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.


How might pronoun-antecedent relationships be clarified?

  • 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.