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Jane Marcet


"Well, Mary," said her mother, the following day, "what difficult lesson of grammar have you to learn now?"

"Oh, my grammar is not half so difficult as it was, mamma," replied Mary.

"Or as you thought it was, my dear."

"Yes, but, indeed, it was very difficult till you explained it to me: now let me see what comes after nouns;" and she read,—" 'A pronoun is a word put instead of a noun, to avoid the too frequent repetition of the same word.' I do not understand that at all, mamma."

"I will tell you a story that will make you understand it." Mary's eyes brightened at the thought of a story; but her mamma told her it would consist of only a few phrases, to explain the pronoun. "There was a little boy, and the boy climbed up a tree, for the boy wanted to gather some cherries. So the boy laid hold of the branches, but the boy was so busy gathering the cherries, that the boy lost the boy's hold; so the boy fell to the ground, and the boy was very much hurt."

"What a number of boys you have said, mamma!" observed Mary, "and yet there was but one."

"And is it not tiresome," replied her mother, "to hear the same word repeated so often?"

"Yes; why do you not say the boy climbed up the tree, and he gathered cherries, and he fell down and hurt himself?"

"Then you think it better to put he  instead of boy,  to avoid the too frequent repetition of the noun?"

"Oh yes, now I understand it. Boy is a noun, and he  is put instead of the boy, that is, instead of a noun, so he  must be a pronoun; and are there a great many pronouns, mamma?"

"Not so many as there are nouns, for he  will stand for other nouns besides a boy. Look at that man, yonder, he  is whistling to his dog: what is the word he  put for there, Mary?"

"Oh, he  is put instead of man. The dog follows him, mamma; he  is very obedient. So, then, he  will do for boy and man, and dog too."

"Very well; I am glad to see you understand it. Now can you tell me what pronoun you would use for that little girl with a blue bonnet, whom you see walking there?"

"Oh, what a pretty blue bonnet she has, mamma!"

"Well, you have said the pronoun without thinking of it."

"Did I?" said Mary, surprised. "What was it?"

"You said, she  has a very pretty blue bonnet."

"Ah, so I did: she  is the pronoun put instead of the little girl; and she  will do, also, for the lady, who is with the little girl, just as he  stands both for the man and the boy. Do you think she is her mamma?"

"Whose mamma, my dear?"

"The little girl's mamma."

"And why did you say her  mamma, instead of the little girl's mamma?"

"Oh, because it is much shorter and easier to say her,  than to say little girl over and over again. Ah! now I guess why you smile, mamma: her  must be a pronoun for the little girl as well as she.  So, then, there is more than one pronoun for the little girl?"

"Yes, and there is more than one pronoun for man also; you may say he  or him,  or his:  as he  has a gun in his  hand, and a dog following him. The pronouns, he,his,  and him,  all relate to the man."

"Then," said Mary, "if there is more than one pronoun for one noun, what a great number of pronouns there must be."

"Not so many as you think; for observe that the same pronoun will stand for a great many nouns."

"Yes," said Mary, "as he  stands for man and boy, and dog, and she  stands both for lady and little girl."

"You said just now, 'I am very hungry;' whom does I  mean?"

"It means me,  mamma."

"And whom does me  mean?"

"Why, your little Mary, you know, mamma."

"Well, then, I  and me  are both pronouns, which you say, instead of Mary, when you speak of yourself. But little Sophy does not know yet what pronouns mean; and she says, 'Give Sophy some bread; Sophy is very hungry.' "

"Ah, so she does," said Mary, "because she has not learnt grammar."

"But you  used pronouns before you learnt grammar, Mary."

Mary was a little puzzled to know how she could use pronouns without having learnt them. At length she said, "I knew what I  and me,  and she,  and her,  and him  meant, though I did not know that they were pronouns, and that they were used instead of nouns."

"Well, Sophy does not even know what I  and me,  and she,  and her,  and him  mean; so she does not use pronouns yet."

"And when will you teach her, mamma?"

"She will learn it as you did: by hearing pronouns frequently repeated, she will at last find out what they mean. Now tell me when I speak to you, what do I say instead of Mary?"

"You say dear child, sometimes."

"And do I not often say you?  I say, 'Are you  tired of walking? Will you  sit down?' "

"Then is you  my name, mamma, as well as Mary?"

"No, it is put instead of your name. A pronoun never names a person or a thing, but points them out, without naming them."

"A pronoun is a funny sort of word," said Mary, "for it talks of people, and tells you who they are, without telling you their name. Well! when I want to find out a pronoun, I shall think of some person, and find out a word that will stand for him, without mentioning his name. Now I am thinking of my writing master, and the pronoun he  will do for him."

"Very well, Mary; but you must have mentioned the writing master's name, before you use the pronoun; otherwise I could not tell whom you meant by he;  for he, you know, will stand for any man."

"Oh yes," said Mary; "it is only when we have been talking about the writing master that I can use the pronoun, else you would not know what he  I meant. But, mamma, when I spoke to you,  I did not say your name first, and you afterwards."

"No, that is not necessary; when you speak to a person, you know to whom you are talking, so that there is no occasion to mention the name. So, then, when you speak to another person, the pronoun you  is used."

"But, when we talked about the little girl with the blue bonnet, we said she,  not you."

"Because we talked of  her, we did not speak to  her. If we had spoken to  her, we might have said: 'You  have a very pretty bonnet: is that lady your  mamma?' Now, Mary, can you find out a pronoun that will stand for both, the little girl and the lady, at the same time?"

"Oh no, mamma, that must be very difficult; for the lady is a great woman, and the little girl is quite a child: they are so different, that I cannot conceive how the same pronoun can stand for them both."

"Them  both!" repeated her mother; "whom do you mean by them?"

"I mean the lady and the little girl; oh dear! them  is the pronoun for them both; and I said it without knowing it."

"Look, Mary, they  are just going out of sight, we can see them  no longer;" and she laid an emphasis on they  and them,  to show that those two words were pronouns.

"How odd it is, mamma," said Mary, "that one pronoun should stand for two nouns at once!"

"They are plural pronouns," said her mother, "whilst those which are put in the place of one single noun are singular."

"Then he,  and she,  and him,  and her,  are singular pronouns," said Mary; "and they,  and them,  and their,  are plural. Now do let me try if I can find an example." Then, after thinking a few moments, she exclaimed with exultation, as if she had made a great discovery, "Look at those sheep, mamma; they  are feeding in the field. Here is a box of sugar plums, may I taste them?  See, mamma, what a number of nouns I have made the pronouns stand for; all the sheep, and all the sugar plums!"

"But, the sheep and the sugar plums make only two nouns, my dear."

"What do you mean, mamma? Don't you see how many sheep there are in that field? and then the whole box is full of sugar plums?"

"All the sheep," replied her mother, "are sheep; and sheep is one noun, or one name for those animals we see feeding. Then, all the sugar plums in the box is one noun also; and in the multiplication table, I believe, Mary, that twice one make two."

Mary laughed, and her mother continued, "Now, the lady and the little girl are two different sorts of nouns."

"Yes," said Mary, "they are not just alike, as the sheep are, and the sugar plums are. But, cannot one pronoun stand for a great many different sorts of nouns?"

"Certainly; look at the nosegay I gathered this morning; there are roses, jessamine, pinks, carnations,  and a variety of other flowers; they  smell very sweet, and their  colours are very bright. The pronouns I have been teaching you are called personal, because they stand for persons and things, but there are other pronouns, which I shall not explain to you at present, as they are too difficult."

Her mother then gave her a piece of cake, and told her she might go and play in the garden, as her lesson was now over.

"Oh, mamma!" cried Mary, "I have found out a pronoun all alone; not a pronoun that stands for a great many nouns, but only for one single thing. Guess it,  mamma;" and she laid a slight stress upon the word it,  to help her mother.

"It  is the word," replied her mother. Mary wondered her mamma could guess right so easily. She then ran on with a string of examples. "Here is my book, shall I put it  by? Where is my bonnet? I must put it  on; and my tippet? Tie it.  So, it  stands for every thing that is not a person or an animal."

"It  is often used for animals also," said her mother, "especially for small ones: look at that bird, how fast it  flies; and that caterpillar, how slow it  crawls."