ESL/ELL tips for unstressing pronouns, and reducing them by omitting the first sound of certain words. Also learn to stress them to change the meaning of the sentence, but be careful, because the rhythm and intonation of the entire sentence often changes when a pronoun is stressed!

Personal pronouns are the most basic pronouns used to take the place of a noun or a noun phrase. Grammatically, they can be the subject of the sentence (I, he, she, it, you, we, and they) or the object of the sentence (me, him, her, it, you, us, and them).

Personal pronouns are function words; their purpose is to provide a grammatical shortcut rather than to provide details. Like other function words, personal pronouns are not usually stressed.

Let's look at a few basic sentences to review the grammar.

If I have the sentence, Mary likes Michael, the person Mary is the subject. It will be replaced by the subject pronoun she:

She likes Michael.

Michael is the object of the sentence. He is the receiver of the liking. If I want to replaceMichael with a pronoun, it would be the object pronoun him:

Mary likes him.

I can also replace both the subject and the object with pronouns. This creates the sentence:

She likes him.

In all of those sentences, the personal pronouns, whether they were subject or object pronouns, were unstressed. The pronouns were made smaller by pronouncing them more quickly and quietly. The verb likes, along with the names of the people, were stressed by saying them more loudly and slowly. I'll repeat all three sentences again.

She likes Michael.
Mary likes him.
She likes him.

Those were very simple sentences, but the pattern remains even if the sentences become more complex, for instance:

We gave them to her.

More slowly, that was:

We gave them to her.

The pronouns wethem, and her were made very small. In fact, the pronouns them and her were reduced to them and her. This is quite common, and is acceptable in all but the most formal speech.

We gave them to her.

The only content word of the sentence gave, carries the main stress.

We gave them to her.

Whenever pronouns are studied, contractions should also be studied. Contractions are, for a very simple explanation, the combination of two words into one, and include an apostrophe. When we take the words he is and use the word he's instead, we've created a contraction.

Subject pronouns are often contracted with the verbs to be, to have, will, and would. Unless a special meaning is intended, these contractions are also unstressed.

They're working on it.
I think he's going to be late.
We've already tried.
I'd been walking all day.

Although personal pronouns are function words, it doesn't mean that they can never be stressed. Any word of a sentence can be stressed, but doing so suggests additional meaning.

Stressing personal pronouns often emphasizes that one person or persons is being contrasted with another. A change in pitch often accompanies the pronoun that has been brought into focus through stress. When this happens, the overall rhythm and intonation of the sentence changes, sometimes significantly.

In the original sentence She likes them, the words she and them are unstressed, and the word likes is stressed. If I emphasize the word she, it becomes stressed, and the word likes loses it's stress.

She likes them.

This gives an implied meaning that someone else does not like them.

A more complex example shows double pronoun contrast occurring within a single sentence.

She likes them, but they don't like her.

Note that the pronouns them and her cannot be pronounced them and her when then they are stressed in a sentence.

She likes them, but they don't like her.

Let's practice with some sentences for you to repeat after me. These sentences have will no stressed personal pronouns:

I brought you some.
You're going to miss it.
He doesn't know them at all.
We're planning to see him later.
It seemed too big for her.

Here are the same sentences with a stressed pronoun. Please repeat after me.

I brought *you some.
*You're going to miss it.
He doesn't know *them at all.
*We're planning to see him later.
It seemed too big for *her.