Pronoun agreement

Pronouns, one of the eight parts of speech, are used for the replacement of nouns. Let’s discuss how it works.

Although it is fine to use pronouns in your writing, writers should be very careful with using pronouns because using them incorrectly may well result in several problems.

A common problem caused by incorrect use of pronouns is an improper pronoun agreement, also referred to as a pronoun/antecedent agreement.

This meaning that all pronouns used in any sentence must always be matching the object or subject they replace.

In other words, when the subject is in the singular form, the pronoun that is used to replace it in the sentence should be singular as well.

Likewise, when our pronoun is in the plural form, a pronoun that will later be used in the sentence will also have to be plural.

The following sentence is an example of a sentence that has a pronoun agreement error:

If a student wishes to get good grades and be successful, they need to regularly attend class submit their homework on time.

Do you notice that the subject of the sentence is in the singular form, “a student”? Then, in our example sentence, this singular subject is later replaced with two plural pronouns, “they” and “their.” This now has created a pronoun agreement error, which, more importantly, may cause confusion for readers and detract from what the writer wants to express.

This type of error can, fortunately, be fixed easily. They might even be fixed in a few different ways.

Correction #1

We can change the sentence’s subject to the plural form so it will match the plural pronouns that appear later. Doing this, we change the sentence in the following way to create a grammatically correct sentence:

If students wish to get good grades and be successful, they need to regularly attend class and submit their homework on time.

Note that when we change the subject of a sentence, the verb attached to the subject, the predicate, will have to change as well. In our example, the verb changes from “wishes” to “wish.” Remember that a singular subject needs a singular verb; a plural subject needs a plural verb.

Correction #2

We can also change the pronouns that are used later on in our example sentence so that they will be singular and match the sentence’s subject. In our example sentence, changing these pronouns will create the following sentence that is grammatically correct:

If a student wishes to get good grades and be successful, he or she needs to regularly attend class and submit his/her homework on time.

Note that it isn’t always necessary to use he/she as singular pronouns, but both must be used for the first time. If you use both, you’ll avoid potential sexist language, like assuming that every student is either male or female. Once you have used both the first time, either one may be used in the remaining part of that paragraph.

Video Summary and Quiz

1. Identify pronoun(s)

He is my best friend

Question 1 of 2

2. Choose the correct pronoun for the sentence.

My father and  ______ always go fishing on Saturday mornings.

Question 2 of 2


Next lesson: Parts of Speech


Last Updated on April 7, 2021.

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