The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Navigation: Quick Links

Professor writing on a chalkboard




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.

Example:

Frequent misuse of plural pronouns occurs with two types of singular antecedents: indefinite pronouns and generic nouns.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to nonspecific persons or things.

They include: any, either, everything, no one, each, anybody, everybody, neither, someone, anyone, everyone, none, something

Example:

Generic Nouns

Generic nouns represent a typical member or any member of a group, such as a typical student or any lawyer.

Example:

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.

Compound antecedents connected by "and" should be treated as plural.

Example:

When compound antecedents are connected by "or" or "nor" (or by "either...or" or "neither...nor"), make the pronoun agree with the nearer antecedent.

Examples:

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.]

Example:

Make the antecedent plural.

Example:

Rewrite the sentence so that no problem of agreement exists.

Example: