Pronoun Reference

Correct Pronoun-Antecedent Reference and Agreement.

Rule 3:
Be Certain That Pronouns Agree with Their Antecedents in Number, Person, and Gender
Pronoun agreement refers to consistency between the pronoun and its antecedent in these areas:

• Number (singular or plural)
• Person (first, second, or third person)
• Gender (male, female, or neutral)

In addition, relative pronouns must agree with their antecedents in one other way: human or person pronouns must be used to refer to people, and non-person or thing pronouns must be used to refer to things other than people.

Check for agreement in number.

Certain words must always be referred to by singular or plural pronouns, as in the following examples:

Everybody is invited to choose his or her own research topic. (singular)
Some of the managers are being asked to bring their departmental reports to the meeting. (plural)
Much of the work is finished, but it is in draft form. (singular)
• The company is selling its old equipment to interested employees. (singular)
• As the workers punched in, they learned about the strike plans. (plural)

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The most common problem with pronoun-antecedent agreement in number is the use of they or their to refer to a singular pronoun.

Examples of misuse:

• "Everybody is invited to choose their own research topic"
• "The company is selling their old equipment."

Check for agreement in person (viewpoint).

Message receivers can be confused by illogical shifts within a sentence from one viewpoint (person) to another.


The following sentence begins in second person (referring directly to the reader) and then shifts to third person (referring to someone other than either the sender or the receiver):

• When you choose a long-distance telephone company, one should consider the company's billing practices.

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Check for agreement in gender.

The most obvious gender-agreement error would be to refer to a man as "she" or to a woman as "he." But few people make such obvious errors. The more subtle gender-agreement errors have to do with using all masculine pronouns (he, him, his) or all feminine pronouns (she, her) to refer to antecedents such as managers, secretaries, workers, one, and so on-antecedents that are neutral in terms of gender.

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