Clear or Unclear Pronoun Usage

WRITTEN January 22, 2015 Author: Rich Atkins

Pronouns 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.


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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