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Pronoun Errors

A pronoun is a word used to represent one or more people (he, she, they, etc.) or a thing (it). In writing, readers often become confused when pronouns are used without a clear indication of what the pronoun is replacing (i.e. the antecedent).  This vagueness is confusing. The reader does not know what “they” is referring to, or which “he” did what. Another common problem occurs when a writer uses “they” to refer to one individual or thing. Make sure that your pronoun agrees in number with its antecedent (i.e. the noun to which it refers). Remember that organizations are a unit, so the correct pronoun is “it”: singular.

Tip: 

Make sure it is clear to whom or what your pronoun is referring.

  • Incorrect: The red team was losing to the blue team, but they had a lot of injured players. [Which team had a lot of injured players? It is unclear because the pronoun is supposed to refer to the noun that immediately precedes it.]

  • Correct:  The blue team was winning against the red team, but the red team had a lot of injured players.

  • Correct: The red team had many injured players and were losing against the blue team.

Tip: 

Avoid using ‘they’ to refer to individuals if you do not know the gender of the subject.

  • Incorrect: When the teacher went to buy some supplies, they used their credit card. [This is incorrect because ‘teacher’ is singular, but ‘they’ is plural.]

  • Correct: When the teacher went to buy some supplies, he (or she) used his (or her) credit card. [If you know the gender, use the correct pronoun. If the gender is unknown, use both or choose one and use it consistently.]

  • Correct: When the teacher went to buy some supplies, she used her credit card.

  • Correct: When the teacher, Mr. Simpson, went to buy some supplies, he used his credit card.

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