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SPAG: Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: Pronouns

Tips to improve and correct common errors in academic and formal writing.

Him or he, I or me?

More about him or he, I or me?

Him or he, I or me?

Him, her, and me, and us are objective pronouns. Use them for the object of an action.

He, she, they, and I are subjective pronouns. Use them for the subject of an action.

Determine the correct pronoun by omitting extra nouns. "Paula told Suzi and me." becomes "Paula told me." (Almost nobody would say, "Paula told I.")

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They

More about they

The word they is not used for a generic singular pronoun in conservative, formal writing.

Words such as everyone, somebody, anyone, everybody, and either are singular. The word they is not used with them, or with nouns where the sex of the noun is not known.

Example: When someone works hard he or she (NOT they) can progress.

Re-wording the sentence to avoid the issue is usually your best choice.

Example: We all know that people can progress if they work hard.

Problematic examples:

"'Coming out of the closet' is a phrase used for someone who tells others that they are homosexual."
(Shouldn't that person let others decide for themselves? Better: "Tells others that he or she. . . )

"The parents of a teenager with depression should seriously consider whether that is the right medication for them to be on." (The parents may need meds, but the writer was talking about the teen. Better: ". . .right medication for their child to. . .")

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Pronoun referent

Pronoun referent

Pronouns must refer clearly to a plausible noun.

Pronouns refer back to the nearest noun.

Don't make your reader have to puzzle out what you have said.

Avoid the confusion of two or more possible referents for a pronoun.

Example:

When you take a hotdog, put it into a bun, and add mustard, you can eat it. (The the hot dog? Eat the bun? In this sentence you just get to lick off the mustard.)

Poor examples:

Not only is the beverage being made in front of the guest, it is expected to communicate with the customer as well. (Talking beverages? Better: ". . .,the barista is expected to communicate. . .)

If all the child wants from his or her birth parents is to know who they are, I think they have the full right to that knowledge. (Don't the parents already know who they are? Better: ". . .,I think the child has a full right. . .")

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