Sentence Structure Errors
Pronoun-antecedent Disagreement

Pronoun-antecedent disagreement

An antecedent is a word to which a pronoun refers.

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number and gender.

  • If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural
  • If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must be singular.
  • If the antecedent is masculine, the pronoun must be masculine.
  • If the antecedent is feminine, the pronoun must be feminine.
 John gave his old textbooks to a friend.

The pronoun is his and it refers to the noun John. Therefore, John is the antecedent of the pronoun his. Because John is masculine, the pronoun is his. Because John is singular, the pronoun must be singular.

 The boys donated their books to a charity.

The pronoun is their and the antecedent is boys. Because boys is plural, the pronoun must be plural.

 Offer to run on behalf of an injured runner, and then give them a detailed account of the race.

To determine if the pronoun agrees with the antecedent, first find the pronoun. In this sentence it is them. Then ask "To whom does the word them refer?" The answer is runner. However, runner is singular but them is plural. Therefore, the sentence has pronoun-antecedent disagreement, rather than pronoun-antecedent agreement.

To correct this sentence, you must make the pronoun agree with its antecedent.

 Offer to run on behalf of an injured runner, and then give him a detailed account of the race.

The pronoun now agrees with its antecedent in number; both are singular. However, does it agree with its antecedent in gender (male or female)? Since we don't know whether the runner is male or female, we can use either him or her, or just one of them.

 Offer to run on behalf of an injured runner, and then give him or her a detailed account of the race.
 Offer to run on behalf of an injured runner, and then give her a detailed account of the race.

Indefinite pronoun

The biggest problem for most students in subject-verb agreement is the use of an indefinite pronoun in the sentence.

Indefinite pronouns are words like anybody, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, everything, nobody, somebody, and someone, which do not refer to a definite person or thing. Because these indefinite pronouns are singular, the personal pronouns which refer to these words must be singular as well.

 When someone loses a job, they want a bit of hope.

The indefinite pronoun someone is singular and the personal pronoun they is plural. Therefore, there is pronoun-antecedent disagreement.

The sentence can be corrected in the following ways:

 When someone loses a job, he wants a bit of hope.
 When someone loses a job, she wants a bit of hope.
 When someone loses a job, he or she wants a bit of hope.
Practice

Correct the pronoun-antecedent disagreements in following sentences, using the most effective method.

  1. There are many questions a person needs to consider when they are ready to retire.
  2. Everyone has to make their own decision about which model of car to purchase.

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