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When Should You Use a Pronoun Instead of a Name?

Marilynn Byerly


QUESTION: When should I use the character's name and when should I use the personal pronouns "he" or "she?"

Name repetition reminds the reader that he is reading about a character, and it jerks him right out of that viewpoint character's head. For this reason, you should use the character's name once at the beginning of the scene, then you don't use it again except for clarity.

Moments when it's needed for clarity include scenes with more than one person of the same gender. In this example, two men are fighting. I use the hero's name then I use "he" or "him" or "his" until I name the other character (the drunk, opponent, the man)

Trusting his allies to fight their own battles, Val concentrated on his opponent who was over eighty pounds heavier and almost half a foot taller. The drunk snarled with pleasure as he recognized his own superior size and rushed at Val to pin and pulverize him.


Spinning away as his opponent reached him, Val kicked him below the knee. The man fell then staggered up with a curse.



In crowd scenes, I've always found that it's better to be a bit boring using the character's name, which the reader will skim, than to confuse the reader as to who is doing what action. This stops the reading process completely which is the one thing a writer should avoid at all costs.

As in real life, you shouldn't overuse characters' names to address each other in dialogue, either.

Names are most often used at the beginning of a conversation as people greet each other.


"Hello, Mary, how are you?"

Or they're used to impart important or emotional information.

"He's dead, Jim."


Or to direct conversation at one person in a group of people.


"What's your opinion about this, Fred?"



Copyright 2008 by Marilynn Byerly

This article may be reproduced, but only with the permission of Marilynn Byerly ( It must contain the byline and copyright information.

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