Pronoun Reference
Definition

When a pronoun lacks a clear and explicit antecedent, you have a pronoun reference error. Below are a few problems that create pronoun reference errors.

The logical antecedent is vague or is missing from the sentence.
Look at the following examples:

  • They said at the bank that my account was overdrawn.

    The pronoun they has no antecedent, so the reader doesn't know who they are. In this case, a noun needs to be substituted for the pronoun:

    Correction: The teller at the bank said that my account was overdrawn.

  • It says in this book that a katydid is a kind of grasshopper.

    Although the reader understands that the pronoun it probably refers to the book, the antecedent is unclear. Reduce wordiness by specifying the noun rather than using a pronoun:

    Correction: This book says that a katydid is a kind of grasshopper.

  • Susan has changed her major twice this semester. This might mean she is unsure of her career goal.

    Try to draw an arrow from the pronoun this to its logical antecedent. The sentence does not contain a noun which equals this, so the pronoun has no explicit antecedent.

    Correction: The sentence should specify that this change or this fact suggests Susan's uncertainty.

  • After interviewing several nurses, I realized that it was not the career for me.

    The pronoun it refers to nursing--a word which never appears in the sentence. Revise the sentence by replacing the pronoun with a noun:

    Correction: After interviewing several nurses, I realized that nursing was not the career for me.

  • The antecedent is not a noun or noun phrase
    Look at the following example:

    • The team's poor sportsmanship made all of them look like whiners.

      The pronoun them is trying to refer to the members of the team. However, neither the word team nor the word members is used in the sentence. Instead, the possessive form team's is used. A possessive antecedent may be used only for a possessive pronoun.

      Correction: The team's poor sportsmanship made all of its members look like whiners.