by Owen Fourie
~ Part Two ~
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, person, and gender.
This is a rule that we considered in Part One of this article where we also noted details about pronouns, possessive adjectives, and antecedents.
Let’s look at some examples as we apply pronoun-antecedent agreement. Make use of the tabulation of pronouns given in an earlier article as you work through these examples.
What is wrong in each of the following sentences?
- Emma was spending the day with their friend Chloe.
- The dogs were sleeping in its kennels.
- David could hear her dog snoring.
- Emma and Chloe planned to get away from the noise, so that she could get some rest.
- Olivia came to visit Emma and Chloe; they brought Ryan with them to see David.
- David and Ryan decided that we would watch a movie.
What are the errors?
- The pronoun their, which is third person plural, does not agree with Emma, the antecedent, as third person singular.
- The pronoun its, which is third person singular, does not agree with dogs, the antecedent, as third person plural.
- This could be correct if the ownership of the dog is clear. If one of the girls previously mentioned is the owner, her name should be used instead of the pronoun. If David is the owner, the pronoun her, which is third person, singular, feminine, does not agree with David, the antecedent, as third person singular, masculine.
- The pronoun she, which is third person singular, does not agree with the third person plural form of the compound subject, Emma and Chloe, the antecedent.
- The pronouns they and them, which are third person plural do not agree with Olivia, the antecedent, as third person singular.
- This could be correct if it is clear that it is one of the girls reporting their agreement to the decision made by the boys. Since this is not clear, let’s assume that the pronoun disagrees with its antecedent, not in number but in person. Both should be third person plural
What are the correct forms of these sentences?
- Emma was spending the day with her friend Chloe.
- The dogs were sleeping in their kennels.
- David could hear his dog snoring. (Or: David could hear Emma’s dog snoring.)
- Emma and Chloe planned to get away from the noise, so that they could get some rest.
- Olivia came to visit Emma and Chloe; she brought Ryan with her to see David.
- David and Ryan decided that they would watch a movie.
This can be tricky
Agreement between a pronoun and its antecedent is vitally important in spoken and written English to avoid confusing the listener or the reader.
This is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject; it is merely an introduction for you to note and to be aware of a potentially confusing aspect of English grammar.
There are trickier situations, unlike the examples given above, and they might form the substance of future posts. Take for instance the use of indefinite pronouns and look at this example:
By the time Olivia arrived, neither of the other girls seemed as though they had rested.
The word neither is a singular indefinite pronoun. Its referent needs to be a singular pronoun. The word they is a plural pronoun. Here is the correction:
By the time Olivia arrived, neither of the other girls seemed as though she had rested.
It can be tricky, but it is not beyond mastery.
If you need help with any grammar problem, not only pronoun-antecedent agreement, ask here. How are you learning English Grammar? How useful are grammar textbooks to you? How would you describe them—clear, confusing, boring? What confusing experiences have you had with pronouns and antecedents not agreeing? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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