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Grammar: Noun-Pronoun Agreement

Noun-Pronoun Agreement Basics

The purpose of a pronoun is to take the place or refer back to a noun in a sentence. Just like subjects and verbs, nouns and pronouns should agree in number within a sentence.

Singular Noun, Singular Pronoun

When writing a sentence, using the same word more than once can get repetitive.

Example: When an individual is sick, the individual should call a doctor.

Rather than repeating individual twice, we could use a pronoun.

Example: When an individual is sick, he or she should call a doctor.

Since individual is singular (there is only one), use a singular pronoun (he, she) to replace it.

Plural Noun, Plural Pronoun

What would happen if we made the subject of our sentence plural?

Example: When individuals are sick, individuals should call a doctor.

Now, since individuals is plural, we should choose a plural pronoun to replace it:

Example: When individualsare sick, they should call a doctor.

Multiple Singular Nouns, Plural Pronoun

Finally, if there are multiple single subjects, we must use a plural pronoun:

Example: When a supervisor and an employee are sick, they should call a doctor.

Pronoun Ambiguity

While pronouns are useful to help writers avoid repetition, pronouns should be used sparingly to keep the meaning of the sentence clear.  Take a look at this sentence:

Example: When Jeff and Brian joined the team members, they were scared.

The pronoun here (they) is unclear--to whom does it refer? Was the team scared? Were Jeff and Brian scared? Because the pronoun they is ambiguous, choosing a noun rather than a pronoun will help with clarity.

Example:When Jeff and Brian joined the team members, the team members were scared.

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