Country Reports


Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement (1)

A pronoun is a substitute word. Here are some common pronouns:

Now consider this example:

In this example, the word "she" is a pronoun that substitutes for "Denise". If we didn't have pronouns, we would have to repeat Denise's name.

Also, in this example, Denise is the "antecedent" of the pronoun "she". In other words, it's the thing for which "she" is substituting. (It's the thing to which the pronoun "she" refers).

Pronouns and their antecedents must always "agree." Most of the time—if you grew up speaking English—this is something you don't even have to think about. After all, you don't need me to tell you that the example on the left side is wrong.

Wrong Correct

Ben is smart. They know all the answers.

In this case, the plural pronoun "they" does not "agree" with the singular subject, Ben.

Ben is smart. He knows all the answers.

In some cases, however, even native speakers need to pay attention.

Here, for example, is a common mistake that I see in student papers:

In this case, "Jamaica" is the antecedent, and "their" is a possessive pronoun—but these words don't "agree", because countries are not people. To fix this mistake, you would have to rewrite the sentence. Here are some possibilities: