Always glad to hear that, Meera!
OK, so the only pronouns that are left now are the third person singular pronouns (that is, the pronouns that mean he/she/it). There are quite a few such pronouns in Malayalam.
Let's start with probably the easiest one: 'it'. There are two words for 'it', and they're basically the words that also mean 'this' and 'that'. The word for 'this' in Malayalam is ഇത് ith(u)
, and it also means 'it' when you're talking about something relatively close to you (compare yeh
in Hindi/Urdu). The word for 'that' is അത് ath(u)
and can mean 'it' when you're talking about something further away, but it's also just the word that you use by default when you want to say 'it'. (Again, compare woh
Note, by the way, that the only difference between these two pronouns is the first vowel. From now on, the i-
at the beginning of any pronoun means 'this', and the a-
at the beginning of any pronoun means 'that'.
So that's not too bad. The words for 'it' are just the words for 'this' and 'that'. But once you get into 'he' or 'she', it gets more complicated.
IME, books teaching Malayalam usually teach you that the word for 'he' is അവന് avan
and that the word for 'she' is അവള് avaL
. There's also ഇവന് ivan
for 'he' and ഇവള് ivaL
for 'she'. Again, the difference between ഇവന് ivan
and അവന് avan
(and between ഇവള് ivaL
and അവള് avaL
) is that the first word in each pair (ഇവന് or ഇവള്) means 'this person', whereas the other one means 'that person' but is also the default pronoun.
Now, a pretty important piece of information that the books may not
tell you is that you should only use these pronouns (ഇവന്/അവന്/ഇവള്/അവള്) if you're talking about someone who is socially inferior to you, or if you really mean to talk about someone condescendingly, because otherwise you'll be insulting the person you're talking about! So you can use them to talk about someone who's much younger than you (a kid, for example) or a servant or something, or you can use them to talk about someone badly
But you definitely shouldn't
use them to talk about someone you respect!
By the way, there's also a pair of gender-neutral pronouns which have the same social implications as ഇവന്, etc. These are ഇയാള് iyaaL
and അയാള് ayaaL
. Literally, they mean 'this person' and 'that person', respectively, although using a term for 'person' that's not terribly respectful (ആള് aaL
So how do
you use a pronoun to talk about somebody without potentially insulting them? You have to use a gender-neutral pronoun. You might use ഇവര് ivar
or അവര് avar
, which also mean 'they'. (This is a bit like singular "they" in English, except I'd say these Malayalam pronouns are used more frequently since they are necessary for conveying at least a little respect).
These are pretty safe pronouns to use. They convey some respect towards the person being discussed, but they don't overdo it, either. You could use them to talk about people who are a bit older than you, or somewhat respectfully about people who are about your age or even younger.
But sometimes, you might have to talk about people who you're really
obliged to respect! For example, if you're talking about an older person (especially one with high social standing), then you should probably use a pronoun that indicates even more respect. So the pair of pronouns that can be used to convey even more respect is ഇദ്ദേഹം iddEham
and അദ്ദേഹം addEham
, literally meaning 'this body' and 'that body'! When you use these pronouns, there's no question that you're trying to convey respect towards the person you're referring to.