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Pronoun-Antecedent
Agreement
A grammar lesson by Elizabeth
Becker
What are pronouns and
antecedents?
A pronoun works to take the place of a noun or
noun phrase.
For example: The girl loves her doll.
An antecedent of a pronoun is the word the
pronoun refers to.
For example: Bob is going to his house. (Bob
is the antecedent and his is the pronoun)
*Notice that the antecedent comes before the
pronoun. (ante means before)
What is the common mistake
involving p-a agreement?
Often writers will pair a singular pronoun with a
plural antecedent or vice versa. They MUST be
either both singular or both plural.
Ex: The boy finished his dinner. (boy and
his are both singular)
Ex: The boys finished their dinner. (boys
and their are both plural)
What are some other rules
involving p-a agreement?
A pronoun must also agree in person and gender
with its antecedent.
Ex: Amy brought her homework to school.
(Amy is the antecedent and her is the
pronoun to which Amy refers. The
pronoun and antecedent are both third
person and feminine.)
How should you approach
indefinite pronouns?
Indefinite pronouns refer to nonspecific persons
or things. Though some of the following
indefinite pronouns seem to have plural
meanings, treat them as singular:
Anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody,
everyone, everything, neither, no one, someone,
something
Ex: Everyone should respect his or her
teacher. (Instead of using the plural their, use
the singular option, his or her, when you do
not know the gender of the person.)
How can you avoid the he or she in
dealing with indefinite pronouns?
Because using he or she can be wordy, you can
make the singular antecedent plural.
Ex: When someone has not studied, they
are more likely to fail. (incorrect) Replace
someone with a plural construction: When
students have not studied, they are more
likely to fail. (now both the pronoun and
antecedent are plural)
How can you avoid the he or she in
dealing with indefinite pronouns? (2)
You can also rewrite the sentence.
Ex: When someone has not studied, they
are more likely to fail. (incorrect) Rewrite
the sentence: Someone who has not studied
is more likely to fail. (now both the
pronoun and antecedent are singular)
To recap...
-An antecedent is the word the pronoun refers to.
-Pronouns and antecedents must agree in number,
person, and gender
-When dealing with indefinite pronouns, there are
three options:
1. Replace they with he or she
2. Make the singular antecedent
plural
3. Rewrite the sentence
Resources
For more practice with pronoun-antecedent
agreement, take a practice quiz at:
http://students.ed.uiuc.edu/ebecker/grammarquiz/
To go to the quiz click here:
I used the following sources in preparing this lesson:
Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual, 2nd. ed. New
York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1997.
Sebranek, Patrick, Verne Meyer, and Dave Kemper.
Writers Inc. Lexington: D.C. Heath and
Company, 1992.
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