Challenges in Pronoun Agreement

Sometimes it can be difficult 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

Try not to get distracted by phrases that come between the antecedent and the pronoun.

All the bands in the contest deserves an award.

Hint: Cross out the Interrupting phrases to make sure you find the correct antecedent.

Jeremy one of the waiters, dropped his tray.

Challenge 2: When the Reference Is Unclear

Usually the pronoun refers to the last noun mentioned or the last subject, but sometimes it’s unclear which noun is the antecedent. Some textbooks call this “ambiguous pronoun reference.” If using a pronoun could cause a misunderstanding, it is better to use the noun instead

Examples of Unclear pronouns

  • Einstein was a brilliant mathematician. This is how he was able to explain the universe.
  • Joan and Marcie went to work. She was late.

Hint: Ambiguous pronoun reference 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, or vice-versa. In other words, don’t switch pronouns midway through your sentence. If you start with the first person (I, we, etc.) or third person (she, they, etc.), stick with it.

One important cause of pronoun shifts is the use of the indefinite you, which is an informal way to talk about others.

  • We went to the top of the Sears Tower where we could see the entire city of Chicago.
  • When you go to the movies, you can buy your ticket in advance.


When you talk to someone using the second person, it’s called direct address. We often use direct address when we ask questions (how are you?). When you use someone’s name as the direct address in a sentence, that person’s name is not the antecedent; the unstated you is the real antecedent.

Maryanne, are these your glasses? The antecedent is the unstated you, not Maryanne, so use your, not her

Challenge 4: Collective Nouns

Collective nouns appear to be plural nouns because they really refer to a group, but they are often singular. You need to understand how the group is acting in order to choose the correct pronoun. Sometimes the group acts as a whole. Other times the members of the group act as individuals.

  • Our class took a field trip to the natural history museum.
  • The rock group has been on to for months.

Find out Pronouns from the example for exercise:

  • Mary wants to talk to you about your homework.
  • After lunch, she and I went to the planetarium.
  • Cousin Eldered gave me a trombone.
  • Take a picture of him, not us.
  • The red basket is mine.
  • These are hilarious cartoons.
  • Many like salsa with their chips.
  • Hector is a photographer who does great work.
  • They should divide the berries among themselves.
  • The queen herself visited our class.

Leave a Comment