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10.07: Pronoun/antecedent agreement

  • Page ID
    78826
  • A pronoun stands in place of another noun that has already been named. If we are writing about Frank, we do not keep using his name, saying “Frank skipped dinner, and then Frank shook the dice.” We write, “Frank skipped dinner, and then he shook the dice.” In this case, the antecedent (thing referred to) of the pronoun is Frank. That is, the antecedent (thing referred to) is the word to which the pronoun refers back to.

    One of the most common writing errors is not having your pronoun match the number of the antecedent (thing referred to). In other words, if the antecedent is singular, use a singular pronoun. If the antecedent is plural, use a plural pronoun.

    On Thursdays, Jim and Kheena do math together, and then they eat.

    Since the subject, "Jim and Kheena" is plural, keep the verb plural. Here is another example:

    On Thursdays, Kheena does math, and then they eat.

    Since the subject, "Kheena," is singular, keep the pronoun singular:

    On Thursdays, Kheena does math, and then she eats.

    The most common error in pronoun/antecedent agreement is with the pronouns "they" and "their." For example:

    When a student forgets to pay their tuition, they will get dropped from classes.

    The easiest fix is to make "students" plural; otherwise, you should change the pronouns "their" and "they" to "he or she."

    A final example. Look at this, from a poem:

    He did not wear his scarlet coat,

    For blood and wine are red,

    And blood and wine were on his hands

    When they found him with the dead (Wilde, “The ballad of”)

    Imagine that this read

    He did not wear his scarlet coat,

    For blood and wine are red,

    And blood and wine were on their hands

    When they found him with the dead (Wilde “The ballad of”)

    You would think that the blood and wine are on the hands of the people who found “him” rather than on “his” hands.

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