copyright 2002, 1979 Margaret L.
Benner All rights reserved.
In order to understand pronoun –
antecedent agreement, you must first understand pronouns.
A pronoun is a word used
to stand for (or take the place of) a noun.
Below are the
They are called “personal” because they usually refer to persons (except
for it, which refers to things).
Look at this sentence.
There are two nouns in this sentence:
John and man.
Either of these nouns can be replaced by
a pronoun. If we replace John (the subject of the
sentence) with a pronoun, we choose he, a subject pronoun.
If we replace man (the
object in the sentence) with a pronoun, we choose him, an
For you to do:
Rewrite the following sentence in the
space provided, first replacing the
subject noun Laura with a subject pronoun; then replacing the object
noun Amy with an object pronoun.
These sample sentences tell us some
important things about pronouns:
A pronoun takes the place of a noun.
The pronoun which replaces the noun must agree with it
in these ways:
A subject pronoun must replace a subject noun.
An object pronoun must replace an object noun.
A feminine pronoun must replace a feminine noun.
pronoun must replace a masculine noun.
A singular pronoun must replace a singular noun.
pronoun must replace a plural noun.
Thus, in the sentence
We must replace
John, with the
subject pronoun, He. We can replace the
object noun, woman, with
Here is another problem for you to
Three words describe the properties of
of the pronoun he. Select the correct ones, then click on
“submit” and check your answers.
A pronoun can also refer to an earlier noun or pronoun in the sentence.
Look at this sentence.
We do not talk or write this way.
Automatically, we replace the noun Lincoln’s with a pronoun. More
naturally, we say
The pronoun his refers to
In this sentence, the pronoun his
is called the REFERENT because it “refers back.”
We call President Lincoln
the ANTECEDENT because it comes before the pronoun that refers to it
later. (ante = “before”)
Thus, the mechanics of the sentence look
Look at the examples below to see how to
choose the right pronoun for two antecedents joined by and,
or, or nor.
When two or more singular noun
antecedents are joined by and, they make a PLURAL antecedent. (1
+ 1 = 2)
NOTE: The plural pronoun their
replaces both masculine and feminine nouns.
If both noun antecedents joined by
and are plural, then the referent pronoun will also be
When two or more noun antecedents are joined by
or or nor, choose a pronoun referent to agree with the antecedent CLOSEST TO THE VERB.
Two singular antecedents
B. Two plural antecedents
One singular antecedent followed by a plural
One plural antecedent followed by a singular
In the above examples, C and D
are the most difficult because the antecedents have both a singular and a plural
noun. Remember these two guidelines . . .
1. For antecedents joined by and
– always choose a plural referent pronoun.
2. For antecedents joined by or
or nor – choose a referent pronoun to agree with the antecedent closest to the verb.
click on the link below to do Exercise 1.
Link to Exercise 1
Some nouns which name groups can be
either singular or plural, depending upon their meaning in individual sentences.
examples of group nouns are:
Because they can describe either the
group as a SINGLE ENTITY (only one – singular) or the INDIVIDUALS in the group
(more than one – plural), these nouns pose special problems as antecedents.
However, the following guidelines can
help us decide which referent pronoun agrees with such noun antecedents.
First, if we refer to the group as a
whole, and therefore, as a single unit, we consider the noun as a singular.
In this case, we use a singular referent pronoun.
On the other hand, if we are actually
referring to the individuals with the group, then we consider the noun
plural. In this case, we use a plural referent pronoun.
Here, each member of the class is
considered separately. The students in the class will each hand in a report.
Of course, we can make group nouns
plural as well, usually by adding an s.
Some examples of plural group
When used in the plural
form, a group noun means more than one group. It naturally takes a
plural referent pronoun.
Remember these three important points
about pronoun – antecedent agreement when a group noun is the
Group nouns considered as single units
take singular referent pronouns.
(the club uses it ; the woman uses she
Group nouns which consider the members as
individuals in the group take plural referent pronouns.
(the club member uses they or their)
Plural group nouns meaning two or more
groups take plural referent pronouns.
(the clubs use they or their)
click on the link below to do Exercise 2.
Link to Exercise 2
Sometimes a personal pronoun
may be an antecedent.
In this sentence, he is
the antecedent for the referent pronoun his.
His is both
masculine and singular to agree with the masculine,
singular antecedent he.
the following sentence, she is the antecedent for the referent
Her is both
feminine and singular to agree with the feminine,
singular antecedent she.
this sentence, I is the antecedent for the referent pronoun,
singular to agree with the singular antecedent, I.
Remember this important guideline:
A referent pronoun agrees
with its personal pronoun antecedent.
**You may want to look back at the
of personal pronouns to see which referents agree with which
click on the link below to do Exercise 3.
Link to Exercise 3
Indefinite pronouns as
antecedents also pose a special problem.
Some indefinite pronouns
seem as if they should be plural when really they are singular.
Use the following guidelines.
As antecedents, the indefinite pronouns below ALWAYS
take a singular pronoun referent.
Look at them closely.
2. The following indefinite pronouns
ALWAYS take plural pronoun referents.
3. However, the following indefinite
pronoun antecedents may be either singular or plural,
depending upon how they are used in a sentence.
Generally speaking, if one
of these indefinite pronouns is used to designate something that CAN be counted,
then the pronoun is plural.
If one of these indefinite pronouns is
used to designate something that CANNOT be counted, then the pronoun is
In the above sentence, all
designates the voters. Voters can be counted (1
voter, 2 voters, etc.). Therefore, the plural pronoun their is
the correct referent for all.
In the above sentence,
all designates sugar. Sugar cannot be
counted (1 sugar, 2 sugars). Therefore, the singular pronoun, its,
is the correct referent for all.
In the above sentence, all
designates some unnamed people (e.g. campers, ranchers). Campers, ranchers – people – CAN be
counted. Therefore, the plural pronoun their is the
correct referent for all.
click on the link below to do Exercise 4.
Link to Exercise 4
have now reached the end of this unit.
you are doing this module on your own time, you have completed the learning unit
on avoiding problems with pronoun – antecedent agreement.
you are doing this module as part of your classroom assignment, proceed to the
Post Test and follow the directions you find there.
on the link below to do the Post Test.
View more information: https://www.towson.edu/ows/modulepaa.htm