2017/06/23

Common Pronoun Errors


Sentences can become confusing, vague and difficult to understand if unclear pronoun references are made.

Both Caroline and Lisa loved her children.

Decide on the pronoun and the antecedent.

➤A pronoun refers to a noun.

➤An antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers.

In the example, the pronoun is her.

The antecedent is either Caroline or Lisa.

➧Are they Caroline's children?
➧Are they Lisa's children?

We cannot tell whose children they are from this sentence.  Because we cannot tell which of the nouns is the antecedent, this sentence is an unclear pronoun reference outlaw.

Both Caroline and Lisa loved Caroline's children.

Clues: Find the pronoun and replace it with the antecedent.  The sentence will make sense if the pronoun reference is clear.

1. Specific nouns (antecedent) should clearly refer to a pronoun.  We should know to what each pronoun refers.

a) Cancel out doubt.

Jane told Kathryn that no one would take her away.

➤The pronoun: her

➤The antecedent: either Kathryn or Jane

➤unclear pronoun reference

"No one will take me away," Kathryn told Jane.

b) When referring to unspecified persons do not use "they".

"They" must refer to specific people.

They seriously consider publishing short horror stories when some of the stories have already been published in magazines.

➤The pronoun: they

➤The antecedent (who are "they"?): unknown

➤unclear pronoun reference

Publishers seriously consider publishing short horror stories when some of the stories have already been published in magazines.

c) When referring to a specific word or phrase only use "it" and "that".

When Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Peters hide the dead cat, it means they hide the evidence.

➤The pronoun : it

➤The antecedent: "it" does not refer to a specific word in the sentence.

➤unclear pronoun reference

By hiding the dead cat, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Peters conceal the evidence.

2. Pronoun number

Pronouns must agree in number with their antecedents.

These rules match those of subject-verb agreement.

Let's review the three agreement rules.

a) Plural antecedents need plural pronouns, singular antecedents need singular pronouns

Each person should follow their dreams

➤Their: plural pronoun

➤person: singular noun

Improved

Each person should follow his or her dream.

All people should follow their dreams.

b) The pronoun become plural with the conjunction "and".

Both Adam Jones and Sarah Laurence are American; she writes about fictional American towns.

➤She: singular pronoun

➤Adam Jones and Sarah Laurence: plural noun

Both Adam Jones and Sarah Laurence are American; they write about fictional American towns.

c) With the conjunction "or" or "nor," the pronoun should agree with the closest antecedent.

Either William or Patricia play with their children.

➤Their: plural pronoun

➤William: nearest antecedent and singular noun

Either William or Patricia plays with his children.

Read More About Writing: What is a Sentence?The Five Elements of a SentenceWhat You Need to Know About Simple, Compound and Complex Sentences20 Rules of Subject and Verb AgreementsCommon Pronoun ErrorsHow Long Should a Sentence Be?

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