Hello, folks. Here are a few guidelines on using pronouns. More to come in another post.
1. Pronouns refer back to nouns or take the place of nouns. Hence, they have to agree with the nouns they represent or replace (these nouns are called antecedents). For example, if our antecedent is singular, our pronoun has to be singular:
Any mother can submit her manuscript to the magazine.
AVOID: Any mother can submit
their manuscript to the magazine.
If a voter wants to take part in an election, he or she must go out and vote.
AVOID: If a voter wants to take part in an election,
they must go out and vote.
2. The words neither, nobody, someone, a person, each, anyone, anybody, and everybody are singular and therefore take singular pronouns.
Everybody is required to submit the results of his or her medical examination.
AVOID: Everybody is required to submit the results of
their medical examination.
Neither of the managers is perfect. Each has his or her own problems.
AVOID: Neither of the managers are perfect. Each has
their own problems.
Note: Some grammarians believe that the use of they as a singular pronoun is allowable in casual conversation but not in business writing. There’s a great discussion at Daily Writing Tips on how they is gaining popularity as a singular pronoun.
3. Pronouns have to agree with the gender of their antecedents. We Filipinos often forget this guideline because our local languages do not have gender pronouns. We use siya to refer to different nouns: male or female, animate or inanimate. The sentence “Tingnan mo siya” can refer to a grandfather, a niece, a dog, a plant, or a computer application. But standard English has gender pronouns. For example:
Carla offered her gardener a new job at the factory.
My father cancelled his appointments for the day.
Note: Grammar guidelines recommend that we use gender-neutral pronouns for gender-neutral antecedents. Gender-neutral antecedents are those nouns or pronouns that do not have a specific gender, such as someone, an engineer, a resident, nobody, a teacher. If you notice in the foregoing examples, we used he or she or his or her instead of the traditional he or his for gender-neutral words such as a voter, everybody, or neither. Sometimes, though, using he or she can sound very clunky. It’s best to limit the use of he or she to only once or twice in a document.
We have two other options if we don’t like to use he or she.
- Use the plural noun so we can use the plural pronoun. Instead of saying A student can submit his or her entry on Tuesday, we can say, Students can submit their entries on Tuesday.
- Whenever acceptable, avoid using a pronoun, e.g., A student can submit an entry on Tuesday.