Pronoun Reference

Make pronoun references clear.
(A challenge for many ECA students.)
What is a pronoun?
• Pronouns substitute for nouns; they are a kind
of short hand. In a sentence like After Andrew
intercepted the ball, he kicked it as hard as he
could, the pronouns he and it substitute for
the nouns Andrew and ball. The word a
pronoun refers to is called its antecedent.
Differences between English & Spanish
• In English, the pronoun is never dropped from
the sentence because it is understood. You all
know this, but some of you forget when you
write and speak English.
About Grammar Checkers
• They do not flag problems with faulty pronoun
reference. Grammar checkers would miss the
ambiguous pronoun reference in the following
sentence: The thief stole the woman’s purse
and her car and then destroyed it.
Examples of Ambiguous Reference
• When Gloria set the pitcher on the glasstopped table, it broke.
• BETTER—The pitcher broke when Gloria set it
on the glass-topped table.
Another Example
• Tom told James that he had won the lottery.
Who won the lottery—Tom or James?
• BETTER—Tom told James, “You have won the
Implied Reference
• A pronoun must refer to a specific antecedent,
not to a word that is implied but not present
in the sentence.
• After braiding Ann’s hair, Sue decorated them
with brightly colored ribbons.
• BETTER—After braiding Anne’s hair, Sue
decorated the braids with brightly colored
A Subtle Implied Reference
• In Mary Gordon’s The Shadow Man, she writes
about her father’s mysterious and startling
• BETTER—In The Shadow Man, Mary Gordon
writes about her father’s mysterious and
startling past.
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