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17.5: Pronouns

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  • If there were no pronouns, all types of writing would be quite tedious to read. We would soon be frustrated by reading sentences likeBob said that Bob was tiredorChristina told the class that Christina received an A.Pronouns help a writer avoid constant repetition. Knowing just how pronouns work is an important aspect of clear and concise writing.

    Pronoun Agreement

    A pronoun is a word that takes the place of (or refers back to) a noun or another pronoun. The word or words a pronoun refers to is called the antecedent of the pronoun.

    1.Lanicomplained thatshewas exhausted.

    Sherefers toLani.

    Laniis the antecedent ofshe.

    2.Jeremyleft the party early, so I did not seehimuntil Monday at work.

    Himrefers to Jeremy.

    Jeremyis the antecedent ofhim.

    3.Crinaand Rosaliehave been best friends ever sincetheywere freshman in high school.

    Theyrefers toCrinaand Rosalie.

    Crinaand Rosalieis the antecedent ofthey.

    Pronoun agreement errors occur when the pronoun and the antecedent do not match or agree with each other. There are several types of pronoun agreement.

    Agreement in Number

    If the pronoun takes the place of or refers to a singular noun, the pronoun must also be singular.

    Incorrect: If astudent(sing.) wants to return a book to the bookstore,they(plur.) must have a receipt.

    Correct: If astudent(sing.) wants to return a book to the bookstore,he or she(sing.) must have a receipt.

    *If it seems too wordy to usehe or she, change the antecedent to a plural noun.

    Correct: Ifstudents(plur.) want to return a book to the bookstore,they(plur.) must have a receipt.

    Agreement in Person

    Singular Pronouns

    Plural Pronouns

    First Person



    my (mine)



    our (ours)

    Second Person



    your (yours)



    your (your)

    Third Person

    he, she, it

    him, her, it

    his, her, its



    their (theirs)

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)Singular and Plural Pronouns

    If you use a consistent person, your reader is less likely to be confused.

    Incorrect: When aperson(3rd) goes to a restaurant,you(2nd) should leave a tip.

    Correct: When aperson(3rd) goes to a restaurant,he or she(3rd) should leave a tip.

    Correct: Whenwe(1st) go to a restaurant,I should(1st) should leave a tip.

    Exercise 17

    Edit the following paragraph by correcting pronoun agreement errors in number and person.

    Over spring break I visited my older cousin, Diana, and they took me to a butterfly exhibit at a museum. Diana and I have been close ever since she was young. Our mothers are twin sisters, and she is inseparable! Diana knows how much I love butterflies, so it was their special present to me. I have a soft spot for caterpillars too. I love them because something about the way it transforms is so interesting to me. One summer my grandmother gave me a butterfly growing kit, and you got to see the entire life cycle of five Painted Lady butterflies. I even got to set it free. So when my cousin said they wanted to take me to the butterfly exhibit, I was really excited!

    Indefinite Pronouns and Agreement

    Indefinite pronouns do not refer to a specific person or thing and are usually singular. Note that a pronoun that refers to an indefinite singular pronoun should also be singular. The following are some common indefinite pronouns.


    each one





    each other







    one another














    no one



    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\) Common Indefinite Pronouns

    Indefinite Pronoun Agreement

    Incorrect:Everyone(sing.) should do whatthey(plur.) can to help.

    Correct:Everyone(sing.) should do whathe or she(sing.) can to help.

    Incorrect:Someone(sing.) lefttheir(plur.) backpack in the library.

    Correct:Someone(sing.) lefthis or her(sing.) backpack in the library.

    Collective Nouns

    Collective nouns suggest more than one person but are usually considered singular. Look over the following examples of collective nouns.

    audience faculty public
    band family school
    class government society
    committee group team
    company jury tribe

    Table \(\PageIndex{3}\) Common Collective Nouns

    Collective noun agreement

    Incorrect: Lara’scompany(sing.) will havetheir(plur.) annual picnic next week.

    Correct: Lara’scompany(sing.) will haveits(sing.) annual picnic next week.

    Exercise 18

    Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct pronoun. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper. Then circle the noun the pronoun replaces.

    1. In the current economy, nobody wants to waste ________ money on frivolous things.

    2. If anybody chooses to go to medical school, ________ must be prepared to work long hours.

    3. The plumbing crew did ________ best to repair the broken pipes before the next ice storm.

    4. If someone is rude to you, try giving ________ a smile in return.

    5. My family has ________ faults, but I still love them no matter what.

    6. The school of education plans to train ________ students to be literacy tutors.

    7. The commencement speaker said that each student has a responsibility toward ________.

    8. My mother’s singing group has ________ rehearsals on Thursday evenings.

    9. No one should suffer ________ pains alone.

    10. I thought the flock of birds lost ________ way in the storm.

    Subject and Object Pronouns

    Subject pronouns function as subjects in a sentence. Object pronouns function as the object of a verb or of a preposition.

    Singular Pronouns

    Plural Pronouns













    he, she, it

    him, her, it



    Table \(\PageIndex{4}\)Singular and Plural Pronouns

    The following sentences show pronouns as subjects:

    Sheloves the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall.

    Every summer,theypicked up litter from national parks.

    The following sentences show pronouns as objects:

    Marie leaned over and kissedhim.

    Jane moveditto the corner.


    Note that a pronoun can also be the object of a preposition.

    Nearthem, the children played.

    My mother stood betweenus.

    The pronounsusandthemare objects of the prepositionsnearandbetween. They answer the questionsnearwhom? Andbetweenwhom?

    Compound subject pronouns are two or more pronouns joined by a conjunction or a preposition that function as the subject of the sentence.

    The following sentences show pronouns with compound subjects:

    Incorrect:Me and Harrietvisited the Grand Canyon last summer.

    Correct:Harriet and Ivisited the Grand Canyon last summer.

    Correct: Jenna accompaniedHarriet and meon our trip.


    Note that object pronouns are never used in the subject position. One way to remember this rule is to remove the other subject in a compound subject, leave only the pronoun, and see whether the sentence makes sense.

    For example,Me visited the Grand Canyon last summersounds immediately incorrect.

    Compound object pronouns are two or more pronouns joined by a conjunction or a preposition that function as the object of the sentence.

    Incorrect: I have a good feeling aboutJanice and I.

    Correct: I have a good feeling aboutJanice and me.


    It is correct to writeJanice and me, as opposed tome and Janice. Just remember it is more polite to refer to yourself last.

    Writing at Work

    In casual conversation, people sometimes mix up subject and object pronouns. For instance, you might say, “Me and Donnie went to a movie last night.” However, when you are writing or speaking at work or in any other formal situation, you need to remember the distinctions between subject and object pronouns and be able to correct yourself. These subtle grammar corrections will enhance your professional image and reputation.

    Exercise 19

    Revise the following sentences in which the subject and object pronouns are used incorrectly. Copy the revised sentence onto your own sheet of paper. Write a C for each sentence that is correct.

    1. Meera and me enjoy doing yoga together on Sundays.

    2. She and him have decided to sell their house.

    3. Between you and I, I do not think Jeffrey will win the election.

    4. Us and our friends have game night the first Thursday of every month.

    5. They and I met while on vacation in Mexico.

    6. Napping on the beach never gets boring for Alice and I.

    7. New Year’s Eve is not a good time for she and I to have a serious talk.

    8. You exercise much more often than me.

    9. I am going to the comedy club with Yolanda and she.

    10. The cooking instructor taught her and me a lot.

    Who vs Whom

    Whoorwhoeveris always the subject of a verb. Usewhoorwhoeverwhen the pronoun performs the action indicated by the verb.

    Whowon the marathon last Tuesday?

    I wonderwhocame up with that terrible idea!

    On the other hand,whomandwhomeverserve as objects. They are used when the pronoun doesnotperform an action. Usewhomorwhomeverwhen the pronoun is the direct object of a verb or the object of a preposition.

    Whomdid Frank marry the third time? (direct object of verb)

    Fromwhomdid you buy that old record player? (object of preposition)


    If you are having trouble deciding when to usewhoandwhom, try this trick. Take the following sentence:

    Who/Whomdo I consider my best friend?

    Reorder the sentence in your head, using eitherheorhimin place ofwhoorwhom.

    I considerhimmy best friend.

    I considerhemy best friend.

    Which sentence sounds better? The first one, of course. So the trick is, if you can usehim, you should usewhom.

    Exercise 20

    Complete the following sentences by addingwhoorwhom. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

    1. ________ hit the home run?

    2. I remember ________ won the Academy Award for Best Actor last year.

    3. To ________ is the letter addressed?

    4. I have no idea ________ left the iron on, but I am going to find out.

    5. ________ are you going to recommend for the internship?

    6. With ________ are you going to Hawaii?

    7. No one knew ________ the famous actor was.

    8. ________ in the office knows how to fix the copy machine?

    9. From ________ did you get the concert tickets?

    10. No one knew_______ ate the cake mom was saving.

    Key Takeaways

    Pronouns and their antecedents need to agree in number and person.

    Most indefinite pronouns are singular.

    Collective nouns are usually singular.

    Pronouns can function as subjects or objects.

    Subject pronouns are never used as objects, and object pronouns are never used as subjects.

    Whoserves as a subject of a verb.

    Whomserves as an object of a sentence or the object of a preposition

    Writing Application

    Write about what makes an ideal marriage or long-term relationship. Provide specific details to back your assertions. After you have written a few paragraphs, go back and proofread your paper for correct pronoun usage.

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