Guidelines

Pronoun Agreement



A pronoun is a word that stands for a noun. It usually refers to a person, place, thing, activity, or idea specified by name earlier in the text (its antecedent) and must agree in person, number, and gender with the noun it replaces (its antecedent).

Note: When you use a "global search and replace" or "replace all" function, remember to proofread for person, number, and gender changes. For example, when changing from female to male, check for changes from "her" to "him," "she" to "he," or "hers" to "his."

Some of the examples in this lesson will appear pretty obvious to you. We include them because they illustrate the rules. You may choose to scan the more obvious examples, but read the examples that are less obvious more carefully.

16.A. When a pronoun refers to a collective noun, the pronoun must represent whether the people in the collective noun are individuals or a group.

You learned about collective nouns in the previous lesson. This explanation provides more detail. Collective nouns represent groups of people: staff, family, group, jury, committee, team, audience, class, congregation, and so forth.

When the group are acting as individuals, then the pronoun should be plural, meaning more than one person is acting. ("The team went back to their homes.")

When the group is acting as a unit, then the pronoun should be singular, meaning everyone is doing the same thing. ("The team went back to its locker room.")

If using a plural verb with a pronoun referring to a collective noun sounds odd to you, add a word to make the collective noun clearly plural: "The team members went back to their homes."

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. After the meeting, the committee went back to its offices.
  2. The jury was at odds over the validity of the evidence.
  3. Our group were taking a bus to the convention.

Correct:

  1. After the meeting, the committee went back to their offices.
  2. The jury were at odds over the validity of the evidence.
  3. Our group was taking a bus to the convention.



Exercise 1

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16.B. Use the subjective case when the pronoun refers to the subject and follows a form of to be.

The forms of to be are am, are, is, was, were, be, been, and being. When a pronoun follows one of these forms of to be and refers to the subject of the sentence, it should be in the subjective case: I, he, she, we, and they.

Put the pronoun in place of the noun to see whether it fits the sentence. For example, the correct form is "The contractor was he." You could turn that around and say "He was the contractor." You could not say "Him was the contractor."

However, because these sentences are often awkward, normally rewrite the sentence so you eliminate the awkward-sounding construction.

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. It was me who found the directory.
  2. The instigator clearly was her.
  3. It could have been them but we do not know for sure.

Correct:

  1. It was I who found the directory.
  2. The instigator clearly was she.
  3. It could have been they but we do not know for sure.

Correct this text before looking at the correct version:



Exercise 2

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16.C. Use objective case pronouns when the pronoun is the object of the verb.

The objective case pronouns are me, us, him, her, and them. Use an objective case pronoun when it follows the verb and answers the questions what, whom, to whom, for whom, or for what.

EXAMPLE

Incorrect:

  1. The boss asked we for the project analysis.
  2. The father gave he and she the money.
  3. They expected all who attended to help the chairman and he with the cleanup.

Correct:

  1. The boss asked us for the project analysis. (asked whom?)
  2. The father gave him and her the money. (gave to whom?)
  3. They expected all who attended to help the chairman and him with the cleanup. (to help whom?)

Correct the text before looking at the correct version:



Exercise 3

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16.D. Use the objective case of a pronoun when it is the subject or object of an infinitive.

Infinitives are words that normally include to, as in to go, to walk, or to rule. Use the objective case when the pronoun precedes or follows an infinitive. The objective case pronouns are me, us, him, her, and them. ("She did it to help me." "He asked the vice-president to grant him a leave of absence.")

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. The two wanted to meet he at the restaurant.
  2. To find she, they went to Miami.
  3. The New Yorkers decided to join we Californians in supporting the legislation.

Correct:

  1. The two wanted to meet him at the restaurant.
  2. To find her, they went to Miami.
  3. The New Yorkers decided to join us Californians in supporting the legislation.



Exercise 4

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16.E. Use the objective case of a pronoun when it is the object of a preposition.

Prepositions are small words (such as of, for, about, on, under, over, or between) that require some object following them. Use the objective case for the object of a preposition. The objective case pronouns are me, us, him, her, and them. ("She left it for me." "The scaffold was hanging above him.")

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. This is just between you and I.
  2. The urgent call came for Jim and he.
  3. They found the brochure under she.

Correct:

  1. This is just between you and me.
  2. The urgent call came for Jim and him.
  3. They found the brochure under her.

Correct the text before looking at the correct version:



Exercise 5

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16.F. Use who and whoever when he, she, they, I, or we could be used as the subject of the who clause. Use whom and whomever when him, her, them, me, or us could be used as the object of a verb or object of a preposition.

To decide whether to use who, whoever, whom, or whomever, answer the statement to see which would be appropriate for the answer:

"An employer wants an employee who is dependable." The answer is "She is dependable." The pronoun, she, is subjective, so use who, the subjective form.

"The applicant whom you recommended for the position is reliable." The answer is "You recommended her." Her is objective, so you should use whom, the objective form.

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. With who did you want to meet?
  2. I will meet with whoever you recommend.
  3. Whomever works on the assignment must know corporate law.

Correct:

  1. With whom did you want to meet? (I want to meet with him.)
  2. I will meet with whomever you recommend. (I recommend her.)
  3. Whoever works on the assignment must know corporate law. (I know corporate law.)



Exercise 6

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16.G. Use the possessive case of a pronoun immediately before a gerund.

A gerund is a verb form ending in "ing" that is used as a noun. For example, in "Leaving was a mistake," the verb form leave is used as a noun by adding "ing." If a subject were added to the sentence, the correct pronoun would be his, making the sentence "His leaving was a mistake." Use a possessive pronoun (his, her, our, their) with a gerund.

EXAMPLES

Incorrect:

  1. You returning Sunday evening will make it difficult to prepare for the business trip on Monday.
  2. With him leaving the company, we are left with no one knowledgeable in that area of marketing.
  3. I don't believe that them scheduling a consultation so quickly was the luck of the draw.

Correct:

  1. Your returning Sunday evening will make it difficult to prepare for the business trip on Monday.
  2. With his leaving the company, we are left with no one knowledgeable in that area of marketing.
  3. I don't believe that their scheduling a consultation so quickly was the luck of the draw.
Sixteen distributors have been involved in the handling of our product. Four insist that them moving our product through the system is the nature of their business. Their supervisor argues that they tending to avoid new products that are untried and unproven indicates they are making matters worse.



Exercise 7

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16.H. Lesson Test.


Correct the errors in the sentences that follow. When you have finished, click on the link to compare your answers to the correct answers.