LAVC Writing Center
Pronouns take the place of or refer to nouns, other pronouns, or phrases. The word that the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent.
Joe bought a Fender because it is his favorite guitar.
(It refers to the antecedent Fender, and his refers to the antecedent Joe)
Sean and Megan played their instruments.
(Their refers to the plural antecedent Sean and Megan)
Playing the drums on a hot day can be dangerous since it can cause heatstroke.
(It refers to the antecedent playing the drums on a hot day)
Partial List of PronounsHe Me We
Him My Who
His Our Whoever
Her She Whom
Hers They Whomever
I Them Whose
It Their You
Its Us Your
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number and person.
When Mary couldn’t find her violin, she asked to borrow mine.
(Mary is the antecedent of her and she)
The three musicians wanted to start their own band.
(Musicians is the antecedent of their. Since musicians is plural, the pronoun referring to the musicians must also be plural)
Making pronouns agree with their antecedents is usually easy. However, there are three special circumstances that can be tricky.
1. Indefinite Pronouns – The following words are singular: anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, nobody, no one, none, one, somebody, someone. Any pronoun that refers to these must also be singular: he, him, his, she, or her.
Anyone can play the piano if he or she wants to.
Everybody should do his or her best to keep the room clean.
2. Special Singular Antecedents – The following constructions are singular: each (of), either (of), neither (of), every one (of), one (of). Any pronoun that refers to one of these must also be singular.
Neither of the two men paid for his ticket to the concert.
Each of the bands had its own unique style.
3. Collective Nouns represent a group of people but are usually considered singular. They usually take singular pronouns.
The band reached its decision to break up after a bad week.
The school orchestra is well known for its enthusiasm.
Common Collective NounsClass Faculty Jury
College Government Motherhood
Committee Group School
Company Homework Society
Fill in the correct pronoun and circle its antecedent. Make sure each pronoun agrees in number and person with its antecedent.
Everybody wants ____________________ career to be rewarding.
Each of these arguments has ________________ flaws.
Miss Smith will be here soon, so please get _______________ contract ready.
Nowadays, a married couple exchanges rings to symbolize _______________ relationship.
Brandy wanted to be ____________________ own boss.
A pronoun must refer clearly to its antecedent. Avoid vague, repetitious, or ambiguous pronoun reference.
At the box office, they said that the concert was sold out.
(Problem: who is they?)
Revised: The cashier at the box office said…
At the box office, I was told…
In the review, it says that Bill is a talented guitarist.
(Problem: it simply repeats review, the antecedent preceding it)
Revised: The review says that Bill is a talented guitarist.
Mr. Mosely told his son that his violin was out of tune.
(Problem: his could refer to either Mr. Mosely or to his son)
Revised: Mr. Mosely told his son that the younger man’s violin was out
Revise the following sentences removing vague, repetitious, or ambiguous pronouns.
In this review it says that the two bands were going to become famous.
Sandra told her friend that she shouldn’t have turned down the promotion.
In North Carolina they grow vegetables.
Her dog finished her dinner quickly.
In this college, they require every entering student to take a hearing test.
This handout was based on the following text:
Fawcett, Susan. Evergreen: With Readings. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.
For further references on this subject see:
Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 4th ed. New York: Bedford’s/St. Martin’s Press, 1999.