Writer's WebMaking Nouns and Pronouns Agree

A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun. Some pronouns have nouns or pronouns to which they refer, called antecedents. Pronouns must agree with antecedents for person, number, or gender.

Indefinite Pronouns:

Some pronouns are called "indefinite" because they refer to non-specific persons or things. They are singular:

Each, Somebody, Everyone, No one, Either, Anyone, One, Anybody, Everybody, Nobody, Neither, Someone

ex. Neither of the girls gave her (not their) homework to the teacher.
ex. Anyone who loves his family must support them.

Avoiding Gender-Specific Language:

Some professors and businesspeople consider the use of the gendered pronouns "his" and "her" sexist.

One can use "their" with a single noun, such as "Everyone was concerned about their grades" to avoid "his" and "her." Check with your professor before trying this, since this usage is not yet acceptable, grammatically: it pairs a noun that should take a singular pronoun with a plural pronoun.

A good way to avoid this entirely is to rewrite the sentence, avoiding the pronoun or using plurals whenever possible:

Original: A student has certain responsibilities to his alma mater.
Revised: Students have certain responsibilities to their alma maters.

Original: Every secretary should bring her computer manual to the meeting.
Revised: All secretaries should bring their computer manuals to the meeting.

Other Pronoun Uses

Generic Nouns represent a typical member of a group. Although generic nouns may seem plural, they are singular. In the example that follows, "student" (the noun) is generic:

Every student must study hard if he or she wants good grades.

Collective Nouns acting singularly require singular pronouns. In the example that follows, "department" represents the group, acting as one body:

The department has made its decision about the budget.

Compound Antecedents connected by "and" are plural.

Mary and David went to college, where they both received diplomas.

Antecedents connected by "or" or "nor" (either or, neither nor) agree with the nearest antecedent.

Either Bruce or Brian should get a good grade for his work.
Neither the dog nor the cats could find their way home.


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