Issues with pronoun agreement and pronoun references are common struggles for many beginning writers, but these problems are easy to correct once you realize the issue and just pay close attention to the pronouns you’re using in your writing.
Pronoun Agreement Errors
Pronoun agreement errors can occur when the pronoun you are using to “stand in” for a noun does not agree with that noun in number, place, or gender.
Using the singular pronoun her does agree with Clara.
In the above sentence, Clara is the noun and her is the pronoun that agrees with Clara.
There are some exceptions to this rule. It is possible for the singular pronoun they to refer to a single person. If you were writing about a person who identifies as non-binary, for example, then it would be correct to use the singular they in your sentence.
You can also use the singular they to denote a person in general in a hypothetical situation. For example, you may see something like this:
According to the most recent MLA and APA style guidelines, this is correct. However, according to CMOS, the sentence should be rewritten.
You could rewrite it like this:
Here is another example.
Rewritten with the singular they:
Rewritten with a plural subject and plural pronoun:
Rewritten without pronouns:
When in doubt, it is always safe to choose a plural subject so that the pronoun they flows more smoothly (and will be correct in number according to all style guides).
Some of these pronoun rules are new, and grammar rules change as times change. Pay careful attention to pronouns in your writing.
Pronoun Reference Errors
Pronoun reference errors can also be problems for beginning writers because it’s so easy to get in a hurry when you write and forget that you need to think about how clear your writing will be for your audience.
A common pronoun reference error occurs when students write about several different people or things and then use a pronoun later like she or it, but the audience has no idea what she or it refers to.
Here is a simple example to give you an idea about what a pronoun reference error looks like:
Here, the audience wouldn’t be sure which person the writer is referring to. Is it the mother or the aunt?
You want to be careful with your writing and make sure you’re clear and correct with your pronouns. Most of the time, slowing yourself down and working on some careful editing will reveal problems like these which can be easily corrected.