Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Grammar Handbook: Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
A pronoun is a substitute for a noun. The pronouns or nouns Sthat they refer to are called antecedents. A pronoun and its antecedent are in agreement if they are both singular or both plural.
- Dr. Morganstern finished his rounds.
Frequent misuse of plural pronouns occurs with two types of singular antecedents: indefinite pronouns and generic nouns.
Indefinite pronouns refer to nonspecific persons or things.
They include: any, either, everything, no one, each, anybody, everybody, neither, someone, anyone, everyone, none, something
- In class everyone performs at his or her [not their] level of ability.
Generic nouns represent a typical member or any member of a group, such as a typical student or any lawyer.
- Every student must pull all-nighters regularly if he or she wants to excel.
To correct a mistakenly plural pronoun referring to a singular general noun, you can do one of the three things mentioned above.
Suggestions for Working with Generic Nouns
Treat collective nouns as singular unless the meaning is clearly plural. Collective nouns include such words as: jury, committee, crowd, family, audience, couple, troop, team, class.
Ordinarily the group functions as a unit, so the noun should be considered singular; however, if the members of the group function as individuals, the noun should be treated as plural.
- Example: The O.J. Simpson jury has reached its decision.
- Compare: The Illini crowd clapped their hands.
Compound antecedents connected by "and" should be treated as plural.
- Jack and Jill climbed up a hill and fetched their pail of water.
When compound antecedents are connected by "or" or "nor" (or by "either...or" or "neither...nor"), make the pronoun agree with the nearer antecedent.
- Either Desi or Lucy should be fired from her job.
- Neither the engineering student nor the biology majors could remember their schedules.
Correcting Agreement Problems
To correct a mistakenly plural pronoun referring to a singular indefinite pronoun or generic noun, you can do one of three things:
Replace the plural pronoun with he or she or [his or her.]
- When someone has been drinking, he or she is probably acting dumb.
Make the antecedent plural.
- When frat boys have been drinking, they are probably acting dumb.
Rewrite the sentence so that no problem of agreement exists.
- A frat boy who has been drinking is probably acting dumb.