Writing Tips: Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
A pronoun is
a word that is used to replace, or stand in for, a noun, a noun phrase, or
Nouns: Jack is helping Jill
to carry the pail.
is helping HER to carry IT.
Noun Phrase: Going to school
is my favorite pastime.
is my favorite pastime.
Pronoun: Many brought gifts.
There are two categories of pronouns: personal
pronouns and indefinite pronouns.
refer to people or things. They change form depending on how they are used in
sentences. They have three forms:
are used as subjects. The subject of a sentence is the word that performs the
action of the verb, that is described, or that is acted upon.
hit Jerry. [SHE performs the action
"hit;" SHE is the subject
of the sentence.]
are hungry. [WE is described as
"hungry;" WE is the
is being moved. [IT is acted upon;
IT is the subject.]
are used as direct or indirect objects of a sentence or as the objects of
prepositions. The direct object of a sentence receives the action of the verb.
The indirect object tells to whom or what, or for whom or what, the action is
done (but the words to and for do not appear in front of indirect
||Jerry hit HER.
[HER receives the action
"hit;" HER is the direct
object of the sentence.]
||The boy gave ME
the apples. [ME tells to whom the
apples were given; ME is the
indirect object of the sentence.]
||The child ran to US.
[US is the object of the preposition
are used to show possession.
||Jennifer hit HIS
car. [HIS shows possession of car.]
||The thief took MY
purse. [MY tells whose purse.]
||Mother gave him HIS
allowance. [Whose allowance? HIS.]
Other pronouns don't refer to a definite
person or thing. These are called indefinite
can have the books. [ANYBODY does
not refer to a specific person.]
can never be sure what to do. [ONE
refers to ANY one, not to one
The word for which the pronoun stands is called
its antecedent. It usually occurs before the pronoun in the same
doesn't have any money with HER. [Elizabeth
is the antecedent of the pronoun HER.]
was kidding when SHE hit Jerry. [Jennifer
is the antecedent of the pronoun SHE.]
||By the time Ernie arrived, Tom
had already bought THEIR
tickets." [Ernie and Tom are the
antecedents of the pronoun THEIR.]
A pronoun must agree in number with its
antecedent. If its antecedent is singular, the pronoun must also be singular; if
its antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural. Here are some tips
||+ Antecedents joined by AND require a plural
Bill AND Dennis have THEIR
Lions AND tigers always defend THEIR young.
Dinah AND I will take care of OUR own
||+ Antecedents joined by OR and NOR require a
pronoun that agrees with the antecedent closest to the pronoun.
Neither the students NOR Professor James
brought HER book to class.
Neither Professor James NOR the students
brought THEIR books to class.
Either the tiger OR the lions escaped from
Either the lions OR the tiger escaped from
||+ When plural words come between a singular
word and its pronoun, a singular pronoun is still required.
Each of the three men arranged for HIS team
to receive uniforms.
One of the dogs is missing from ITS kennel.
||+ Most indefinite pronouns require singular
Somebody has been complaining about HIS
No one should throw away HER certificate.
||+ These indefinite pronouns take plural
possessive pronouns: BOTH, FEW,
MANY, and SEVERAL.
Both lost THEIR bids for a championship.
Few retained THEIR leadership beyond five
Many have failed on THEIR first attempt.
Several left early to catch THEIR bus.
||+ Some indefinite pronouns can require either
singular or plural possessive pronouns depending on their meaning in the
sentence. Examples are EVERYONE and EVERYBODY.
If EVERYONE is ready, call
THEM in for the
EVERYONE is interested in improving
HER grade in the class.
To avoid sexist references or the
overuse of the phrases his or her and he or she, change singular nouns that can
be either masculine or feminine to their plural form and use the plural pronoun.
Or change the structure of the sentence to eliminate the necessity of using a
Change: An athletic person won't find
HIMSELF OR HERSELF taxed by the course.
To: Athletic people won't find THEMSELVES
taxed by this course.
Change: A student should always arrive at
HIS OR HER classes on time.
To: Students should always arrive at THEIR
classes on time.
Change: Anyone who is
interested in going should sign HIS OR HER name
on the list.
To: Anyone who is interested in going
should sign the list.