Clear or Unclear Pronoun Usage

WRITTEN January 22, 2015 Author: Rich Atkins

pronounsPronouns refer to other words (called “antecedents”). The “other word” needs to be very clear to the audience before you can use a pronoun to refer to it. How do you think your pronoun usage is these days?

Check out these examples of pronoun usage:

Confusing: Michael’s manager said that he will attend the meeting. [Who will attend, Michael, or his manager?]

Confusing: I spoke to the client and shipping provider. They don’t know if it will work. She voiced some concerns about cost again.

Confusing: The new report indicates a serious problem, but it is unclear. [Is the report unclear or is the problem unclear?]

Clear: The new report indicates a serious problem, but the report is not clear about the problem.

Confusing: This man told me how to fix the copier. [Who is thisman?]

Clear: The copier repairman told me how to fix the copier. This man told me that the toner was empty.

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Pronoun Reference Shift

Be careful of shifting reference when using pronouns.

Here are three examples of Pronoun Reference Shift:

A contestant on a television show was telling his medical story, saying, “The doctors found out that I have virus that shuts down all of your organs.” [It must be a POWERFUL virus if it can shut down someone else’s organs!]

CEOs discovered that you don’t need special equipment for the job. [Did THEY discover what YOU do/don’t need?]

When we worked with her, we found out that you could ask her anything. [Did WE find out what YOU could ask her?]

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