Pronouns replace nouns, so without pronouns, your writing might sound a little repetitive. Here are a few common errors to watch out for with pronouns.
E.g., “There was a large group in the restaurant today, and they all had big appetites!”
E.g., “My friends have been so supportive, I want to do something to thank them.”
E.g., “I really admire Jasmine and Clarence’s relationship because of their excellent communication.”
E.g., “A customer came into the store earlier today, but I can’t remember what they bought.”
E.g., “I’m not sure what pronouns Jessica uses. I will ask them tomorrow.”
E.g., “Someone left their backpack on the bus.”
E.g. “Charles told me yesterday that they are using they/them pronouns now.”
E.g. “Charles will be joining us for coffee. Can you ask them what time works?”
E.g. “Charles told me that their husband will be coming to the party as well.”
Note: Anyone can use they/them pronouns. It is common for non-binary, genderqueer and genderfluid people to use they/them pronouns, but not all people who identify in these ways use they/them pronouns, and many use multiple sets of pronouns (e.g., she/they or they/he or she/he/they). And some people who identify as a man or a woman may use gender-neutral pronouns. It’s usually best not to assume but to ask/research and find out.
E.g., "A doctor needs to go to medical school before they become licensed."
E.g., “If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can ask them.”
E.g., “Students are responsible for their own learning.”
Note: In formal writing using gender neutral pronouns is typically preferred to using combined pronouns such as “she/he” or “his or hers”. E.g., "A doctor needs to go to medical school before he or she becomes licensed" used to be a common phrasing but is not typically preferred now.
E.g., “I can’t see those books at the top. Can you tell me what colour they are?”
E.g., “I need those books. Can you hand them to me?”
E.g., “These books look quite old. Can you tell me what their publication dates are?”
The antecedent is the noun or pronoun your new pronoun has replaced. When you use a pronoun, it must agree with its antecedent in
|Example with Correct Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
|The tree extended its roots.
its (singular, generic, nonhuman)
|tree (singular, generic, nonhuman)
|Elliot Page, my favourite Canadian celebrity, starred in a new show, and their acting was amazing.
their (singular, generic, human)
|Elliot Page (singular, uses he/they pronouns, human) In 2020, Elliot Page specified their pronouns as he/they after announcing that they are both transgender and nonbinary.
In other cases, it can be more difficult to decide on the correct pronoun.
|Example of a Pronoun-Antecedent Error
|A nurse should consider the needs of her patients.
Not all nurses are female. This sentence could be made more inclusive as
Pronouns also need to have a clear antecedent. However, sometimes a sentence seems to have two possible antecedents. If this is the case, rewrite the sentence. Take a look at the following incorrect sentence that has an unclear pronoun reference:
|After Japan's forward Mina Tanaka collided with Canada's keeper Stephanie Labbé, she had to go to the hospital.
|unclear (Who went to hospital? Tanaka or Labbé?)
Since it is unclear who had to go to the hospital, the sentence should be rewritten:
There has to be a noun or pronoun within the sentence that can act as an antecedent. The pronouns it, this, that, and which can lead to a vague pronoun reference when they refer to something mentioned earlier in a different sentence:
|When the race organizers realized there was construction on the main street, they changed the route. It created chaos on race day.
|vague (What created chaos? The construction or the changed route?)
In the above example, the pronoun "It" in the second sentence is vague because it has no antecedent. However, there are possible antecedents in the first sentence. To fix the sentence, replace the pronoun:
Another situation to watch out for is implied pronouns. Remember, the antecedent needs to be present in the sentence. Here's an example of a sentence with no antecedent for the pronoun:
|Since the weather forecast is routinely wrong, people often get frustrated with them.
|implied (Who do people get frustrated with? Meterologists)
The sentence needs to be rewritten by replacing the pronoun with a noun: