A Comprehensive Guide to Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement: Tips, Examples, and Rules
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


Understanding Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Rules

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Tips for Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Examples of Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Have you ever wondered what a pronoun antecedent is and why it matters in everyday writing? In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the world of pronoun-antecedent agreement—what it is, its rules, common mistakes, and tips to help you master it. Clear, concise writing is within your reach, so let's dive in!

Understanding Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

In this section, we'll define pronouns and antecedents and discuss why pronoun-antecedent agreement is important for clear communication.

Defining Pronouns and Antecedents

  • Pronouns are words that replace or stand in for nouns in a sentence. Examples include he, she, it, they, and them.
  • Antecedents are the nouns (or noun phrases) that pronouns replace. They come before the pronoun in the sentence. In the sentence "Alex finished their book, and then they put it on the shelf," "Alex" is the antecedent for the pronouns "their" and "they," and "book" is the antecedent for the pronoun "it."

Importance of Agreement

Pronoun-antecedent agreement is essential for clear communication because it helps readers understand which noun the pronoun is referring to. When pronouns and their antecedents don't agree in number, gender, or person, it can lead to confusion. For example, "The students finished their homework, and then he went to bed" is confusing because "he" doesn't agree with the plural antecedent "students." Instead, the sentence should read, "The students finished their homework, and then they went to bed."

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Rules

In this section, we'll discuss the basic rules of pronoun-antecedent agreement, including singular and plural agreement, indefinite pronoun agreement, collective noun agreement, and gender-neutral agreement.

Singular and Plural Agreement

  • Singular pronouns (like he, she, and it) must agree with singular antecedents, while plural pronouns (like they and them) must agree with plural antecedents.
  • Example: "The dog chased its tail" (singular) and "The dogs chased their tails" (plural).

Indefinite Pronoun Agreement

  • Indefinite pronouns (such as everyone, anybody, and each) are usually singular, even though they might sound plural. Use singular pronouns to agree with them.
  • Example: "Everyone has their own opinion" should be "Everyone has his or her own opinion."

Collective Noun Agreement

  • Collective nouns (like team, group, or family) refer to a group of individuals, but they're often treated as singular entities. Use a singular pronoun to agree with them, unless you're emphasizing the individual members of the group.
  • Example: "The team is proud of its victory" (singular) and "The team members are proud of their victory" (plural, emphasizing individual members).

Gender-Neutral Agreement

  • When the gender of the antecedent is unknown or unspecified, use gender-neutral pronouns like they or their to avoid making assumptions.
  • Example: "If a student has a question, they should raise their hand."

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Now that we've covered the basic rules of pronoun-antecedent agreement, let's explore some common mistakes people make and learn how to avoid them.

Vague Pronoun Reference

  • Vague pronoun reference occurs when it's unclear which noun the pronoun is referring to.
  • To avoid this, make sure that each pronoun clearly refers to a specific antecedent.
  • Example: "When Jim told his brother about the party, he was excited." (Who is "he"? Jim or his brother?) Rewrite as "When Jim told his brother about the party, his brother was excited."

Pronoun Shifts

  • Pronoun shifts happen when you switch from one pronoun to another within the same sentence or paragraph, causing confusion.
  • To avoid pronoun shifts, maintain consistency by using the same pronoun throughout your text.
  • Example: "If someone wants to succeed, you need to work hard." (Shift from "someone" to "you") Rewrite as "If someone wants to succeed, they need to work hard."

Agreement with Compound Antecedents

  • Compound antecedents are two or more nouns connected by "and" or "or."
  • When connected by "and," use a plural pronoun. When connected by "or" or "nor," match the pronoun with the closest antecedent.
  • Example: "Neither the cat nor the dogs have eaten their food." (Match "their" with "dogs")

Tips for Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Now that we've learned about some common mistakes, let's discuss a few tips to help you master pronoun-antecedent agreement and answer the question of "what is a pronoun antecedent" even more effectively.

Rewriting Sentences

  • If a sentence seems confusing or awkward, try rewriting it with different pronouns or rephrasing the antecedent.
  • Example: "A person should always do their best in everything they do." Rewrite as "People should always do their best in everything they do."

Using Appropriate Pronouns

  • Always use the most appropriate pronoun for the context of your sentence.
  • Remember to consider gender neutrality and use "they," "them," or "their" when the gender of the antecedent is unknown or unspecified.
  • Example: "Every student should bring his or her notebook." Rewrite as "Every student should bring their notebook."

Proofreading Strategies

  • Take the time to review your work for pronoun-antecedent agreement, especially if you've written a lengthy piece.
  • Read your work out loud—sometimes hearing the words can help you spot errors more easily than reading silently.
  • Ask a friend or peer to proofread your work as well, as a fresh set of eyes might catch mistakes you've overlooked.

Examples of Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Let's take a look at some examples to further clarify the concept of pronoun-antecedent agreement and to help you better understand "what is a pronoun antecedent."

Correct and Incorrect Examples

  • Incorrect: Each student should take off their shoes before entering the room.
    Correct: Each student should take off his or her shoes before entering the room.
  • Incorrect: Neither the teacher nor the students has finished their lunch.
    Correct: Neither the teacher nor the students have finished their lunch.
  • Incorrect: The team is celebrating because they won the game.
    Correct: The team is celebrating because it won the game.

Pronoun-Antecedent Exercises

Here are a few exercises to help you practice pronoun-antecedent agreement. Try to identify the correct pronouns for each sentence:

  1. Everyone in the class should submit (his or her/their) assignment on time.
  2. Neither the cat nor the dog has eaten (its/their) food.
  3. The audience applauded loudly when (it/they) enjoyed the performance.
  4. Each of the dancers practiced (his or her/their) routine for hours.
  5. Some of the cookies were missing because someone ate (his or her/their) share.

Answers: 1. his or her 2. its 3. it 4. his or her 5. their

By practicing these exercises and applying the rules and tips we've discussed, you'll be well on your way to mastering pronoun-antecedent agreement and confidently answering the question, "what is a pronoun antecedent?" Happy writing!

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