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 tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit.
PRONOUNS & ANTECEDENTS
A pronoun (I, me, mine, myself, he, she, him, her, his, hers, himself, herself, we, us, our, ours, ourselves, who, whose, etc.) refers to a noun that usually occurs earlier in the text. The word for which the pronoun stands is called its antecedent. The antecedent may occur in the same sentence or in a previous sentence. For example: “The boy threw the football. He threw it over the fence.” Boy is the antecedent for he, and football is the antecedent for it.
There are many guidelines pertaining to pronouns. Here are a few:
- A pronoun must agree in number with the noun to which it refers. If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must also be singular. When we speak, we often use “they” to refer to a single person or thing; however, this should be avoided in all but the most casual writing. For example, “Someone left their gym bag on the floor” should be “Someone left his gym bag on the floor.” (Exception: For dialogue or internal thought, you may wish to intentionally show fictional or true characters using improper grammar to fit their personalities.)
Note: The need for pronoun-antecedent agreement can sometimes create gender problems. If you write, “A student must see his counselor before the end of the semester,” female students may feel left out. Using “his or her” in multiple instances can get wordy. One alternative is to pluralize. For example: “Students must see their counselors before the end of the semester.” (Note: Unless all students will see only one counselor, pluralize counselor.)
- Avoid ambiguity. If you write, “They say caffeine is bad for you,” make sure you have identified, immediately prior to this sentence, who “they” and “you” are.
- Don’t allow too much space between the pronoun and its antecedent. If you refer to Joe in the first sentence of a paragraph, and use him to refer to Joe throughout that paragraph, and Joe is the only male in that paragraph, there should be no problem. But if there are two males in the paragraph, or if you’ve written several sentences since you used Joe’s name, find a good place to use the noun again.
- The pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one, and nobody are singular. The same is true of either and neither. Therefore, they need the singular versions of verbs.
- When you combine a pronoun with another person’s name, following proper rules of grammar may create something that doesn’t sound right. For example, “The publisher sent my coauthor and I on a book tour” may sound like proper grammar, but it’s not. When in doubt about which pronoun to use, take out the other person’s name and the and. You wouldn’t say, “The publisher sent I on a book tour.”
- Except in dialogue, avoid using it without an antecedent. Examples: “It’s warm out today.” “It’s common knowledge . . .” “It’ll be a cold day in Africa before I . . .”
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 Connection 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.
And when you’re ready to proofread your manuscript, consider getting a copy of my book Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. It reveals how multi-published authors proofread their manuscripts to avoid typos, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
If you read or write fiction, check out my new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series! The second book, 21 Days of Christmas, just released September 1. The first book, 21 Days of Grace, released June 1. Both books are available in bookstores and online. For more details, visit www.FictionDevo.com.