4 Pronoun Mistakes To Avoid
Pronouns are wonderful little words that make speaking and writing easier. Imagine if you had to use your name every time you refer to yourself. Instead of saying “I left my keys in my car,” you’d have to say, “Irving Pigwart left Irving Pigwart’s keys in Irving Pigwart’s car.” And just think how irritating this would be if your name really was Irving Pigwart!
So we should be grateful for the person who thought of the pronoun in the first place. Whoever you are, Mr. Pronoun Inventor, we salute you!
Remember, pronouns are substitute words. They take the place of nouns and other pronouns. Words that get replaced by pronouns are called antecedents.
A common problem for writers is being unclear about a pronoun’s antecedent. Here are some ways that happens:
1The Generic You
The pronoun you takes the place of the name of the person addressed when you speak or write. Avoid using the word you to refer to people in general, rather than the particular person you are speaking to. Student writers often write sentences like:
Bad: When you walk through the doors, you enter a large, paneled library.
It’s not likely that the reader is actually walking into the library you describe as he reads, so using you is awkward, at least in formal writing. Some suggest replacing you with the indefinite pronoun one. I don’t think that’s much of an improvement in most cases these days:
Still Bad: When one visits Paris, one should visit the Lourve.
One sounds stiff and overly formal. It’s just not the way most people speak anymore. Often the only way to correct sentences with the generic you is to start over and reword the whole thing:
Better: The doors opened into a large, paneled library.
Better: Vacationers in Paris should make a point of visiting the Lourve.
2The Anonymous They
Good writers also avoid using the “anonymous they” to refer to that mysterious and unidentifiable group responsible for just about everything in the universe.
Bad: They should invent a more efficient automobile.
Better: The automobile industry should invent a more efficient car.
Bad: They say no two snowflakes are exactly alike.
Better: It’s commonly known that no two snowflakes are exactly alike.
Never use they unless you can identify who they are.
3Its Don’t Talk:
Another awkward habit is using the word it without making clear exactly what it is.
Bad: It says in my textbook that turkeys cannot fly.
Bad: On the TV show I saw last night it said that unemployment is rising.
Improve these kinds of sentences by changing the subject of the verb and getting rid of some unnecessary words.
Better: My textbook says that turkeys can’t fly.
Better: The TV show I saw last night said that unemployment is rising.
Sometimes a reader can’t tell which noun is the correct antecedent of a pronoun. Don’t make him guess.
Confusing: Tom said Jim lost his wallet. (Whose wallet was lost — Tom’s or Jim’s?)
Confusing: The union workers were angry with their supervisors because of the size of their pay raise. (Who got the raise — the workers or the supervisors?)
There’s no trick to improving these. Just make sure that the pronouns you use refer clearly to the correct antecedent.
Better: “Jim lost his wallet,” said Tom.
Better: The union workers were angry at the size of their supervisors’ pay raise.
Pronouns are valuable little words. Use them carefully. If you don’t, you’ll only confuse your readers.
Make a blogger’s day. Leave a comment below.