Agreement of Pronouns and Antecedents
A pronoun takes the place of a noun or a noun phrase. The word or phrase the pronoun takes the place of and refers to is called its antecedent.
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number (either singular or plural) and gender (male, female, or neuter--i.e. it).
Making pronouns agree with their antecedents is usually a simple matter. Four unusual cases, however, will be discussed below.
1. Indefinite pronouns
These indefinite pronoun antecedents are considered singular and take a singular pronoun:anybody everybody somebody nobody one no one anyone someone everyone
all pronouns ending in -body or -one are singular and require singular pronouns: he, she, him, her, his, hers
Note: Modern usage allows he/she, his/her (or his/hers) with non-gender specific pronouns as well as non-gender specific nouns.examples: A good bartender pays attention to his/her customers. Anyone can show his/her support to a good cause.
2. Special singular antecedents
These antecedents are also singular and take a singular pronoun:
each (of) . . .
either (of) . . .
neither (of) . . .
every one (of) . . .
one of . . .
all these antecedents are singular and require singular pronouns: he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its
examples: Each of the boys took his time finishing the assignment. Every one of us needs more time to complete his/her test.
3. Special plural/singular antecedents
Certain words used as subjects will be either singular or plural depending on their context within the sentence. Base pronoun usage upon whether the pronoun is acting as a singular or plural subject.more (of) . . . much (of) . . . most (of) . . . some (of) . . . any (of) . . . none (of) . . . all (of) . . . examples: Most of the lemonade has lost its taste. All the girls want their own rooms. None of the lawyers could find their briefcases.
4. Collective nouns
Collective nouns are words that imply a plural meaning but are usually singular in form. Collective nouns usually take singular pronouns if all members of the group are acting in unison.
Here is a partial list of collective nouns:crew committee crowd company team family faculty group audience band jury flock government orchestra panel United States United Nations race (human) examples: The committee could not make its final decision unanimous. A flock of birds made its way south for the winter. The company of soldiers trudged through the mud, weary from its day in the field.
Reference of Pronouns and Antecedents
A pronoun must clearly refer to its antecedent. Avoid vague, repetitious, or ambiguous pronoun reference.
- vague pronoun: They said we could buy our tickets at the front counter. (Who are"they"?)
- repetitious pronoun: The crowd it wanted to storm the building. (Just say: The crowd wanted to storm the building.)
- ambiguous pronoun: John asked his dad if he could take his car up to his cabin in the woods. (Who does the car belong to? John or his father? What about the cabin?)
Special Problems of Case
Personal pronouns take different forms depending on their function in a sentence. These different forms are called case.
- Pronouns used as subjects are in the subjective case.
- Pronouns that are objects of verbs or prepositions are in the objective case.
- Pronouns that show ownership are in the possessive case.
Singular Subjective Objective Possessive 1st person I me my (mine) 2nd person you you your (yours) 3rd person he him his (his) she her her (hers) it it its (its) who whom whose whoever whomever Plural 1st person we us our (ours) 2nd person you you your (yours) 3rd person they them their (theirs)
Using the correct case is usually fairly simple, but some problems require special care.
1. Case in compound constructions
A compound construction consists of two nouns, two pronouns, or a noun and a pronoun joined by and. Make sure that pronouns in a compound construction are in the correct case.examples: Mack and I thought our lives were in danger. (possessive case) George and Sue believed they would spend their honeymoon in Paris. (subjective case; possessive case) Fred and Barney bought themselves new golf clubs. (reflexive acting in objective case)
2. Case in comparison
Pronouns that complete comparisons may be in the subjective, possessive or objective case.
A simple way to decide on the correct pronoun is to complete the comparison mentally and then choose the pronoun that naturally follows:She trusts him more than I . . . (trust him). She trusts him more than . . . (she trusts) . . . me. Susan's brother is taller than she . . . (is tall). My brother earns more money than I . . . (earn).
3. Use of who/whoever and whom/whomever
Who and whoever are the subjective case. (Think he whenever working with who and whoever.)
Whom and whomever are the objective case. (Think him whenever working with whom and whomever.)
Use the subjective case when the pronoun in question is doing something (i.e., when the pronoun is followed by a verb).I will give the reward to whoever deserves it. (think: He deserves it.) The supervisor caught the employee who had been stealing (think: He had been stealing.)
Use the objective case when the pronoun in question is followed by a noun or another pronoun.Give it to whomever you like. (think: You like him.)
Choosing the Right Pronoun
Of the many kinds of pronouns, the following cause the most difficulty:SUBJECT GROUP NONSUBJECT (OBJECTIVE) GROUP I me he him she her we us they them
A pronoun in the subject group may be used in two ways:
- as the subject of a verb.
- as a word that means the same as the subject:It is I. It was she.
Modern usage allows some exceptions to this rule, however, at least in informal writing and informal speech. It is me and it is us (instead of the grammatically correct It is I and it is we) are now established usage, and it is him, it is her, and it is them are widely used, particularly in informal speech.
Pronouns in the non-subject group are used for all other purposes.