What is a pronoun-antecedent relationship?
A pronoun is a part of speech that can replace a noun; its antecedent is the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. Unclear pronoun-antecedent relationships, or those without proper agreement, can leave the reader confused. Writers who strive for clarity in their work should be certain that each pronoun has a clear antecedent and that the pronoun and antecedent agree in person (first, second, or third), number, and gender.
- Circle or highlight the pronouns in each paragraph.
- Look for each pronoun’s antecedent—the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers.
- Draw an arrow from the pronoun to its antecedent.
- If the antecedent is missing, rewrite the sentence to include a clear antecedent for each pronoun.
- If the antecedent is there, check for pronoun and antecedent agreement in person, number, and gender.
Let’s look at some examples:
Missing antecedents: He felt better about the revision process when he left his office. (Who left the office? Whose office is it?)
Clear antecedents: The student felt better about the revision process when he left Dr. Brown’s office.
Lack of agreement: The student put books in their backpack and left for our next class. (Student is singular, but the pronouns their and our are plural.)
Proper agreement: The student put books in his backpack and left for his next class.
Vague: Susan visited the animal shelter to see the stray cat before she ate. (Did the visit to the animal shelter occur before Susan ate or before the cat ate?)
Clarified: Before she ate, Susan went to the animal shelter to visit the stray cat.