Posted by: catindiaonline | September 13, 2008

Pronoun Reference [GMAT Sentence correction notes II ]

Pronoun Reference


When a pronoun lacks a clear and explicit antecedent, you have a pronoun reference error. Below are a few problems that create pronoun reference errors.

The logical antecedent is vague or is missing from the sentence.
Look at the following examples:

  • They said at the bank that my account was overdrawn.

The pronoun they has no antecedent, so the reader doesn’t know who they are. In this case, a noun needs to be substituted for the pronoun:

Correction: The teller at the bank said that my account was overdrawn.

  • It says in this book that a katydid is a kind of grasshopper.

Although the reader understands that the pronoun it probably refers to the book, the antecedent is unclear. Reduce wordiness by specifying the noun rather than using a pronoun:

Correction: This book says that a katydid is a kind of grasshopper.

  • Susan has changed her major twice this semester. This might mean she is unsure of her career goal.

Try to draw an arrow from the pronoun this to its logical antecedent. The sentence does not contain a noun which equals this, so the pronoun has no explicit antecedent.

Correction: The sentence should specify that this change or this fact suggests Susan’s uncertainty.

  • After interviewing several nurses, I realized that it was not the career for me.

The pronoun it refers to nursing–a word which never appears in the sentence. Revise the sentence by replacing the pronoun with a noun:

Correction: After interviewing several nurses, I realized that nursing was not the career for me.

· The antecedent is not a noun or noun phrase
Look at the following example:

  • The team’s poor sportsmanship made all of them look like whiners.

The pronoun them is trying to refer to the members of the team. However, neither the word team nor the word members is used in the sentence. Instead, the possessive form team’s is used. A possessive antecedent may be used only for a possessive pronoun.

Correction: The team’s poor sportsmanship made all of its members look like whiners.

More than one possible antecedent makes the pronoun’s meaning ambiguous.
Look at the following example:

  • Richard told Sam that he needed to buy a new car.

The pronoun he could refer back to either Richard or Sam. The reader doesn’t know if Richard is announcing his own need for a new car or telling Sam that Sam’s car is a piece of junk. If the antecedent of a pronoun is ambiguous, the sentence must be reworded or the pronoun must be replaced with a noun. When the pronoun refers to people, quoting may be a solution.


“Sam,” said Richard, “you need to buy a new car.”
“I need to buy a new car,” Richard told Sam.

A distant antecedent is likely to confuse readers.
Look at the following example:

  • Enrique found himself caught up in floor activites and neglecting his schoolwork, who was usually a good student.

The pronoun who can grammatically refer back to the antecedent Enrique, but the distance between them is too great. Arrange sentences so that the pronoun refers back to the nearest noun.

Correction: Enrique, who was usually a good student, found himself caught up in floor activities and neglecting his schoolwork.

To avoid pronoun reference problems, follow these simple steps:.

  1. As part of your final editing process, discipline yourself to read all the way through your draft, focusing only on pronouns.
  2. Circle each pronoun and draw an arrow to its antecedent.
  3. If you can’t find an antecedent or if the antecedent isn’t grammatically equal to the pronoun, revise the sentence using one of these strategies:
    • Replace the pronoun with a noun to eliminate a vague pronoun reference.
    • Supply missing antecedents where needed.
    • Use a possessive pronoun to refer back to a possessive antecedent.
    • Revise sentences which contain more than one possible antecedent. Make the pronoun reference clear and unambiguous.
    • Place the pronoun so that the nearest noun is its antecedent.

Once you’ve focused on pronoun reference a few times, you’ll progress from correcting errors to avoiding errors, saving yourself lots of editing time. The only way to develop your skill with pronoun reference, however, is to focus attention on pronouns until clear, explicit pronoun reference becomes a habit of your writing.

The other tutorials in the pronoun unit will teach you how to make pronouns agree with their antecedents and will help you choose the correct pronouns for specific kinds of sentences. For now, though, it’s time to review pronoun reference and to test your skill on identifying pronouns and antecedents and making sure that every pronoun has a clear, explicit antecedent.



  1. this is awsome!

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