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Pronouns - Clarity

This resource was written by Tony Cimasko.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on May 5, 2010 .


These resources provide guidelines and a practice activity for using pronouns in your writing. This page deals with clarity.

Pronouns are those short labels that allow you to re-identify a person or thing efficiently, without having to use the original name of the person or thing repeatedly.  Using them effectively takes a bit of practice, however, in order to avoid common problems.  This handout will give a brief overview of pronouns and of common problems associated with their use, along with a practice activity.

This is a comprehensive list of English pronouns, divided into three categories:

In addition to simply standing in for nouns, a number of pronouns—that, who, whom, whose, which, where, when, why—can be used to build larger sentences out of smaller ones:


Clarity is one of the most challenging issues involving pronoun use, and it comes in several forms.  There are problems of specificity, in which the particular person or thing being referenced isn’t clear.  In following example, who is “her”?  Who is “she”?

Re-read your writing to make sure that your pronouns refer only to the person or thing you intend.  If it is unclear, it often means there are too many competing nouns.  In such cases, switch back to a noun.

Occasionally, writers will unintentionally switch the person of the pronoun.  In this example, the writer begins by referring to Yasuo in the third person (“he”), but then switches to the second person (“you”):

Writers will occasionally unintentionally confuse quantities, as in this example of a single thing:

To avoid these issues, make sure that you use pronouns consistently.

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