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20.4 Making Pronouns and Antecedents Agree

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the different types of pronouns.
  2. Recognize pronoun antecedents.
  3. Make sure pronouns and antecedents are relatively close together and match in person, number, gender, and human versus nonhuman state.

Pronouns can be somewhat confusing, but they can help make your use of language smoother and more compact. For example, if your name were Pete Rando, you could write, “Pete Rando is going back to wait to go back to Pete Rando’s camper until Pete Rando’s friends have seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon.” Or you could say, “I’m going to wait to go back to my camper until my friends have seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon.” A first step in understanding how and when to use pronouns properly is having an overall picture of pronouns. Study the following table for an overview of the different types of pronouns. Note that some pronouns, such as possessive pronouns and interrogative pronouns, show up on more than one list.

Demonstrative pronounsOne of four pronouns (that, these, this, those) that points out an intended referent (e.g., that house, where the pronoun that points out which house). Refer to things

that

these

this

those

This trail is the longest one.
Indefinite pronouns Refer to nonspecific people or things

Singular:

anybody

anyone

everybody

everyone

everything

nothing

one

someone

somebody

Singular or plural:

all

any

more

most

none

some

Do you know anyone who has hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

Plural:

both

few

many

Interrogative pronouns Are used in questions

that

what

whatever

which

whichever

who

whoever

whom

whose

Who wants to sign up to ride the mules down into the Grand Canyon?
Personal pronounsA pronoun that refers to people or things (e.g., I, me, it). Refer to people or things

Subjective case:

he

I

it

she

they

we

you

Objective case:

her

him

it

me

them

us

you

If you ask Alicia, she will tell you that I am too chicken to ride the mules even though none of them has ever gone over the edge.

Possessive case:

his

her(s)

its

my

mine

our(s)

their(s)

your(s)

Possessive pronouns Show ownership without using an apostrophe

his

her(s)

its

my

mine

our(s)

their(s)

your(s)

Regardless of the expense, a helicopter ride is my choice for seeing the Grand Canyon.
Reciprocal pronounsEither of the pronoun pairs each other or one another, which are used to refer to separate parts of a plural antecedent. Refer to separate parts of a plural antecedent

each other

one another

The mules calmly follow each other all the way up and down.

ReflexiveA pronoun that ends in -self or -selves and is necessary for a sentence to make sense. and intensive pronounsA pronoun that ends in -self or -selves and is not necessary for a sentence to make sense.

End in -self or -selves. Reflexive pronouns are needed for a sentence to make sense, and intensive pronouns are optional within a sentence

herself

himself

itself

myself

oneself

ourselves

themselves

yourself

yourselves

The guides themselves put their lives in the hands, or rather hooves, of the mules every day.
Relative pronouns Show how dependent clause relates to a noun

that

what

whatever

which

whichever

who

whoever

whom

whomever

whose

As long as I get to see the Grand Canyon from a vantage point other than the edge, I am happy to choose whichever option you want.

Another step in properly using pronouns is to recognize a pronoun’s antecedent, which is the noun or pronoun to which a pronoun refers, and make sure the pronoun and antecedent match in number, person, gender, and human versus nonhuman state. Also, to make the antecedent-pronoun match clear, the pronoun should follow relatively soon after the antecedent, and no other possible antecedent should fall between the antecedent and the pronoun.

Antecedent Situations Example in a Sentence Pronoun Antecedent Guidelines
Compound antecedents Joey and Hannah spent the weekend with their parents at the Grand Teton National Park. As an antecedent, “Joey and Hannah” is plural, non-gender-specific, human, and third person, so the pronoun must match. Hence their works, but, for example, our, his, her, and them would not work.
Indefinite pronouns that act as an antecedent for other pronouns Some of the moose left their footprints in our campsite. Since “of the moose” is a nonessential phrase, the antecedent for their is some. The pronoun some can be singular or plural, so it agrees with their, which is plural.
Collective noun antecedents The Teton Range is quite regal as it protrudes upwards nearly seven thousand feet. Teton Range is a collective noun and, therefore, is considered single (multiple mountains within the range, but only one range). It is nonhuman, so it agrees with it. Collective nouns are sometimes an exception to the human versus nonhuman guideline since a noun, such as “crew” or “audience,” can match to the pronoun its.
Antecedents and gender-biased pronouns Everyone should make his or her own choice about hike lengths. Years ago, acceptable writing included using male pronouns to refer to all unknown- or collective-gender antecedents. Today such usage is considered sexist (see Chapter 16 "Sentence Style", Section 16.5 "Avoiding Sexist and Offensive Language"). Some people opt to use their with singular antecedents instead of using his or her. Such usage should never be used in formal writing because it is technically incorrect since everyone is singular and their is plural.
Ambiguous antecedents Ambiguous: The trails wind high into the mountains where they seem to disappear into the sky. When a pronoun antecedent is unclear, such as in this situation where readers do not know if the trails or the mountains seem to disappear into the sky, you should reword the sentence by either (1) eliminating or (2) moving the pronoun (and probably other words).
Example #1: The trails wind high into the mountains where the trails seem to disappear into the sky.
Example #2: High in the mountains, the trails wind as they seem to disappear into the sky.
Vague or implied antecedents Vague or implied: The Grand Teton park wetland trails go past areas where deer, elk, and moose are often seen, so it should be a lot of fun. The antecedent of it is not clear because the writer used a shortcut. Instead of referring to any of the nouns that preceded it in the sentence, it refers to an unstated antecedent, such as the experience or the hike. A better way to write the sentence: The Grand Teton park wetland trails go past areas where deer, elk, and moose are often seen, so the hike should be a lot of fun.
Antecedents in previous sentences The Grand Teton National Park was formed in 1929. In 1950, it was sort of re-formed when additional land was added. Antecedents should be present within the same sentence unless the flow of the sentences is such that the antecedent/pronoun connection is very clear.

Key Takeaways

  • Take care to use these eight types of pronouns correctly: demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative, personal, possessive, reciprocal, reflexive/intensive, and relative.
  • For every pronoun, you should be able to easily identify a matching antecedent.
  • As a rule, a pronoun’s antecedent should be nearby, in the same sentence, and matching in person, number, gender, and human versus nonhuman state.

Exercise

  1. For each sentence, fill in the blank with an appropriate pronoun(s) and circle the antecedent.

    1. Everybody heard us sing _______________ version.
    2. The pit crew did _______________ job like clockwork.
    3. A small child should not be left to fend for _______________.
    4. Beagles and Labradors often show off _______________ natural hunting tendencies.
    5. Allie and Bethany are planning to help _______________ with their projects.
    6. Ask each student to upload _______________ papers into the drop box.
    7. Anyone can get _______________ transcripts by filling out the proper form.