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Editing at the Sentence Level Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 2, 2011

Clear Up Confusing Pronoun References

Pronouns (words such as I, we, them, and her) take the place of nouns. They should only be used when the noun to which they refer (known as the antecedent) is obvious and meaningful. Check the pronouns in your writing to be certain they are not one of the following:

  • unclear
  • too far from the antecedent
  • useless
Correcting Ambiguous Language
      Ambiguous: When doing the laundry, the phone rang.
      Clear: The phone rang when I was doing the laundry.
      Ambiguous: She almost waited an hour for her friend.
      Clear: She waited almost an hour for her friend.
      Ambiguous: I told her I'd give her a ring tomorrow.
      Clear: I told her I'd call her tomorrow.
      Ambiguous: A speeding motorist hit a student who was jogging through the park in her blue sedan.
      Clear: A speeding motorist in a blue sedan hit a student who was jogging through the park.
More Examples of Pronoun Usage
      Incorrect: Both Fellini and Bergman edited his movie.
      Correct: Both Fellini and Bergman edited Bergman's movie.
      Incorrect: Leave all ingredients out of the recipes that do not belong in a healthy diet.
      Correct: Leave all ingredients that do not belong in a healthy diet out of the recipes.
      Incorrect: They banned parking in their lot so the snowplows could do their job.
      Correct: The owners of the parking lot banned parking in their lot so the snowplows could do their job.
      Incorrect: The Civil War and the Spanish-American War took place in the nineteenth century. It was a turning point for the country.
      Correct: The Civil War and the Spanish-American War took place in the nineteenth century. The Civil War was a turning point for the country.

Example: Trini is interested in teaching and farming, which is her career choice.

What is her career choice? Which could mean either teaching or farming, making it unclear. The writer needs to restate the career instead of using a pronoun in order to eliminate the possibility the reader will not understand the sentence. Corrected: Trini is interested in teaching and farming, but farming is her career choice.

Example: They always talk about the dangers of global warming.

This common pronoun error is known as an expletive: They is useless, because it appears to refer to no one. If the writer has that information, he or she can revise the sentence to be more precise: The newspaper frequently has articles about the dangers of global warming. If there is truly no they, the sentence should be revised by eliminating it: There is much talk about the dangers of global warming.

Use Modifiers to Add Precision

Modifiers make your point clear while adding meaning and originality to your writing. Consider how powerful, specific adjectives and adverbs work in these sentences:

      Sentence A: My grandmother put on her sweater.
      Sentence B: My grandmother put on her cashmere sweater.
      Sentence A: The football team practiced in the rain.
      Sentence B: The football team practiced in the torrential downpour.

In both cases, sentence B allows you to hear the voice and impressions of the writer, giving a more accurate and interesting picture of the action.

The right modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) can also get your message across in fewer words. This is critical in an essay with a specified length. You don't want to sacrifice unique details, but sometimes, one word will do the job better than a few. For example, Chihuahua can take the place of little dog; exhausted can take the place of really tired; and late can take the place of somewhat behind schedule.

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