Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

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Pronoun-antecedent agreement helps make writing clear, less repetitive, and easier to understand. A pronoun is a word that refers to a noun and can stand in its place. The antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers or replaces. While this handout provides general information, always adapt your work to your audience and assignment.

Pronoun Use

Pronouns are used in place of nouns to make writing less repetitive and easier to read. In the examples below, Daniel is the antecedent or noun being replaced, and he and his are the pronouns used to refer to Daniel.

  • Without Pronouns: Daniel thinks that Daniel should sell Daniel’s car to Daniel’s sister.
  • With Pronouns: Daniel thinks that he should sell his car to his sister.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Pronoun-antecedent agreement refers to the need for a pronoun to match its antecedent in terms of number, gender, and person. When using pronouns, it is important that the reader can easily identify the antecedent to understand the intended meaning correctly. By ensuring proper pronoun-antecedent agreement, we avoid confusion in sentences, resulting in smoother and more precise communication.

  • Unclear: Adam and Hamza returned to the house to grab his car keys.
  • Clear: Adam and Hamza returned to the house to grab Hamza’s car keys.

Agreement in Number

A pronoun must match its antecedent in number. In other words, if the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural, and if the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must be singular. When using conjunctions like and or or, the pronoun must agree with the antecedent closest to it.

  • Singular: The old man walked with his cane.
  • Plural: The students submitted their assignments on time.
  • Compound: After Maria and Abby left work, they went to the park.
  • Conjunction: The dogs or the cat will eat its food.
  • Conjunction: The cat or the dogs will eat their food.

The last two examples appear to have the same antecedent, but the order is switched. When the singular cat is at the end, a singular pronoun is used. When the plural dogs is at the end, a plural pronoun is used.

Agreement in Person

Pronouns must consistently match the person they refer to. There are 3 types of persons: first, second, and third. First person is used when the writer is writing about themself (I, me, we). Second person is used when the writer is referring to the reader or person that are addressing (you). Third person is used when describing but not directly addressing someone or something (he, him, she, her, they, them, it).

  • First Person: I went to the movies, and a friend went with me.
  • Second Person: You need to clean the mess because you made the mess.
  • Third Person: The lizard lies on the rock because it enjoys sunbathing.
  • Third Person: Taylor jumped excitedly because she won tickets to a concert.

Agreement in Gender

A pronoun must match its antecedent in gender. If the antecedent is feminine, use the pronouns she, her, and hers. If the antecedent is masculine, use the pronouns he, him, and his. Plural pronouns (they, them, their, and theirs) refer to plural nouns of either gender. The singular they follows the same principles and is used when referring to a person whose gender is unknown, unspecified, or non-binary.

  • Singular Pronoun: Bianca sang in her school play. She has a beautiful voice.
  • Singular Pronoun: Juan played his flute. He has an upcoming performance.
  • Plural Pronoun: The girls ran to their school. They did not want to be late.
  • Unspecified Gender: Someone called, but they didn’t leave a message.