A pronoun is used in place of a noun. Because the noun usually precedes the pronoun, the noun to which the pronoun refers is called the antecedent (Latin: "going before"). For example: in "When Lucy Ricardo got an idea in her head, she seemed to lose all control", the noun, "Lucy Ricardo," precedes the pronoun, "she." But the noun can also follow the pronoun, as in "When she got an idea in her head, Lucy Ricardo seemed to lose all control."

Be sure that whenever possible a pronoun has a clear reference. Sometimes it isn't possible: it is commonly used with an unspecified reference, as in "It's a hot day," and "Hurry up, please, it's time to go." But these are idiomatic expressions, and for the most part, we usually can be certain that our pronoun references are clear.


Correcting Vague References

1. Vague: Apparently, they fight physically and it can become rather brutal.

("It" doubtless refers to "fight," but "fight" in this sentence is the verb, not the antecedent noun.)

Clear: Their fights are apparently physical, and sometimes brutal.

Avoiding Shifts in Pronouns

1. In many instances the child was expected to follow the profession of your father. (Expected to follow the profession of whose father, "yours" or "his?")

2. If one smokes, you should at least ask permission before lighting up in a public place. (If "one" smokes, why should "you" ask permission? This is one of the most common errors in pronoun reference that students make. Be sure that you are consistent in the pronouns you choose: "If one smokes, one should at least ask permission before lighting up in public.")

Watching Out for Ambiguous Reference of Pronouns

1. Ambiguous: Her mother died when she was eighteen. (Who was eighteen, the mother or the daughter?)

Clear: Her mother died at the age of eighteen.

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