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Pronoun Agreement for English Grammar

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 12, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Pronoun Practice Exercises for English Grammar

Pronoun Agreement

Plural and Singular Antecedents

A pronoun is singular when its antecedent is singular, plural when its antecedent is plural.

Singular and Plural

    Any woman who is friendly with her neighbors will be well regarded.     (The pronoun who is singular, because its antecedent, woman, is singular.)
    The interesting thing about John is that he always completes his jokes whether or not he has an attentive audience.     (The pronouns he and he are singular, because their common antecedent, John, is singular.)
    All three judges stated that they believed the convict had been accused unjustly.     (The pronoun they is plural, because its antecedent, judges, is plural.)
    Mental health institutions care for patients as well as they can.     (The pronoun they is plural, because its antecedent, institutions, is plural.)

Antecedents Joined by And, Or, or Nor

Plural

A pronoun is plural when its antecedent is two or more words joined by and.

    Richard and Jeffrey are completing undergraduate degrees they hope to put to use.
    Boys and girls are finding themselves increasingly disenchanted with school.

Singular

A pronoun is singular when its antecedent is two or more singular words joined by or or nor.

    I don't know whether Joan or Edna made herself clear in the argument.
    Neither Sinclair Lewis nor Thomas Wolfe has yet received the final critical judgment he deserves.

When a singular antecedent and a plural antecedent are joined by or or nor, the pronoun agrees in number with the antecedent that is closer.

    Either Barbara or the twins will have to do what they can.
    Neither the salesmen nor the manager learned that he was at fault.
    Neither the manager nor the salesmen learned that they were at fault.

If use of this rule risks ambiguity, the sentence must be recast.

Collective Nouns

If an antecedent is a collective noun treated as singular, the pronoun affected by it is singular.

    The committee is meeting next week to reach the decision it wants.
    The board of trustees has decided to name as chairperson the candidate it first met.

If an antecedent is a collective noun treated as plural, the pronoun is plural.

    The committee are meeting next week to reach the decision they want.
    The board of trustees have decided to reverse the decision they made.

Collective nouns must be treated consistently within a given unit of writing. They must never be treated as both singular and plural.

Singular Pronouns as Antecedents

A singular pronoun is used with any of the following pronouns as antecedent: one, anyone, anybody, someone, somebody, everyone, everybody, each, kind, sort, either, neither, no one, nobody.

    Everyone who thinks realistically that he or she can write professionally needs an agent.     (Everyone is the antecedent of he or she.)
    Each of the actors in the audition recited the lines he knew best.
    The right sort of book will inevitably find a market for itself.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Pronoun Practice Exercises for English Grammar

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