Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pro-forms: a Part of Speech Defined by its Exceptions


Pro-forms are an often-overlooked part of speech, mostly because they really aren’t one. They function as pronouns most of the time, and can rightly be called pronouns most of the time, but just as all dogs are animals while not all animals are dogs, all pronouns are pro-forms, but not all pro-forms are pronouns. Pro-forms are weird in that they are only really defined by their exceptions.

Simply put, a pro-form is a word that represents something or someone else that has been previously mentioned. It is often used as a writing vehicle to avoid repeating the same word or group of words twice in close proximity. “I played that Madden Football video game for the first time yesterday. Now I’m addicted to it and I am afraid to fly.” The word it is the pro-form with a classic pronoun function.

Instances of pro-forms that aren’t pronouns include so, there and do or did. “When Sean bungee-jumped off the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge without incident, Jules did too.” The word did is the pro-form here, and the phrase, bungee-jumped off the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is the pro-form's antecedent. Notice that the pro-form here is the simple past form of the verb to do, and not a pronoun at all.

“Bill thinks he can climb Mt. Washington on a pogo stick. I don’t think so.” The antecedent here is climb Mt. Washington on a pogo stick and the pro-form is so, an adverb. In this case, it keeps us from writing, “Bill thinks he can climb Mt. Washington on a pogo stick. I don’t think he can climb Mt. Washington on a pogo stick.” Pro-forms are critical, and most people use them without knowing what they’re called. And now you do.

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