A pronoun is a word used to stand for (or take the place of) a
A pronoun should refer
clearly to one, clear, unmistakable noun coming
before the pronoun. This noun is called the pronoun’s antecedent.
Unfortunately, it is very
easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun WITHOUT a clear, unmistakable noun
The pronoun it
does not have a clear noun antecedent.
As a result, the reader
cannot know for sure whether Mabel sold the disk or the cabinet.
The pronoun reference is faulty here because the pronoun it has
Such errors, called
FAULTY or VAGUE PRONOUN REFERENCE, can confuse
readers and obscure the intended meaning.
There are three
major pronoun reference errors.
Error #1: TOO MANY
A pronoun should have
only one antecedent. That antecedent should be clear and
Look at this sentence:
Anyone who reads this
sentence would not know which item was to be fixed.
refer to the radio or the car? The answer is unclear.
In the above example,
faulty pronoun reference occurs because the pronoun it has two
possible noun antecedents.
To fix the sentence,
substitute a noun for the pronoun.
Here is another example
of faulty pronoun reference caused by more than one noun antecedent:
The pronoun reference is
unclear: Who will get the bonus – the supervisors or the workers?
They could refer to either group.
In this example, the best
way to fix the pronoun reference problem is to rephrase the sentence.
Error #2: HIDDEN ANTECEDENTS
Faulty pronoun reference errors also occur when
the pronoun’s antecedent functions as an adjective rather than a
In such cases, the true antecedent is
“hidden” or obscured from the reader because it has been subordinated
to another noun.
The reader of this sentence might think that the dish
was being eaten because dish appears to be the antecedent for the
Obviously, 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 like an adjective. Only
nouns can be antecedents.
Here is another example
of faulty pronoun reference caused by a hidden antecedent:
she refers to Mary since a house would NOT be
able to answer a phone.
Mary’s modifies house – Mary’s is a hidden antecedent and,
thus, is not clear.
another way to repair this error is to rephrase the sentence.
Error #3: NO ANTECEDENT AT ALL
Another kind of faulty / vague pronoun reference
problem occurs when writers use a pronoun without giving the pronoun any
antecedent at all.
this example, the pronoun they has NO noun antecedent to which it
is another example of a pronoun without any antecedent at all.
this example, the pronoun it has no antecedent to which it can
reader knows that Mrs. Smith is “wealthy,” but it cannot
refer to wealthy because wealthy is not a
are at least two ways to repair this error.
a noun (wealth) in the place of the pronoun (it), no antecedent is
the pronoun it has a clear noun antecedent: money.
is another example of a pronoun without any antecedent.
which appears at the very beginning of the sentence, has no noun antecedent at
all. In addition, the construction It says in the paper is
can repair this error by writing a more DIRECT version of “It says in the
way to repair the “It says in the paper” error is to rephrase
this part of the sentence.
methods of repairing this faulty/vague pronoun error eliminate the pronoun and,
thus, eliminate the need for an antecedent.
another example shows how this error in pronoun reference occurs when a pronoun
is used to stand for (refer to) a whole group of words INSTEAD OF one
clear noun antecedent.
word which has no single, clear antecedent.
it refers to the entire clause – “I did not attend the rally.”
a pronoun must always refer to a single, clear, unmistakable NOUN
can repair this error in at least two ways.
is another example of faulty pronoun reference where a pronoun is asked to refer
to a whole group of words instead of a clear, single noun antecedent.
problem here is This. Its antecedent is the entire
reader cannot be sure whether Howard is very angry because:
1. Meg telephoned,
2. Meg telephoned yesterday, or
3. Meg had not attended the meeting the day before.
are at least two ways to repair this error and create a clear antecedent for this:
Watch out for “this” and “which” pronouns. Often they
are used incorrectly and create faulty or vague pronoun reference problems. **
View more information: https://www.towson.edu/ows/proref.htm