Pronoun Examples and Errors
Does this sentence confuse you?
The sentence could be interpreted that the captain gave the soldier the captain’s own weapon. On the other hand, the sentence could be interpreted that the captain merely returned the soldier’s weapon to the soldier.
Let’s look at another example.
For a student who wants to attend Harvard for college, they must receive good grades in high school.
Do you see the issue in this sentence? "Student" is a singular noun, but "they" is a plural pronoun.
Ahh! Too confusing! However, these errors are the two most common pronoun gaffes among writers.
To understand these common writing errors, we must revisit the definition of a pronoun. Put simply, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Examples include he, she, this, and it.
The first example above is called an ambiguous pronoun reference. This writing error occurs when it is unclear to which noun the pronoun is referring. For example, did the pronoun "his" refer to the captain or to the soldier? The following sentence removes this ambiguous pronoun:
The captain returned the soldier’s weapon to him.
Do you see the difference? In this sentence, it is obvious that the captain returned the soldier’s weapon to the soldier.
The second example above incorrectly uses a pronoun that is not consistent with the noun. As mentioned previously, "student" is a singular noun, but "they" is a plural pronoun. Therefore, in order to make the sentence grammatically correct, the pronoun must also be singular. The following sentence corrects this error:
For a student who wants to attend Harvard for college, he or she must receive good grades in high school.
In this revised sentence, “he or she” is correct because “student” does not indicate gender. However, as singular pronouns, “he or she” matches the singular noun of “student.”
Writers often use pronouns incorrectly because they know to whom each pronoun refers. However, it is important to consider the reader and any and all interpretations the reader may have when reading the text.
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