What Is Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 10 May 2020
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Pronoun-antecedent agreement is a concept within language in which a pronoun must function properly and agree with the antecedent to which it refers. A pronoun takes the place of a noun within a sentence, such as "it" or "his," while an antecedent is the noun in a sentence to which a pronoun refers and takes the place of. For example, in the sentence "Bill ate the pizza he made," the pronoun "he" refers to "Bill," which is the antecedent. Pronoun-antecedent agreement is ensured when the person, gender, and number are proper between both.

The basic idea behind pronoun-antecedent agreement stems from the need to ensure logical consistency within a sentence. Pronouns and antecedents need to agree to ensure that a reader or listener is able to clearly understand what is being referred to by a pronoun. It is also a grammatical rule, however, and lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement can make writing appear unprofessional and be criticized in scholarly works.

One of the first things that needs to be ensured for pronoun-antecedent agreement is that the "person" is maintained between them. In this case, "person" refers to whether first, second, or third person language is used. The word "I" is considered first person, as it expresses something from the view of the writer, while "you" is second person and is meant to address the reader. In the sentence, "Bill went to the store and you bought some groceries," there is a lack of agreement between "Bill," third person, and "you." This should be "Bill went to the store and he bought some groceries," to ensure clarity and accuracy.

It is also important for gender consistency to be maintained for proper pronoun-antecedent agreement. In the sentence, "Bill unlocked the door quickly since she could hear the phone ringing," there is a great deal of room for confusion. Unless the context has established some basis for "Bill" changing genders, this sentence does not make much sense. This is also an important consideration to avoid sexism in writing; the use of neutral antecedents with masculine pronouns is often considered unprofessional.

The number of objects is also important for pronoun-antecedent agreement. If the antecedent is plural, then the pronoun needs to also be plural. "My dog likes to bark when they hear me come home," does not make sense since there is no numerical agreement. The antecedent should either be changed to "dogs" or the pronoun needs to become singular. In this case, the verb "hear" is also effected since it is based on the number of the pronoun.

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Post 2

It is now a trend to use "they" to be politically correct when using general terms. Instead of saying, "When a teacher suspects wrongdoing, he is obligated to report it," people substitute "they are." It's probably less awkward than always using the "he or she" expression, but English doesn't really have a pronoun that covers both genders equally, and many people have become very sensitive over using "he" as a general pronoun.

Some people are insistent that language be totally inclusive, but until we come up with a gender-neutral pronoun, writing around gender pronouns can get downright awkward. At least, saying "he or she" with a singular verb is grammatically correct, which, to me, is paramount.

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