Hi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about “PUGS”–Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling … tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit. These are excerpts from my new book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, which reveal how multi-published authors proofread their manuscripts to avoid typos, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and PUGS errors. (The book is available from Amazon.) If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor (or know someone who is), e-mail me through the contact page of my website. Or go to the Christian Editor Network to get referrals to other established, professional editorial freelancers. If you’re a freelance editor yourself, or think you might be interested in that field, check out The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network.
The antecedent is the noun to which a pronoun refers. The antecedent may appear in the same sentence as the pronoun or in an earlier one; occasionally, it comes after.
There are some pronoun-antecedent rules to watch for in your writing. I’ll share the first three rules this month and the last three rules next month.
1. Make sure that every pronoun you use has an antecedent.
Amanda said she was going to the store. (She refers to Amanda.)
Exception: The pronouns it and who can sometimes stand alone.
It’s a beautiful day.
It’s going to rain.
Who was at the door?
However, avoid using it when the antecedent could be confusing.
For example, don’t just write, “In Romans 3, it says …”
Instead, write, “Romans 3 says …” Or “In the Bible, Romans 3 says …” (although that introductory phrase isn’t necessary unless you think your readers might not know that Romans is in the Bible)
2. Don’t start a new chapter or section with a pronoun.
If you open with “He pulled out a gun and aimed it at her head,” your reader will have no idea who these characters are.
Chapter and section breaks often indicate a change in time, place, and/or point of view, so your reader cannot assume that the people referred to in the new chapter/section are the same ones talked about in the last one.
Note: If you’re writing a suspense novel, you may want to keep the identity of a character a mystery. This is tricky, but can be done if you know what you’re doing. Even so, it is better to use “the man” (or better yet, something more descriptive like “the skittish foreigner”) instead of “he” at the beginning of a chapter or new section.
3. Don’t confuse the reader with references that are unclear or ambiguous.
When Lori and Jan entered the room, Maddison noticed her right away.
Which woman did Maddison notice?