Tips from the Professor

Most beginning writers have a pretty good sense of correct pronoun usage, but a good editing strategy will help you make sure you have not missed any issues with pronoun agreement or pronoun reference.

One strategy is to edit your writing one time, just looking at pronouns, in addition to other editing passes. If you have had trouble with pronouns in the past, you should circle all of your pronouns and ask yourself questions about their purpose and what they refer to.

In this video, the Grammar Professor will review common issues writers have with pronouns.

Video Transcript


Student: I keep getting the phrase “pronoun agreement” marked on my papers. What does this mean?

Professor: One of the most common errors students make related to pronouns is using pronouns that do not agree in number with the nouns they are replacing. The biggest problem occurs when students use a singular noun but mean that noun to represent a group of people in general. Then, when they need a pronoun, they use a plural pronoun. Even though students use a singular noun, they have something plural in mind, and the problems begin.

Student: That sounds familiar. Can you give me an example?

Professor: Here is an example:

The next time a student has to buy their books in the bookstore, they should ask for a discount.

In this instance, “a student” is singular, but “their” and “they” are plural pronouns.

Student: Yeah, I think I do that a lot. I talk that way and just forget to pay close attention when I am writing. What can I do to correct this issue?

Professor: There are options on how this problem can be corrected, but the simplest correction is to use “students” instead of “a student.”

Your pronouns and nouns must agree in number, so you have to remember to pay close attention to them when you edit.

This presentation was brought to you by the Excelsior Online Writing Lab.

NOTE: Because the use of the singular they is new, you may find some people who disagree, but most academics now agree that the singular they is correct. Please always refer to your style guide, as some style guides still recommend not using the singular they.

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