Pronoun–Antecedent Agreement – How Does it Work?
  • 4-minute read
  • 1st September 2022

Pronoun–Antecedent Agreement – How Does it Work?

Sentences consist of different variations of the eight parts of speech, including pronouns and antecedents. But what exactly are pronouns and antecedents? Check out our guide below to learn how to use them in your writing.

What Are Pronouns and Antecedents?

Before we discuss the pronoun–antecedent agreement rules, it’s important to understand each word’s function.

1. Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that replaces the person, place, or thing (i.e., the noun) in a sentence. Some common pronouns include he, she, you, me, I, we, us, this, them, and that.

Consider the following basic examples in which the nouns in the first sentences have been replaced with pronouns in the second sentences:

Buddy likes to swim in the lake.He likes to swim in it.

Jamie reads books every morning. She reads them every morning.

As you can see, the sentences containing only pronouns are vague. Without any context, we don’t know who likes to swim in what or who likes to read what every morning.

Therefore, a pronoun almost always needs to follow an antecedent so that the meaning of the sentence is clear.

2. Antecedents

An antecedent is the word that comes before (i.e., precedes) the pronoun to provide the necessary context.

Let’s build on our original sentences to see how this works:

Buddy likes to swim in the lake, but he has to wear a life jacket.

Without the antecedent Buddy, we wouldn’t know who the he is that has to wear a life jacket.

Jamie reads books every morning, but she had to go to school early today.

We can use the pronoun she in the latter part of this sentence because the antecedent Jamie sufficiently introduces her.

Pronoun–Antecedent Agreement

Understanding how to properly write sentences using pronouns and antecedents will allow you to write complex, yet concise and easy-to-read sentences. Imagine reading a book that didn’t use pronouns:

Buddy likes to swim in the lake, but Buddy has to wear a life jacket. If Buddy doesn’t wear a life jacket, Buddy gets scared, and there’s a risk Buddy will drown.

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Here are a few simple rules you can follow to improve your writing’s flow and concision:

1. Agreement in Quantity

Pronouns can replace singular nouns (one person, place, or thing) or plural nouns (two or more people, places, or things).

It’s important that the pronoun that follows the antecedent agrees with the quantity of that antecedent:

Buddy likes to swim in the lake.He likes to swim in it.

Dogs like to swim in lakes. They like to swim in them.

While Buddy is singular and can be replaced by a singular pronoun, dogs is plural and needs to be replaced by a plural pronoun.

2. Compound Subjects

Antecedents can sometimes consist of two nouns joined by a conjunction, creating a compound subject that needs to be replaced with a plural pronoun:

Jamie and Jessica read books every morning, but they had to go to school early today.

In this example, the conjunction and creates a compound subject, and the pronoun they accounts for both people in that subject.

However, if only one of the people in the compound subject had to go to school early, we can’t replace it with a pronoun:

Jamie and Jessica read books every morning, but she had to go to school early today.

Jamie and Jessica read books every morning, but Jessica had to go to school early today. ✔︎

We don’t know who she refers to in the first sentence, so we have to repeat the noun to ensure clarity.

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