Personal Pronouns are those pronouns which serve as shortcuts in referring to participants by means of the person (and number) distinctions important within a language.  In the description of Nouns, we first encountered the important three-way person distinction as follows:

(1)                                                           Person Divisions

1 first person speaker (or person speaking)
2 second person addressee (or person spoken to)
3 third person person spoken about


Combining this with singular versus plural number, we can then expand the basic paradigm as:

(2)                                                    Basic Person and Number

singular plural
1s first person singular 1p first person plural
2s second person singular 2p second person plural
3s third person singular 3p third person plural


Basic Personal Pronouns

In practice, each language has its own unique person and number paradigm through the addition (or omission) of other features important to its grammar.  In English, as we have seen, third person singular forms require an additional three-way division of gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), while the second person singular and plural forms are not distinct in standard English (though they are for dialects that use such second plural pronouns as “youse” or “y’all”).

(3)                                                     English Person Divisions

singular plural
1s first person singular I 1p first person plural we
2s/2p second person  you
3ms third person masculine singular he 3p third person plural they
3fs third person feminine singular she
3ns third person neuter singular it


or more simply as:

(4)                                         English Personal (Subject) Pronouns

singular plural
1s I 1p we
2s/2p   you
3ms he 3p they
3fs she
3ns it


Cree does not make all of these same distinctions, but in fact some additional ones not found in English are important for Cree.  The personal pronouns were in fact introduced as part of our discussion of person distinction in nouns, so much of this discussion can be repeated here. First, Cree does not make the same gender distinction that English does, so there is no division of different third person singular (3s) forms (i.e. wiya can be “he” or “she”).  But we also note that Cree does, unlike standard English, make a distinction between second person singular (kiya) and second person plural (kiyawāw).  Additionally, Cree dialects all make a very important distinction involving the first and second person plural forms that is not made in English.  When an English speaker says “we” or “us”, the intent is for the speaker to include at least one other referent, making the first person plural.  However, in English, the additional referent(s) might include the addressee or not.  Thus “we” is ambiguous between “me and you (and possibly others)” and “me and others, but not you”.  In contrast, Cree always makes this distinction explicit and has two different forms depending on whether the speaker is including or excluding the addressee.  If the speaker is referring to him or herself and others but not the addressee, this is referred to as the first person plural exclusive (1p; i.e. niyanān “we (I and at least one other person but not you)”).  If the speaker is referring to him or herself as well as the addressee(s), this is referred to as the first person plural inclusive (21; i.e. kiyānaw “we (I and you (and possibly others))”).  The difference between exclusive and inclusive, then, is based on whether the speaker includes the addressee or not.  In English, if I say “we are going to go eat”, then I might be including you or not.  In Cree, such ambiguity is not possible but must instead be made explicit, and so the speaker can say either niwī‑nitawi‑mīcisonān “we (but not you) are going to go eat” or kiwī-nitawi-mīcisonaw “we (including you) are going to go eat”.  In comparison with the English person and number paradigm, then, we can represent Cree personal pronouns in the following paradigm:

(5)                                               Plains Cree Person Divisions

singular plural
1s first person singular niya 1p first person plural exclusive niyanān
21 first person plural inclusive kiyānaw
2s second person singular kiya
2p second person plural kiyawāw
3s third person singular wiya 3p third person plural wiyawāw


or more simply as:

(6)                                             Plains Cree Personal Pronouns

singular plural
1s niya 1p niyanān
21 kiyānaw
2s kiya
2p kiyawāw
3s wiya 3p wiyawāw


In terms of usage, there are two main differences between English and Cree personal pronouns that must be emphasized. First, the English pronouns given above were specific to use as subjects of sentences. In a full description of English pronouns, we would have to add object (e.g. me, her, us, them) and possessive (e.g. mine, yours, theirs) forms, since English pronouns must also show the case or syntactic role that the participant plays in a sentence. In contrast, Cree independent personal pronouns do not mark for case, and context alone (or indeed obligatory marking on nouns or verbs) will indicate the role that is intended. Second, English  personal pronouns are used obligatorily in sentences in subject or object positions, but Cree personal pronouns are purely optional since participant-marking on verbs or nouns already indicates the person(s) involved. As such, Cree personal pronouns are usually used to mark emphasis such as contrastive focus. The following examples should help to make this clear.

(7)        English personal pronoun usage

a)     He admires her.

b)     She admires him.

c)     *___ admires them.

d)     *They admire ___.

(8)        Plains Cree personal pronoun usage

a)     nimiywēyimāw.            “I like him/her.”

b)     nimiywēyimik.              “S/he likes me.”

c)      niya nimiywēyimāw.    “I like him/her.”

d)      niya nimiywēyimik.      “S/he likes me.”

e)      niya anima.                   “That is mine.”


In the English examples, the pronouns for subject (he, she) have to occur before the verb and cannot be omitted. If the verb is transitive, like admire, then an object is also obligatory. The asterisk (*) in (7c-d) indicates that these are not a well-formed sentences. In order to provide contrastive emphasis to one or another of these pronouns in English, the specific pronoun would have to be pronounced with an extra emphatic intonation (e.g. He admires her; He admires her.”). In contrast, the Cree verb, complete with bound person-marking, can stand alone without independent personal pronouns (as in (8a) and (8b)), showing that Cree independent pronouns are used only optionally. If the independent personal pronouns are used, however, they add the notion of contrastive emphasis much as an emphatic intonation does in English. Note, though, that the same form of the pronoun (niya) is used whether the role of the person in the sentence is subject (as in (8c)), or object (as in (8d)) or possessive (as in 8e)). This illustrates the fact that Cree pronouns are not specific to case, as English pronouns are.


Additive-Focal Personal Pronouns

Another difference from English (and perhaps from most languages of the world) is that Cree has a second set of personal pronouns which are used in the specific context of emphasizing that a participant is also included (e.g. “me, too”). Such pronouns have thus been referred to as emphatic or additive-focal (personal) pronouns. The term additive-focal  is preferred despite its complexity simply because, as we have already seen, even the basic Cree independent personal pronouns  are emphatic. Rather than adding an extra particle (like English “too”) to the regular personal pronouns, Cree utilizes a separate pronominal paradigm which is otherwise the same in make-up of the more basic personal pronouns. Thus, the same person and number distinctions as have already been introduced are present in this additive-focal pronominal paradigm:


(9)                                             Plains Cree Additive-Focal Personal Pronouns

singular plural
1s nīsta 1p nīstanān
21 kīstanaw
2s kīsta
2p kīstawāw
3s wīsta 3p wīstawāw


These special additive-focal pronouns can be used alone (10a) or in conjunction with verbs (10b), but in either case they also commonly co-occur with the following particle mīna “and, also, too” (as in (10c-d)).

(10)    a)    nīsta!                                             “Me, too!”

    b)    nīsta nimiywēyimāw.                    “I also like him/her.”

    c)     nīsta mīna!                                  “Me, too!”

    d)     nīsta mīna nimiywēyimāw.         “I also like him/her.”