Pronouns: A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun or other pronoun.
Pronoun Function in the Sentence:
Correct pronoun usage is determined by the function of the pronoun within the sentence. Is the pronoun the subject or the object of a verb or preposition?
Object forms: me, us, you, him, her, them.
- Those flowers were given in honor of Andrew and I. [Incorrect]
- Those flowers were given in honor of Andrew and me. [Correct]
To complete this sentence, “of” must have an object; therefore, “Andrew and I” must become “Andrew and me.”
Subject forms: I, we, you, he, she, it, they
- Me and her went to the game [Incorrect]
- She and I went to the game [Correct]
Because “me and her” are object forms, they cannot function as the subjects of this sentence; they must be changed to “she and I.”
Types of Pronouns:
Personal pronouns refer to a person or a thing.
1st person – I, we, me, us
2nd person – You
3rd person – He, she, it, they, him, her, them
Indefinite pronouns function as nouns in a sentence, but do not take the place of a specific person or thing.
Anybody, No one ,Anyone, Nothing, Anything, One
Each, Somebody Everybody, Someone
Plural : A couple, A few,Many,Several,Both
There are also some indefinite pronouns which function as both singular and plural: all, some, none. If these pronouns refer to a noun measured by amount, they are singular. If they refer to a noun measured by number, they are plural.
- All of the students are going to the principal’s office. (Plural)
[Students can be individually counted; therefore “all” is a plural pronoun]
- All of the work we have done is pointless. (Singular)
[Work cannot be counted individually; therefore, “all” is a singular pronoun]
Like personal pronouns, relative pronouns refer back to a person or thing and must function as either an object or subject in the sentence. Object forms include whom and whomever. Subject forms include who and whoever.
Difficulty arises when there is uncertainty about how these pronouns are functioning in the sentence. Ask yourself, “Is the pronoun a subject or an object?”
If the pronoun is following a preposition or verb, treat it as an object.
- At whom did you throw the bouquet?
[“Whom” is the object of the preposition “at”]
- The professor picked whomever he wanted.
[“Whomever” is the object of the verb “picked”]
If the pronoun is the subject, use the subject form.
- Who is the speaker at the banquet? (Who is the subject of the sentence)
- I will choose whoever speaks up first. (Whoever is the subject of the noun clause)
Agreement in Person and Number:
A common error occurs when pronouns do not agree in person and number. To avoid these errors, remember that the word that a pronoun is replacing is called the antecedent. As such, pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number:
- The students went to his or her rooms. [Incorrect: Students is a plural antecedent]
- The students went to their rooms. [Correct: The plural pronoun agrees with the plural antecedent]
The most common pronoun agreement error in number occurs when the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun:
1. Each of the fans cheered as they watched the team sprint onto the field.
2. Everyone brought their pencil for the evaluation.
3. Both women in the portrait balanced her jars.
4. Several of the men raised his hand to volunteer.
1. Each of the fans cheered as he or she watched the team sprint onto the field.
2. Everyone brought his or her pencil for the evaluation.
3. Both women in the portrait balanced their jars.
4. Several of the men raised their hands to volunteer
Ambiguous Pronoun Reference
Another common error is ambiguous pronoun reference. This occurs when the user uses multiple or ambiguous antecedents. If a personal pronoun is used following multiple antecedents, the reader may be unsure to which antecedent the pronoun is referring:
- The captain told his first officer that he could take leave next week. [Does “he” refer to the captain or the first officer?]
To avoid these errors, either make sure that pronouns clearly refer back to their appropriate antecedents or rephrase the sentence so that there is no confusion:
- The captain told his first officer that the officer could take leave next week.
- The captain granted the officer’s request to take leave next week.
Also, demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those) are often used in an ambiguous manner:
- This may be contributing to the increase in crime. [What does “this” refer to?]
“This” is a demonstrative pronoun that might be referring to any number of causes. To avoid errors, specify the causes, or, if they have been specified in a previous sentence, find a key word to repeat:
- Negligence may be contributing to the increase in crime.
- This negligence may be contributing to the increase in crime.
Pronouns are a useful tool in avoiding repetition and monotony in writing. However, if you are using pronouns, be sure to keep these rules in mind so as to avoid misinterpretation and confusion.