by Owen Fourie
~ Part One ~
Agreement in English grammar is necessary not only between subject and verb but also between pronoun and antecedent.
What is a pronoun?
The previous post on pronouns has a tabulation that you should use for reference as you read this article.
A pronoun is a word that stands in the place of a noun: You would not say
Emma is spending the day with Emma’s friend Chloe.
Instead, you would say
Emma is spending the day with her friend Chloe.
The word her is a pronoun that is being used instead of repeating Emma’s name.
Pronouns are words like I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, us, him, her, them.
Before looking at antecedents, let’s note that in the examples in this article, possessive adjectives are used because they seem to illustrate the point more easily.
Possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns are similar in form and you will often find that possessive adjectives are simply called pronouns.
In the above example, her is actually a possessive adjective, but for the sake of the example, it is called a pronoun. This is a technicality that should not bother you here.
What is an antecedent?
In the above example, there is an antecedent for the pronoun her. It is the name Emma.
Emma (antecedent) is spending the day with her (pronoun) friend Chloe.
The pronoun her is also called the referent because it refers to the antecedent.
To use a pronoun correctly, it must refer to a specific noun–a person, a place, a thing, or a quality–in the sentence or nearby in the same passage.
Used in this way, we understand that the pronoun is referring to its antecedent.
If we break down the word antecedent, we should get a better understanding of its function. The first part ante (from Latin) indicates the position of something, that it is before, in front of, or previous to something. This should not be confused with the Greek anti meaning opposite or against.
The second part cedent (from Latin cedere) means to go. Antecedent means to go before something. In grammar, the antecedent (a noun) comes before the pronoun that refers to it. In the previous sentence, the word it is a pronoun referring to the word antecedent, which is the antecedent!
Be aware though that sometimes the antecedent can also occur after the pronoun:
“I am Chloe,” she said.
Here, I is the pronoun, and its antecedent is Chloe.
What is the rule?
In the same way as a verb must agree with its subject in number, a pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number. This agreement extends also to gender and person.
- Number refers to singular (I, you, she, he, it, me, her, him) or plural (we, you, they, us, them);
- Gender refers to feminine (she, her), masculine (he, him), or neuter (it). Gender affects only third person singular;
- Person refers to first person (I, we, me, us, mine, ours), second person (you, yours), or third person (she, he, it, they, her, him, them).
In combination, in the subjective or nominative case, third person singular in the feminine gender is she. In the objective case, first person plural is us. Follow the tabulation in the previous post to verify this.
In Part Two of this article, we’ll look at some practical examples of pronoun-antecedent agreement.
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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