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  Home > InfoWrite > Grammar > Pronoun Agreemen

InfoTrac College Edition

Pronoun Agreement


Pronouns such as he, she, it, they, his, her, them, and their take the place of nouns. When you use a pronoun, it must match in number the noun< it stands for:

Parents should care for their children. plural

A mother should care for her children. singular
Remember that the pronouns everyone, each, anyone, neither, someone, somebody, and no one are singular:

Everyone should bring his or her book to the exam.

Each of the girls is responsible for her uniform.

Writers often make errors in pronoun reference for a good reason – they are trying to avoid sexist statements:

A good citizen should pay his taxes.

If a student has a problem, he should see his dean.
Because the phrases he and she, his and her, him and her are cumbersome, most people use plurals to include both men and women:

A good citizen should pay their taxes.

If a student has a problem, they should see their dean.
Plural pronouns are widely accepted in this context in spoken English. Speech tends to be less formal than written documents. To avoid sexism, educators, politicians, writers, and lawyers will make pronoun errors. Like slang words which gain popular acceptance, this grammar error is widely understood.

But written English should follow traditional guidelines. You can avoid the awkward use of he and she by using plurals or alternative constructions:

Good citizens should pay their taxes.

Any student with problems should see the dean.

Unlike nouns, pronouns come in three versions:
Subject Pronouns   Object Pronouns   Possessive Pronouns
he   him   his
she   her   her
they   them   their
I   me   my
we   us   our

He will give the money to her.

They will beat us.

He gave the money to me.
Many students have problems determining which pronoun to use when grouped with other nouns.

Mary and she/her went to the store.

Sarah gave the money to Shirley and I/me.

They sold the tickets to George and he/him.
It is easier select the proper pronoun if you eliminate the other people from the sentence:

. . . She went to the store.

Sarah gave the money to . . . me.

They sold the tickets to . . .him.

Deciding when to use who and whom can be difficult – especially because they are used in questions:

Who/Whom is working tonight?

You gave the money to who/whom?

Use WHO as a replacement for I, YOU, HE, SHE, WE, THEY:

Who is working tonight?   (I am working tonight.)
    (He is working tonight.)
    (She is working tonight.)
    (They are working tonight.)
Use WHOM as a replacement for ME, YOU, HIM, HER, US, THEM:

You gave the money to whom?   (You gave the money to me.)
    (You gave the money to him.)
    (You gave the money to her.)
    (You gave the money to them.)

NOTE: One of the most misused pronoun is they. Whenever the word they appears it should clearly represent a noun:

Drive-by shootings are ruining the neighborhood.
Drug dealers operate openly. They just don’t care.

Who does they refer to -- the drug dealers, the police, residents?
The word they must always clear link with a noun such as people, citizens, members of the city council.

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.