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Common Pronoun Errors

Pronouns play an important role in the English language. Pronouns replace nouns, so without pronouns, your writing could be repetitive. Here are a few common errors to watch out for with pronouns.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

The antecedent is the noun or pronoun that the pronoun replaced. The pronoun must agree with the antecedent in number (plural or singular) and gender (masculine or feminine).

Here is an example that shows correct pronoun-antecedent agreement:

  • The girl rode her bike.

            Pronoun = her (singular, feminine)

            Antecedent = girl (singular, feminine)

In other cases, it can be more difficult to decide on the correct pronoun. This is especially true when indefinite pronouns are used in a sentence. Indefinite pronouns, like everyone, somebody, and nothing, don't refer to a specific person or thing.

The pronoun "their" is often used with singular indefinite pronouns, but this isn't always correct in formal writing. Here is an example that shows a pronoun-antecedent agreement error:

  • Everyone rides their bikes.

                        Pronoun = their (plural)

                        Antecedent = Everyone (singular)

The above example could be corrected in a few ways:

  • Everyone rides his bike. (when you know the gender)
  • Everyone rides her bike. (when you know the gender)
  • Everyone rides his or her bike. (when you are unsure or want to keep the gender neutral)
  • People ride their bikes. (when you want to keep the plural pronoun)

Unclear Pronoun Reference

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 the goalie collided with the defenceman, he had to go to the hospital.

            Pronoun = he

Antecedent = unclear (Who went to hospital? The goalie or the defenceman?)

Since it is unclear who had to go to the hospital, the sentence should be rewritten:

  • After the goalie and the defenceman collided, the goalie had to go to the hospital.
  • The goalie had to go to the hospital after he collided with the defenceman.

Vague and Implied Pronouns

Vague Pronouns

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.

            Pronoun = it

Antecedent = 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:

  • When the race organizers realized there was construction on the main street, they changed the route. This change created chaos on race day.

Implied Pronouns

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.

                        Pronoun = them

Antecedent = implied (Who do people get frustrated with? Meterologists)

The sentence needs to be rewritten by replacing the pronoun with a noun:

  • Since the weather forecast is routinely wrong, people often get frustrated with meteorologists.