What is meant by pronoun-antecedent agreement?
What is meant by pronoun-antecedent agreement:
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns: he instead of John or they instead of John and Joan. We use pronouns instead of repeating the noun:
John took his keys from the table instead of John took John’s keys from the table.
Pronouns must always agree with their antecedent (the noun or pronoun they refer back to) in
gender (she is used to refer back to a female; he is used to refer back to a male, for example)
number (singular or plural; it is used to refer back to one thing; they is used to refer back to more than one)
person (the doer or receiver of the action)
This is called pronoun-antecedent agreement. Ante- means before; therefore, the word antecedent simply means that which comes before. A pronoun must agree with its antecedent, the houn of pronoun that comes before it and to which it is referring.
Identifying the Antecedent:
Pronouns must agre with the noun or pronoun to which it is referring. Whenever we use a pronoun, we should determine the noun to which it is referring to make sure it is agreeing.
John lost his cell phone.
In this example, John is the antecedent of the pronoun his. Notice how his agrees with the gender (masculine), the number (singular), and person (third person) of the antecedent John.
The children went back to their seats.
The word their refers to children. The pronoun’s gender (neutral), number (plural), and person (third person) all agree with the antecedent children.
In English, there is no masculine plural or feminine plural pronoun. The neutral plural pronouns they, them, theirs is used.
Shifts in Gender:
Sometimes, we cannot determine the gender of a noun. It is not correct to use a plural:
Incorrect: No American citizen should lose their right to vote.
Citizen is singular, but the pronoun their is plural. It is not acceptable to use their as a singular if you do not know the gender. Both men and women can vote in the United States.
Incorrect: No American citizen should lose his right to vote.
While some accept the use of the male singular pronoun (he, him, his) as a generic singular, it is always correct to use his or her to avoid sexist language.
Corrected: No American citizen should lose his or her right to vote.
This problem can be avoided altogether if you simply change the antecedent to a plural.
Corrected: No American citizens should lose their right to vote.
Shifts in Number:
It is important to determine whether the antecedent pronoun is singular or plural.
Incorrect: Every man should wear a tie to an interview to look their best.
Man is a singular noun; their is a plural pronoun. They do not agree. Change the pronoun to agree with its antecedent.
Corrected: Every man should wear a tie to an interview to look his best.
Sometimes, everyday speech does not use correct agreement, so the correct forms may sound funny.
Incorrect: Everyone brought their lunch and ate in the employee break room.
Corrected: Everyone brought his or her lunch and ate in the employee break room.
Corrected: All the employees brought their lunch and ate in the employee break room.
There are some situations where the number is not clear. Following is a chart to remember.
|Always Singular||Always Plural||Depends on the Noun|
|one either anybody each neither everybody anyone anything everyone much everything neither nobody no one nothing somebody||both many two (or more) most||some few several lots none all|
Shifts in Person:
Person refers to the voice or position the writer is taking. The pronoun must refer back in agreement with person.
- First person: I, we, me, my, us, our, ours
- Second person: you, yours
- Third person: he, she, it, his, hers, theirs, they, them
Incorrect: As soon as a student finishes an on-line quiz, the computer shows your score.
Think about this literally. When a student finishes the quiz, the computer shows my score?
Here, the pronoun your is second person, but the noun it refers to student is in third person.
Correct: As soon as you finish an on-line quiz, the computer shows your score.
Unclear: Jenny couldn’t park her car in the garage because it was broken.
Corrected: Jenny couldn’t park her car in the garage because her car was broken.
Here are more examples of vague pronoun reference:
Janice took the watch and necklace and sold it. The reader does not know whether it refers to the watch or the necklace.
- Janice took the watch and necklace and sold them.
- Janice took the watch and necklace and sold the watch.
- Janice took the watch and necklace and sold the necklace.
Parents should watch their children before they get into trouble. The reader doesn’t know whether they refers to the parents or the children.
- Parents should watch their children before the children get into trouble.
- Parents should watch their children before the parents get into trouble.