Most Common Pronoun Reference Errors

1.      Too many antecedents

A pronoun should have only one antecedent (noun) that is clear and unmistakable, as mentioned earlier.

Example: “The supervisors told the workers that they would receive a bonus.”

Revised (and rephrased) example: “The supervisors complimented the workers on receiving a bonus.”

2.      Hidden antecedents

Faulty pronoun reference errors also occur when the pronoun’s antecedent functions as an adjective rather than as a noun. In such cases, the true antecedent is “hidden” from the reader because it has been subordinated to another noun.

Example: “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of eating it anyway.”

Clearly, people do not eat dishes. What this writer means to say is, “We were tired of eating candy.” However, “candy” cannot be the antecedent for “it” because “candy,” situated in front of the noun “dish,” is acting as an adjective. Only nouns can be antecedents. To revise, substitute a noun for the pronoun “it:” “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of eating candy anyway.”

3.      No antecedent at all

Another kind of faulty/vague pronoun reference error occurs when a writer uses a pronoun without supplying the antecedent.

Example: “The witness called the television station, but they didn’t answer.”

In this example, the pronoun “they” has no antecedent to which it can refer. To repair this error, the writer could change the pronoun “they” to a noun: “The witness called the television station, but not a single reporter answered the phone.”

4.      Pronoun used to stand for a group of words

Additionally, watch out for “this” and “which” pronouns

Example: “I did not attend the rally, which was very unpatriotic of me.”

The word “which” has no single, clear antecedent. Instead, it refers to the entire clause – “I did not attend the rally.” Remember that a pronoun must always refer to a single, clear antecedent. We can repair the above error in two ways:

Replace the pronoun with a noun: “I did not attend the rally. My actions were very unpatriotic.”

Rephrase to eliminate the pronoun: “By not attending the rally, I was unpatriotic” (Townson).

5.      Pronoun number

Pronouns must agree in number with their antecedents; this rule matches that of subject-verb agreement. Plural antecedents require plural pronouns, and singular antecedents require singular pronouns.

Example: “Each person should follow their dreams.” Here, “their” is a plural pronoun and “person” is a singular noun.

Revised: “Each person should follow his or her dream.” OR “All people should follow their dreams.”

Quick-ish Writing Tips: Clarifying Vague Pronoun References

Today I bring you another common grammatical dilemma – how to revise for vague pronoun reference.

What is vague pronoun reference?

The issue I see most often is the use of a pronoun which does not refer to one specific noun. To review, a pronoun is a word used to take the place of a noun, and should refer to one unmistakable noun preceding it. This noun is called the pronoun’s antecedent. Unfortunately, it is very easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun without a clear antecedent. Take a look at this example: “After putting the disk in the cabinet, Mabel sold it.” Did Mabel sell the disk or the cabinet? The pronoun reference is faulty here because the pronoun it has two antecedents.

So how do we revise for vague pronoun reference?

Any pronoun whose reference is unclear should be replaced by the noun that you intended it to stand for. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader and obscuring the intended meaning of your arguments.

To begin with, any pronoun that switches from the person (first, second, third) already established in a statement or paragraph should be replaced by a pronoun that maintains consistent person.

For example: “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of looking through one’s cabinet for more” should be revised to, “The candy dish was empty, but we were tired of looking through our cabinets for more.”

Simple repetition is one of the most effective ways to keep your reader’s mind on a train of thought. The haste of writing a first draft may cause you to start on one train of thought but finish on another. The result will clearly not express what you meant. Confusing sentences often result from leaving out essential words, awkwardly repeating words, and neglecting to complete a structure. Be sure to read through your work with a critical eye, trying to look at it as a reader might (Cameron).

It's Just "I Before E"—Forget About C

Lickhacker Staff Writer Beth Skwarecki wrote the following commentary on the often hard-to-remember rule:

We all know the rule: "I before E, except after C... except"... uh... something.  Good news: you can forget everything except the "I before E" part.  And even that will only help you guess correctly three times out of four.

Statistics student Nathan Cunningham looked for evidence to back up the rule in a list of 350,000 English words, the Washington Post reports.  The "I before E" rule applied about 75 percent of the time - but that was true whether or not a C was involved.

If you're look for an exception to the rule, it's not C, it's W.  (Need a mnemonic?  Just tell yourself: that's weird).  E comes before I about 70 percent of the time after a W.  And your chances are 50/50 after a J.  But most of the time, "I before E" is the rule that gives you the best odds.



Commentary, Chronicle.com

In his Commentary piece, "How Teacher-Scholars Prepare Students for an Evolving World," Michael Gettings makes the following argument:

"The fact is that professional academic work connects with the rest of our lives, and when academics do this kind of work, it informs their teaching. At many liberal-arts colleges and universities, the faculty embody what is called a teacher-scholar model. Kenneth Ruscio, former President of Washington and Lee University, points out that the dash between "teacher" and "scholar" is significant. It's a link joining the two endeavors, not a slash dividing them."

To read the full article, visit http://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Teacher-Scholars-Prepare/240874?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=da1b84af008147c789c2f7c49f28266e&elq=6da3a34e747d42a68661b75a8c9a7bdd&elqaid=15058&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=6398


Quick-ish Writing Tip: Indefinite Pronouns

Today I bring you a common grammatical quandary - what to do with a singular indefinite pronoun.  

In terms of its use in academic writing, the issue I see most often is the substitution of the plural, when actually it is the singular form that is grammatically correct.  Remember that, when you use a singular indefinite pronoun, the corresponding pronoun or verb used to refer to or to describe this pronoun should also ALWAYS be singular!

Let's review.  A pronoun is a word that can function by itself as a noun phrase (e.g. I, you, he, they, it).  An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that does not refer to any person, amount, or thing in particular.

Here are a few examples of the most common singular indefinite pronouns:

One     Nobody     Each     Anyone     Anybody     Either     Everyone

Everybody     Neither     Someone     Somebody     Nothing 

Let's look at a few examples of singular indefinite pronouns at work:

1. "Somebody left her shoulder bag on the back of the chair." ("Somebody" refers to "her")

It would be incorrect to write, "Somebody left their shoulder bag on the back of the chair."

2. "Anyone can earn a living as a freelance writer."

"Anyone" is a singular indefinite pronoun, so the verb "earn" takes the singular form as well.

3. "Anyone who wants to go to the game should bring his money in tomorrow."

As an alternative, you could write, "People who want to go to the game should bring their money in tomorrow."  Note the difference in the verb forms; "want" is in the plural form because, in this example, "people" is being used as a plural count noun, while "wants" is in the singular form because "anyone" is a singular pronoun.

4. "Everyone in the club must pay his or her dues next week." ("Everyone" refers to "his or her")

Note the gender-fair use of language here: "his or her" versus "his."

Exceptions to the Rule:

There is a difference, of course, between formal written English and the informal spoken version.  While it is acceptable to say, "Nobody wants their instructor to leave for sabbatical," you do want to adhere to the proper grammatical convention when composing your college-level papers and projects.