Some questions will ask you to correct errors in pronoun reference. This section reviews pronouns and discusses some of the common errors writers make when using them.
A pronoun replaces a noun. We call the word being replaced by the pronoun the antecedent. In the following sentence, keys is the antecedent (the noun that is being replaced), and them is the pronoun that replaces keys.
- Jenny lost her keys. Seth helped look for them.
In the example above, them replaces an object. Therefore, it is an object pronoun. Sometimes, a pronoun replaces a subject instead of an object. These pronouns are called subject pronouns. In the following example, Seth is the antecedent, and he is the subject pronoun that replaces it.
- Seth couldn’t find the keys. He looked all over the house.
A third type of pronoun is a possessive pronoun. These pronouns replace possessive nouns. In the following example, Jenny’s is the antecedent, and her is the possessive pronoun that replaces it.
Jenny’s keys may turn up. Her keys go missing all the time.
In sum, the three types of pronouns are:
1. Subject Pronouns: these pronouns replace subjects
- he or she
2. Object Pronouns: these pronouns replace objects
3. Possessive Pronouns: these pronouns replace possessive nouns and show ownership
- my, mine
- your, yours,
- her, hers
- their, theirs
There are a few common errors writers make when using pronouns. Review the following common errors and pronoun guidelines below so you can correct these problems on the multiple-choice questions when you sit for the GED examination.
Be careful with compound subjects. You might have had in the past a teacher who corrected you for saying something like, “My dad and me went to the store” (most of us have). The reason that this is incorrect is that My dad and me is the subject of the sentence, not the object; thus, the subject pronoun I is required instead of the object pronoun me. Look at the examples below to further understand this guideline.
Example 1: Compound Subject
INCORRECT: Lauren and her went to the principal’s office.
CORRECT: Lauren and she went to the principal’s office.
Example 2: Compound Object
INCORRECT: I told Matt and he they should get along better.
CORRECT: I told Matt and him they should get along better.
Be careful to match antecedents and pronouns according to number. This means that if an antecedent is a singular noun, its pronoun will also be singular; if an antecedent is a plural noun, its pronoun will also be plural.
INCORRECT: Any participant running in the marathon should bring their shoes.
CORRECT (Option 1): Any participant running in the marathon should bring his or her shoes.
CORRECT (Option 2): Participants running in the marathon should bring their shoes.
Be careful to match antecedents and pronouns according to person. This means that if an antecedent is in the first person, the pronoun must also be in the first person. If an antecedent is in the second person, the pronoun must also be in the second person. If an antecedent is in the third person, the pronoun must be in the third person.
INCORRECT: If people eat too much, you get sick.
CORRECT: If people eat too much, they get sick.
Writers often forget that one is a third-person noun. When they forget this, they use one and you together, even though you is actually a second-person pronoun. There are a few ways to correct this error. See the example below.
INCORRECT: If one eats too much, you get sick.
CORRECT (Option 1): If one eats too much, one gets sick.
CORRECT (Option 2): If one eats too much, he or she gets sick.
CORRECT (Option 3): If you eat too much, you get sick.
Make sure that the antecedent of the pronoun is clear. In conversation and informal writing, we often use pronouns casually and assume our listeners/readers will understand us. While people can figure out what our pronouns refer to based on context, it is important to use pronouns carefully. You should construct sentences that contain clear relationships between the antecedent and its pronoun. See the example sentences and their revisions below.
UNCLEAR: Rachel went running with Melanie, and she beat her time by five minutes.
In this example, it’s unclear whose time is best. After you read this sentence, you may be confused about the faster runner. The following revision is one option for clarifying the sentence.
CLEAR: Rachel went running with Melanie and beat Melanie’s time by five minutes.
In this revision, we’ve simply removed the pronouns, leaving beat as a verb that goes with Rachel and replacing her with Melanie’s.
UNCLEAR: My mother, sister, and I go to the Mother’s Day brunch every year. She really enjoys spending time with us.
Based on assumptions about family and Mother’s Day, a reader might assume that the she in the second sentence refers to mother and the us refers to sister and I. However, the sentence is unclear. From the way the sentence is written, it’s possible that she refers to sister and us refers to my mother…and I.
CLEAR: My mother, sister, and I go to the Mother’s Day brunch every year. My mother really enjoys spending time with us.
In this revision, we’ve replaced one pronoun—she—with a noun. We’ve left us the same, since it is now clear that us refers to the two sisters.
Pronoun exercise 1
In the sentences below, decide whether the pronoun (underlined) is a subject, object, or possessive pronoun. Also, identify the pronoun’s antecedent (the word it replaces).
- I couldn’t find my coffee mug this morning. I bet Henry took it.
- Henry needs to get his own coffee mug. He is always taking mine.
- A lot of people in the office buy coffee at Starbucks, but it was closed today.
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Pronoun exercise 2
The following sentences contain pronoun errors. Identify the errors and correct them.
My mother gave ten dollars to my sister and I.
Him and Mitch went to the video store to pick a movie.
Anyone running in the marathon should remember to bring their shoes.
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For more information about usage, please visit these OWL resources: