Sometimes it can be a challenge to ensure that you are using the correct pronoun. The challenge is making sure you know which word is the antecedent.
Challenge 1: Interrupting phrases
Make sure not to get distracted by phrases that come between the antecedent and the pronoun.
Jeremy, one of the waiters, dropped his tray. (Jeremy = his, not waiters = their)
Cross out the interrupting phrase to make sure you find the correct antecedent.
Jeremy, one of the waiters, dropped his tray
Challenge 2: When the reference is unclear
Sometimes which noun is the antecedent can be unclear. Some textbooks call this "ambiguous pronoun reference." Usually the pronoun refers to the last noun mentioned or the last subject. If it's unclear, it is best to use the noun instead of the pronoun.
Joan and Marcie went to work. She was late. (Which one was late?)
Joan and Marcie went to work. Marcie was late.
Joan and Marcie went to work. Joan was late.
My father was just like his grandfather, but he was not as tall. (Who was not tall?)
My father was just like his grandfather, but my grandfather was not as tall.
This occurs often when you write because in your imagination, you can clearly see whom you are writing about. Have a friend read your essay for you, paying special attention to the pronouns.
Challenge 3: Pronoun Shifts
Make sure you don't change from first or third person to second person. It's an easy mistake. Many people use an indefinite you, which is fine in informal speech, but not in formal writing. Don't use you unless you mean the reader.
Joan bought a pair of boots at the store where youshe can buy shoes.
A police officer has a dangerous job because they arehe is often at risk.
A direct address in a sentence is not the antecedent as it is really not part of the sentence. The antecedent is usually you, the unstated you.
Maryanne, have you found your glasses? (The antecedent is you, not Maryanne.)
Challenge 4: Collective Nouns
Collective nouns appear to be singular nouns, but they mean a group. Sometimes the group acts as a whole. Other times the members of the group may be acting as individuals. You need to understand how the group is acting in order to choose the correct matching pronoun.
The team (working as a whole) won its last game.
The team (working as individuals) took their uniforms home and washed them.
Practice What You've Learned
Choose the best word to complete the sentence.
The turtle and the hare raced. won the race. It,The turtle
Mr. Medema, one of my teachers, found car windows had been left open. his,their
Bryan and Jackie, members of the jewelry guild, displayed beautiful work. his,her,their
Dimitri and Kenny recorded songs. was really great. His,Dimitri's
The dragon and the knight fought furiously. Finally, won. he,the dragon
Melanie, one of the champion swimmers, was on school swim team. her,their
James Patterson, one of my favorite authors, has added a new book to Middle School book series. his,their
The class took out homework papers. its,their
The mother duck and her duckling got stranded in the drain. The rescuer was able to get out first. her,the mother
The brothers, both athletes, got scholarships because of grades, not sports. his,their
Click on any pronoun errors in the sentences. If the sentence has no mistakes in it, click on no mistakes.
WhenwestudiedSpanish,welearnedthattheteacherwouldstayafterschooltotutoryou. (no mistakes)
Anastronauthasanexcitingcareerbecausetheygettoseethingsfromspace. (no mistakes)
Randywenttothelibrarybecauseitisagoodplaceforhimtofindbooksforhisresearchpaper. (no mistakes)
Myfamilylikestospendtheirvacationtogetheronthebeach. (no mistakes)
Ifyouwanttofindakayakpaddle,gotothesportinggoodsstore,whereyoushouldbeabletofindseveralkinds. (no mistakes)
InAustralia,Ezravisitedazoowhereyoucanseekoalasinanaturalsetting. (no mistakes)
Jonasgotajobasanewsboyin1900whenyoucouldfindaboysellingnewspapersonmostcitystreetcorners. (no mistakes)
WhenMargievisitedChina,shestoodontheGreatWallofChina,whichyoucanseefromspace. (no mistakes)
David,oneofthestudentdriversintheclass,passedtheirdrivingtest. (no mistakes)
WhenmyfriendandIwentswimming,wesawashark,whichcouldhavekilledyou. (no mistakes)