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We discussed some guidelines on using pronouns in this first post and in this second post.

Here are more.

A pronoun replaces a noun (called the antecedent). Make sure the antecedent of the pronoun is easily accessible. Avoid unclear pronoun references. A pronoun must refer clearly to a noun in the current or previous sentence. If the pronoun refers to a noun that has been implied but not stated, you can clarify the reference by explicitly using that noun.

A pronoun, such as it or they, gets its meaning from its antecedent (the noun it replaces). Therefore, a pronoun must refer clearly and unmistakably to its antecedent in order for the meaning to be clear.

A. Make a pronoun refer clearly to one antecedent.

1.  If your kitten doesn’t drink cold milk, put it in the microwave.

What does it refer to? The milk or the kitten? Let’s correct: “If your kitten doesn’t drink cold milk, put the milk in the microwave.” (Note: If using the pronoun results in confusion, use the noun.)

2.  After the administrator appoints an assistant, he or she shall supervise the forfeiture proceedings.

Whom does he or she refer to—the administrator or the assistant? Let’s correct: “After the administrator appoints an assistant, the administrator shall supervise the forfeiture proceedings.

Our other option is to use the term the former, but use this only when the reader can easily identify which noun the term the former refers to. Otherwise, our writing won’t be readable.

B.  A pronoun can refer to a noun—not to an adjective or a verb.

1.  The lawyer wore a new, blue blazer; it was his favorite color.

What does it refer to? The pronoun it cannot refer to blue since blue in this sentence is used as an adjective to describe blazer.

Let’s correct: “The lawyer wore a new, blue blazer; blue was his favorite color.”

2.  Glenn is often absent. This is unacceptable.

What is unacceptable? The pronoun this can’t refer to Glenn since Glenn is a person. It can’t refer to absent either because absent is an adjective, not a noun. Remember that a pronoun can replace only a noun.

Let’s correct: “Glenn is often absent. This habit is unacceptable.” (Note: Add a noun to make the pronoun reference clear.)

3.  She ran, which caused her to fall.

What does which refer to? It can’t refer to she or to ranran is a verb, not a noun.

Let’s correct: She ran and fell. (Note: Remove the pronoun altogether.)

C.  Make a pronoun refer to a specific antecedent rather than to an implied one.

Sandra worked in a national forest last summer, which may be her career choice.

What does which refer to—the national forest? Summer? Sandra? What is the career choice?

Let’s correct: “Sandra worked in a national forest last summer. Forest management may be her career choice.” (Note: Use the noun, instead of the pronoun, if doing so makes it easier for your reader to understand your meaning.)

D.  Use “who,” “which,” and “that” for appropriate antecedents. Remember to place a pronoun close enough to its antecedent to ensure clarity.

1.  Paul doubted the feasibility of the project, which worried his supervisor.

What does which refer to? What worried the supervisor—Paul’s doubt or the feasibility of the project?

Let’s correct: “Paul doubted the feasibility of the project, and his doubt worried the supervisor.” (Note: If you do not wish to use the word doubt, you can find other words like anxiety, uncertainty, concern, etc.)

2. Employees should consult with their supervisors who require vacation time.

Who require vacation time—employees or supervisors? Let’s correct: “Employees who require vacation time should consult with their supervisors.”

Photo credit: Ask.com

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2 thoughts on “Pronouns: Part 3

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