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Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 22, 2011

Pronoun Antecedent Agreement

I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.

CARL SANDBURG (1878–1967)

AMERICAN POET

Ante-what? And how do I make sure it's compatible with my pronoun? In this lesson,you will learn how to make your pronouns and antecedents exist in harmony with one another.

Pronouns allow us to refer repeatedly to a specific noun without saying the word over and over again.

Without: Lucas thought Lucas saw a ghost, but Lucas wasn't sure.
With: Lucas thought he saw a ghost, but he wasn't sure.

A pronoun (see the following chart of common pronouns) is a word that takes the place of a noun. The antecedent is the word that the pronoun has replaced in the sentence.

Mom made Jack take a nap. He was grumpy.

The pronoun in this sentence refers to the antecedent, Jack. Since Jack is one boy,the third-person singular pronoun he was used instead of she or they. That is so there is agreement in gender, number, and person between the antecedent and its pronoun. This kind of agreement is very important. Imagine if it didn't matter. We could have sentences that sound like gibberish.

Gina folded towels. He was helping Mom with the laundry. We planned to do homework afterward because I had a test tomorrow in chemistry.

It is obvious that Gina is a female, so the only appropriate pronoun would be she, not he, we, or I.

It is important that the pronoun—antecedent agreement be clear to avoid confusion.

Holly and Betsy went to the park to play Frisbee and have a picnic with their friends Greg and Josh. They were having a great time until she accidentally tripped over his foot and they bumped heads, giving her aheadache.

Whose foot? Did Holly trip over Greg's foot or Josh's? Or was it Betsy who tripped? Who bumped heads? Holly and Betsy? Holly and Greg? Holly and Josh? Betsy and Greg? Betsy and Josh? Lastly, who got the headache? Holly or Betsy? Get the point?

Tip

Sometimes pronouns can make a sentence so confusing that it might be best not to use any pronouns at all.

Confusing: Lori, Sue, and Renee are finally going to the mall to go dress shopping for the prom. She had made plans to go last week, but they called and canceled at thelast minute.
Better: Lori, Sue, and Renee are finally going to the mall to go dress shopping for the prom. Sue had made plans to go last week, but Lori and Renee called and canceled at the last minute.

Some of the pronouns in the preceding chart are obviously singular or plural. Others, though, might not be as apparent, such as the indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, either, neither, everybody, everyone, everything, no one, nobody, somebody, someone, each, none, and one. All of these pronouns are considered singular in number and are compatible only with singular pronouns.

Incorrect: Everyone placed their books on the table.
Correct: Everyone placed his or her books on the table.
Incorrect: Each student did their homework
Correct: Each student did his or her homework.

The indefinite pronouns all, more, none, most, any, and some,when used before a prepositional phrase, can be seen as either singular or plural, depending upon the OOP (object of the preposition) at the end of the phrase. Use that noun to help you decide which pronoun would be compatible.

Plural:   Most of the peaches were ripe. They smelled delicious
Singular:   Most of the floor was mopped. It looked sparkling clean.

A practice exercise for this concept can be found at Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Practice Exercise

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