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Pronouns and Antecedents

Pronouns and Antecedents

Author: Kimberly Sombke

Explained here is the relationship between a pronoun and its antecedent. Specifically covered are the importance of pronoun-antecedent agreement and issues with agreement with indefinite pronoun antecedents.

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Pronouns Antecedent Agreement

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement


Pronoun: a word that replaces a noun

Definite Pronouns include: I, me, my, he, she, her, him,

                                           his, it, we, they, them, our

        *These are called “definite” because the antecedent to this pronoun is stated and


Indefinite Pronouns include: all, another, any, anybody, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, everything, few, many, nobody, no one, none, one, several, some, somebody, someone

        *These are called “indefinite” because they are vague or not definite.


Antecedent: the word the pronoun replaces

        Example 1: James was tired, so he went to bed.

        Example 2: The book is old: let’s replace it.

        Example 3: Isabelle said, “I need pizza.”

*Because the antecedent has been stated, the reader or listener knows to whom or to what the pronoun refers.


*Pronouns and their antecedents need to match in number so as to avoid confusing the reader.  Here’s an example from above that’s been changed so the pronoun does not match up in number with its antecedent:

                The book is old: let’s replace them.

*I don’t know about you, but I’m left wondering if there is just one book or if there are many.  A good writer will want to make things crystal clear to the reader. This example can be fixed in two ways.  Both the pronoun and its antecedent can be written in the singular form (using the pronoun “it” to replace the antecedent “book”—the way it was shown in the first set of examples above).  The other way to correct this sentence is to change both the pronoun and its antecedent to the plural form:

        The books are old: let’s replace them.

*Now the pronoun and its antecedent match in number since “them” and “books” are both plural. Notice also the verb also had to be changed from “is” to “are” so to agree in number with the plural subject, “books”.


*So far, this has all been pretty easy, right?  Where it gets tricky is when indefinite pronouns are used because we often hear and see these used incorrectly.  In fact, the correct way doesn’t really even seem correct much of the time!  Let’s look at examples:

        Everyone needs his or her iPad for class today.

*Notice the pronoun “Everyone” is also the antecedent for “his” and “her”.  We usually hear “their” instead of “his or her” in an example like this—but this is incorrect because the antecedent and pronoun would not match up in number if it read like this:

       Everyone (singular) needs their (plural) iPad for class today. 

“Everyone” even ends in “one”—we are talking about these people individually—therefore we need to use a singular pronoun to match up.  It may sound cumbersome, but it is correct grammatically!


*Similarly, be careful when using pronouns to replace generic nouns as antecedents. Here’s an example:

Any football player wanting his picture in the yearbook should be at the field by 1pm.

*The word “Any” refers to any singular item or person even though it may sound plural.  That is why we look specifically at the antecedent when choosing a pronoun that fits correctly.  The following rewritten example is incorrect because of the plural pronoun:

Any football player wanting their picture in the yearbook should be at the field by 1pm.

*“Their” is plural.  This is an incorrect choice because “player” is singular, and again, we always want the pronoun and its antecedent to match up in number--even though sometimes it doens't sound right!

Source: Kimberly Sombke

Pronoun Antecedent Agreement

Source: Kimberly Sombke