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Agreement of Pronouns with Antecedents

The noun that a pronoun replaces is called the antecedent of the pronoun. Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number, person, and gender. In the examples that follow, the antecedents are underlined and the pronouns are italicized.

  • I loaned Janet my textbook so that she could copy the homework exercises from it.
  • The proper noun Janet is the antecedent of the pronoun she. The noun textbook is the antecedent of the pronoun it.

For compound antecedents joined by and, the pronoun should be plural.

  • I left my backpack and my laptop on the table, but now they are not there.

For compound antecedents joined by or or nor, the pronoun should be singular.

  • Michelle or Amanda will drive her car.

If the antecedents joined by or or nor are different in number or gender, the pronoun should agree with the nearest antecedent.

  • Before we can proceed, Ms. Ralph or Mr. Kong must give his approval.
  • The Mitchell twins or Jessica will bring her CD player.

However, sentences of this kind are awkward sounding and potentially unclear. They should be rephrased whenever possible.

  • Before we can proceed, we must get approval from Ms. Ralph or Mr. Kong.
  • Either Jessica will bring her CD player, or the Mitchell twins will bring theirs.

If a pronoun and its antecedent become separated by other nouns, it may not be possible to correctly identify the antecedent.

  • Steve gave Diego a ride to the game so that he could talk to him.

What are the antecedents of he and him? Either pronoun could refer to either man. To make the meaning clear, rewrite the sentence.

  • Steve gave Diego a ride to the game because Steve wanted to talk to him.
  • OR: Steve gave Diego a ride to the game so the two of them could talk.

In the first sentence, the unclear pronoun he has been replaced by Steve, so him can only refer to Diego. In the second sentence, them can only refer to the pair of men.

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