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3.2 Agreement Between Noun and Pronoun

A pronoun takes the place of a noun. The pronoun must agree with the noun it stands in for: a singular noun needs a singular pronoun as well as a singular verb; a plural noun needs a plural pronoun as well as a plural verb. In the following examples, pronouns and the nouns to which they refer appear in bold letters.



If the antecedent noun refers to both females and males, or if you do not know which sex it refers to, you must indicate both male and female, as in the last example. Alternatively, you can use a plural antecedent noun and use ‘they’ as your pronoun.



Note that language conventions change over time; it is gradually becoming acceptable to use the plural pronoun ‘they’ to refer to single entities.

Avoiding pronoun ambiguity

When two or more pronouns are used in a sentence, ambiguity must be avoided. The following sentence is ambiguous:


Who will receive the cheque?  Mr Brown or Mr Tan?

It is impossible to tell from the sentence as it is written here.To make the meaning clear, it should be:


Here is another example of ambiguity:


Who will review the records? The manager or the assistant? It would be clearer to write:


The pronouns ‘it’ and ‘they’ in particular can cause problems when it is not clear which antecedent nouns they refer to.


What is’ caffeine-free? Mint? Mint tea? Herbal tea in general? It is difficult to tell. It would be clearer to write:







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