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    Entries in Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement (1)


    Indefinite Pronouns

    Pronoun and antecedent agreement can be a sticky issue for many writers, and it is one of the most common errors I run into when editing. To refresh your memory, a pronoun is a word like he, she, they, etc. An antecedent is the word the pronoun refers to. For example, in the sentence, "The girl thought her editor was awesome," "her" is the pronoun, and "girl" is the antecedent. What I mean by agreement is that the pronoun has to agree with the antecedent in number (singular or plural) and in gender. We wouldn't write, "The girl thought his editor was awesome," or "The girl thought their editor was awesome." Sounds simple enough, right?

    Well, things start to get more complicated when you run into words like "everyone" and "anybody," which are indefinite pronouns. Everyone often seems like it should be plural, but it is actually singular. Take the following sentence as an example: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." It sounds right to most ears, but it should actually be, "Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion."

    People often want to use "their" in situations like this, because it avoids gender bias (which means using "he" and "his" all the time). Unfortunately, their is plural, so it can be used in a singular way. There is no neuter pronoun in English (if only we spoke German!), so it can get complicated. "His or her" can be very unwieldy and awkward to use, and I personally prefer to avoid it if possible. So what's a writer to do? Usually the problem can be avoided if the sentence is reworded a little bit. For example, you can replace, "Everyone should give his or her editor some ice cream," to "Authors should give their editors ice cream." A good editor can help you iron out this issue and give suggestions about when and how to reword a sentence.

    For those of you who are still confused, take a look at these lists for future reference.

    Singular Indefinite Pronouns

    • Anyone
    • Anybody
    • Anything
    • Each
    • Everyone
    • Everybody
    • Everything
    • Another
    • Neither
    • No one
    • Nobody
    • Nothing
    • One
    • Either
    • Someone
    • Somebody
    • Something

    Plural Indefinite Pronouns

    • Both
    • Few
    • Fewer
    • Many
    • Others
    • Several

    Indefinite Pronouns that Can Be Singular or Plural

    • Any
    • All
    • More
    • Most
    • None
    • Some
    • Such