Writing E-Tips
April 2005
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"To succeed in business, it is necessary to make others
see things as you see them."

-- John H. Patterson

Avoiding Sentence Errors, Part II

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone agreed on everything? Well, that might not be realistic, but at least the words in your writing can agree with each other. When using pronouns in your writing, always make sure that a pronoun agrees with its antecedent (the word the pronoun refers to) in number, person, and gender. The following is a handy guide to matching pronouns with antecedents.


Singular Antecedents: Of course, singular antecedents demand singular pronouns (him, her, he, she, it). In addition, use a singular pronoun to refer to an indefinite antecedent such as anyone, everyone, everybody, somebody, nobody, another, none, neither, each, or one.

The donuts were gross. Each tasted like it was made of paste and cardboard.

Plural Antecedents: Use plural pronouns (them, they, their, us, we, our) with plural antecedents.

The reports are due, and I haven't even started them.

Two or More Antecedents: If two or more antecedents are joined by and, use a plural pronoun.

Geoff and Nora are considering their options.

If two or more singular antecedents are joined by or or nor, use a singular pronoun.

Elena or Marissa left her project folder in my office.

If two or more antecedents are joined by or or nor, and one antecedent is singular and one is plural, the pronoun should agree with the closer antecedent.

Neither Sam nor his employees were prepared for their meeting.


When you use a third-person noun (Tom, Mrs. Harris, the committee) as the antecedent, use a third-person pronoun (he, she, him, her, his, hers, their, they, them).

Lakendra is calling on her clients today.

Similarly, use first-person pronouns with first-person antecedents and second-person pronouns with second-person antecedents.

Lakendra and I are calling on our clients this afternoon.

Lakendra, will you contact Connie Snow for me?

Hint: If you have more than one noun in a sentence, make sure it's clear which noun the pronoun refers to. This often requires rewriting the sentence without the pronoun.

Unclear: Joan told Ms. Harris that her appointment had been canceled. (Whose appointment? Ms. Harris’s or Joan’s?)

Better: Joan said that Ms. Harris’s appointment had been canceled.


If the gender of an antecedent is evident, use the appropriate pronoun--feminine (she, her), masculine (he, him), or neuter (it). If you use an indefinite noun or pronoun (person, everyone) as the antecedent, use the phrase his or her or she or he.

Everyone should bring his or her calendar to the meeting.

However, to avoid awkward phrasing, you can use a plural antecedent instead.

Staff members should bring their calendars to the meeting.

If two or more antecedents (one masculine and one feminine) are joined by or or nor, the pronouns should also be masculine and feminine.

Has Mark or Liza announced his or her travel plans?

The preceding tips are from
Write for Business:
A Compact Guide to Writing
and Communicating

now available for purchase at www.upwritepress.com

A Little
Something Extra

When writing a memo to a superior, use a positive voice and attitude. Don't say “Your instructions are confusing,” say “I would appreciate more information so I can complete the assignment.”

Coming in the May Issue:
“Avoiding Sentence Errors, Part III:
Shifts in Construction”

Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating
is available for purchase at 1-800-261-0637 ext. 10,
or on the Web at www.upwritepress.com.

"Writing E-Tips" is a publication of UpWrite Press, Inc.
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