I met John yesterday. John was very tired because John had just come from a long marathon. John and I only spoke for a little moment because John had to go meet up with John’s friends.
The above paragraph is how a language without pronouns would look like. Each repetition of ‘John’ is redundant because you know what the speaker is talking about. Instead of using the noun itself to represent a person/entity, it would be better if we used a different word to refer to that participant. Words that do this function are called pronouns.
Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun that is participating in a conversation. With pronouns, we can reduce the sentence to much-needed brevity. Pronouns can refer to people, objects, locations, unknown objects etc. Examples in English include: I, we, they, it, that, who etc. Pronouns are called सर्वनाम (sarwanām) in Nepali, with nām referring to ‘noun’.
In Nepali, pronouns have no inherent gender; the gender of the subject is inferred from verb conjugations or context. Gendered pronouns like ‘she’ or ‘he’ do not exist in Nepali; rather, all pronouns are like ‘they’ i.e. genderless.
Before we move on to personal pronouns, it is important to understand what a grammatical person means. It isn’t a real person like you and John; grammatical person rather refers to the perspective of the speaker. Basically, a conversation has three members:
- The first person, or the speaker, who is referred to as ‘I/ we/ self’
- The second person, or the addressee/listener, who is referred to as ‘you’
- The third person, or the others, who is referred to as ‘he/ she/ they/ it etc.’
The verb form you use depends on the perspective used in a conversation, thus it is important to recognize it when forming a sentence. For example, in English:
First person | I eat the food. Third person | He eats the food.
Notice how the inflection (form) of the verb changes according to the pronoun used. In Nepali, verbs are conjugated (or inflected) extensively, and this conjugation relies on the perspective (or the pronoun used). Thus, it is very important to have a good perspective.
Personal pronouns refer to human beings in a conversation.
Note | Inflected forms are not listed below, and all pronouns unless otherwise mentioned are listed according to the dictionary form. For example, ‘him’ is not listed because it is an inflection of ‘he’. | In Nepali, there are three tiers of respect used while addressing the listener (and sometimes the third party, but never the speaker). This is very similar to something like the French tu/vous, or the German du/Sie, except that Nepali has three tiers instead of two. Nepali uses different respect forms depending on the formality needed and the level of respect that is commanded by the subject. This system is also known as honorifics.
|You (Low Respect) | You[lr]||तँ (ta~)|
|You (Medium Respect) | You[mr]||तिमी (timī)|
|You (High Respect) | You[hr]||तपाईँ (tapāī~)|
|He/She (General) | He/She||ऊ (ū) [no plural]|
|He/She (Medium Respect) | He[mr]/She[mr]||उनी (unī)|
|He/She (High Respect) | He[hr]/She[hr]||उहाँ (uhā~) / वहाँ (wahā~)|
Note | ऊ (ū) as the general he/she is a convention I have taken here. In reality, the distinction between ऊ (ū) and उनी (unī) is a bit murky, and you will find many textbooks that refer to ऊ (ū) as the low respect form of he/she. The only thing that is consistent is that उनी (unī) is slightly more respectful than ऊ (ū), and that उहाँ (uhā~) / वहाँ (wahā~) is the highest form. However, there aren’t many places where you would prefer उनी (unī) over ऊ (ū), perhaps except in the plural, and if something does require you to use the honorific form, you would simple use उहाँ (uhā~) / वहाँ (wahā~) instead.
To make plural forms of second and third person pronouns, concatenate हरू (harū) to the end of the pronoun. First person pronouns cannot be pluralized. For example:
तिमी (timi) + हरू (harū) = तिमीहरू(timi-harū)
Verb conjugations for the plural forms follow the same patterns as the singular forms. For example, timī-harū has the same conjugation rules as timī.
Note | ऊ (ū) does not have a plural form; it’s replaced by उनीहरू (unī-harū), which means ‘they’.
Demonstrative pronouns help identify the object based on their proximity to the speaker. They are usually used with objects, but sometimes they are used with people as well.
Note | Plural demonstrative pronouns are also the medium respect form of their singular counterparts.
Interrogative pronouns are used to refer to an unknown subject as part of a question.
Reflexive pronouns refer to themselves. In Nepali, there is one reflexive pronoun. When combined with another possessive pronoun or with a genitive case, it can also means ‘own’.
|Oneself/Myself/Itself etc.||आफू (āphū) / आफैँ (āphai~)|
Note | आफैँ (āphai~) is the emphatic form of आफू (āphū), but is more commonly heard as reflexive pronouns are often used to emphatically stress oneself.
Possessive pronouns demonstrate ownership or possessiveness of A to B. While English has possessive pronouns like my, your etc., Nepali does not, in the sense that it considers these as pronouns. Rather, possessive pronouns in Nepali are genitive case marker-bearing inflected pronouns. I will list some common ones below for reference purposes only and should not be treated as true pronouns in a Nepali sense.
Note | The genitive case marker inflects for gender and number as well. The ones listed below are in the singular, masculine/neuter (zero) form. Possessive pronouns behave more like adjectives.
|His/ Her||उसको (usko)|
म जन हो (ma jan ho) [I + John + am] = I am John.
तपाईँ जन हो (tapāī~ jan ho) [You[hr] + John + are] = You[hr] are John.
ऊ घर आयो (ū ghar āyo) [He + house + came] = He came home.
यो स्याउ हो (yo syāu ho) [This + apple + is] = This is (an) apple.
को जन हो? (ko jan ho) [Who + John + is] = Who is John?
मेरो नाम जन हो (mero nām jan ho) [My + name + John + is] = My name is John.
When some case markers are added to certain pronouns, the pronouns changes form with an accompanying sound modifications. This is called obliquing. You can read more about it in The Oblique Form Of Pronouns.
- Pronouns are words that represent nouns and refers to either the participants or other things in the conversation.
- Grammatical person is a concept that describes the proximity of something relative to the speaker. Has three perspectives: first person, second person, third person.
- Nepali has three tiers of respect when using certain pronouns, whose use depends on the social context. These are called honorifics.
- In Nepali, possessive pronouns do not exist in the English sense. Rather, they are case marker-modified pronouns, and can indicate gender and number. Possessive pronouns behave like adjectives.
A. FILL IN THE FOLLOWING WITH THE APPROPRIATE PERSONAL PRONOUNS (NEPALI)
1. __ ate the food yesterday. (first person | singular)
2. John said __ were out of gas. (first person | plural)
3. I love __ all. (second person | plural | medium respect)
4. John met his professor yesterday. __ was on the parking lot. (third person | singular | high respect)
5. __ work on the latest project of Tokyo electronics. (third person | plural | medium respect)
B. CHOOSE THE CORRECT PRONOUN THAT CORRESPONDS TO THE BOLD WORD
1. You[lr] eat rather slowly. (hāmī | timī | ta~)
2. I am very tired. (ma | ko | hāmī)
3. What is the answer to this riddle? (tī | tapāī~ | ke)
4. The road goes this way. (tyo | yo | yī)
5. Those apples are rotting in the basket. (yo | ta~ | tī)
C. MATCH THE CORRECT POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS THAT CORRESPONDS TO THE BOLD WORD (CONTAINS SUPERFLUOUS OPTIONS)
tapāī~-ko | hāmro | tero | usko | mero | timro | uhā~-ko
1. Our country of origin is Germany.
2. My dog is very energetic.
3. Did he meet your[mr] grandfather?
4. The cake is his creation.
5. Your[hr] cooking is great!
A.1. म (ma)
A.2. हामी (hamī)
A.3. तिमीहरू (timīharū)
A.4. उहाँ (uhā~) or वहाँ (wahā~)
A.5. उनीहरू (unīharū)