WEEK TWO and we tackle another common writing issue: PRONOUN PROBLEMS.
Pronouns are useful as substitutes for nouns, but a poorly chosen pronoun can obscure the meaning of a sentence. Common pronoun errors include:
* An Unclear Pronoun Reference -- A pronoun must refer to a specific noun (the antecedent).
* Ambiguous pronoun -- This type of reference creates confusing sentences. Writers should spend time thinking about their arguments to make sure they are not superficial. Example: A key difference between banking crises of today and of yesterday is that they have greater global impact. (Which crises have more impact?) If a whiff of ambiguity exists, use a noun: A key difference between banking crises of today and yesterday is that today's crises have greater global impact.
* Vague Subject Pronoun -- Pronouns such as it, there, and this often make weak subjects. Example: Pope Gregory VII forced Emperor Henry IV to wait three days in the snow at Canossa before granting him an audience. It was a symbolic act. To what does it refer? Forcing the Emperor to wait? The waiting? The granting of the audience? The audience? The entire sentence? Use a pronoun as subject only when its antecedent is crystal clear.
* Agreement Error -- A pronoun must agree in gender and number with its antecedent. A common error is the use of the plural pronoun they to refer to a singular noun. Example: In the original state constitution, they allowed polygamy. They (plural) refers to constitution (singular). Let's revise it to: The original state constitution allowed polygamy.
It is often better to use a plural noun and pronoun than to use a singular noun and pronoun. Note that indefinite pronouns such as each and everyone are singular. Therefore, the pronoun must match. Example: Each student must meet his or her advisor. (correct but awkward).
This is easier, but incorrect: Each student must meet with their advisor. (incorrect: singular noun, plural pronoun). Instead, try this: Students must meet with their advisors. (correct: plural noun and pronoun)
(Courtesy of Hamilton College)
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