Antecedents and Pronouns in Business Writing


What are they and how do they relate to pronouns?

These two are intertwined inextricably.  You cannot have one without the other. 

  • A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. 
  • An antecedent is the word to which the pronoun refers.

State the noun first.  The noun must be mentioned first -  BEFORE we use a pronoun -  so we know who we are referring to.

  • Then, instead of having to repeat the noun over and over again, refer to the noun by using the pronoun.  
  • The noun has a place (cede…) before – (ante).
  • Once we have mentioned the noun, we can safely use the pronoun and we know who the pronoun refers to.  There will be no confusion.

Example One -

  • John is a student at the high school.  He is in tenth grade.

The pronoun is “he.” It takes the place of the noun "John."  The pronoun refers to the noun “John.” 

  • When we read “he is …” we know that we are talking about “John.” 
  • “John” is mentioned BEFORE the pronoun “he” and so we know who "he" is. 

If you don't mention the noun first (before the pronoun) then you have no idea who "he" is.

Example Two -

  • Julie and Susan are travelling to Anguilla.  They will be away for 10 days.

The pronoun is “they.”  It takes the place of the noun "Julie and Susan."   It refers to “Julie and Susan.” 

  • When we read “they will be…” we know that we are talking about “Julie and Susan.” 
  • "Julie and Susan" are mentioned BEFORE the pronoun "they" and so we know who "they" are.

The word that the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent because it appears BEFORE the pronoun.

The pronoun must agree in number with its antecedent

The noun is the word that the pronoun refers to.

  • This word (a noun) mentioned BEFORE the pronoun is necessary for the reader to understand the pronoun.
  • Without something specific to refer to, the pronoun is meaningless -  or worse, confusing.

Confusion results in careless speech.  Some people speak informally using pronouns very often - too often. With no reference, it is very difficult to understand the meaning.

  • Clear communication relies on clear and complete references.  
  • If you do use pronouns, be sure that the reader knows what the pronoun refers to.

Proofread for accuracy in all that you do.

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Try to avoid the awkward "he/she" or "he or she"

  If possible, when you can avoid “he or she” you will have a much more effective writing. 

For example:

  • A student must register for classes by August 30.  He or she will receive a confirmation.

In the above, the noun “student”  is singular.  Since there is no gender indicated, to be accurate, you must refer to both “he or she.”  This double reference is awkward.

Improve your writing.  Instead, the following is much better:

  • Students must register for classes by August 30.  They  will receive confirmation.

In the above, the original noun "students" is plural.  The pronoun "they" correctly refers to the plural noun.

An error - when the noun and pronoun do not agree in number

Often, an error results because the pronoun does not agree in number with the noun it refers to. 

This is very true with such pronouns as “everyone” and “someone.”  There are a few others in this category as well.

  • Someone is singular.
  • Everyone is singular.

Someone is singular and everyone is also singular.  The error occurs when a pronoun “they” (which is plural) is used to refer to "someone" or "everyone" which are both singular. See an example of the error below:

  • Someone will be there to start the clock.  They will …

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