What is pronoun-antecedent agreement?

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Pronoun-antecedent agreement

An antecedent is the word, phrase, or clause that the pronoun replaces in a sentence. For example:

  • John ate his meal in silence because he was mad at his wife.

‘John’ is the antecedent; ‘his’ and ‘he’ replaces John.

It seems simple enough, but it can be a real issue for a lot of people.

Why is it an issue?

In some cases, such as the example above, it is easy to pick the correct pronoun that will replace the antecedent. However, cases that involve phrases, indefinite singular pronouns, or demonstrative pronouns can be much more difficult. For example:

  • Sara hopes that the gardener does not start the yard work at 8 a.m. again. That will allow her to sleep in.

The phrase, “that the gardener does not start the yard work at 8 a.m. again” is the antecedent, while “that” (italicized in the second sentence) is the demonstrative pronoun that replaces it.

Sentences with indefinite pronouns can also be tricky. For example:

  • Incorrect: Each of the partygoers ate their dinner quickly.
  • Correct: Each of the partygoers ate his or her dinner quickly.

Because “each” is singular, you would use “his” or “her” to replace it later.

Although this is historically incorrect, some publications, such as The Washington Post, have started using “they” as a singular pronoun, to make things less confusing.

Still confused?

As you can see, figuring out what pronoun to use can be complicated, but just remember that once you have located the antecedent and figured out whether it is singular or plural, choosing the pronoun will be easy. Consider this example that often confuses people:

“The company gave all their employees Christmas bonuses.”

Do you see anything wrong with it?

Technically, it’s incorrect because the antecedent (“company”) is one single entity, so you would use the pronoun “its.” However, “The bosses at the company gave all their employees Christmas bonuses” is correct because “their” replaces the plural antecedent (“bosses”.)

This is a basic lesson on pronoun-antecedent agreement; if you want more information, visit Towson University’s pronoun-antecedent agreement page. And to see how well you now understand pronoun-antecedent agreement, take Towson’s pronoun-antecedent quiz.

For more grammar topics, check out last week’s post on sentence case vs. title case and come back next week to learn more about pronoun-verb agreement.

And as always, if you need help with content writing, give us a call at 888-521-3880.