A pronoun antecedent agreement is a rule of grammar which must be adhered to in order to form meaningful sentences which are grammatically correct. There are two parts, as the name suggests, to this rule of grammar. These are:
- The pronoun: A pronoun in a sentence is the word that is used to refer to a noun which has already been used in the sentence. Common pronouns used in the English language are he, his, him, she, her, it, them, their, they.
- The antecedent: The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun to which the pronoun refers. For example, in the sentence “John has a ball. He likes to play with it”, the pronoun he corresponds to the antecedent John.
There are some rules which need to be followed in order to achieve pronoun antecedent agreement. These rules have become codified and are usually introduced to early earners of English grammar in order to enable them to form correct sentences without making mistakes. Errors in pronoun antecedent agreement are extremely common. The rules of pronoun antecedent agreement are as follows:
- The indefinite pronouns either, neither, anybody, somebody, everybody, nobody, no one, anyone, everyone are always singular. Hence they are followed by singular pronouns like he, she, it. Despite words like everybodyand everyone seeming to include more than one person, they take the singular ending. This must be carefully remembered as it is a common error even in seasoned writers.
- In order to avoid gender problems created in a sentence like “The worker must be aware of his limitations”, when there are also female workers in the question, the plural pronoun can be used. For example, the sentence above can be rewritten as “The workers must be aware of their limitations” which eschews the need for gendered pronouns.
- Modern usage of the language is much more flexible and hence it is permissible to use a singular antecedent like somebody with a plural pronoun like their. For example, a sentence which reads “Somebody has lost their phone” will be accepted in certain cases especially where the reader concerned is not fastidious.
- The easiest way of reconciling the usage of pronouns like who, whomever, whoever, whose etc. is to remember the subject they are referring to. If the subject is singular, the pronouns will take singular number and a singular verb. This is codified in another set of rules known as the agreement of the verb with the subject.