and wish I knew more about the evolutionary history of language.