Pronouns - 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:
- Pronouns as sentence subjects: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who.
- Pronouns as sentence objects: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom.
- Pronouns of possession: my (mine), your (yours), his, her (hers), it (its), our (ours), their (theirs), whose
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:
- Sanita is the district manager for Wholesome Foods. She will arrive at 9:30 tomorrow morning.
- Sanita, who is the district manager for Wholesome Foods, will arrive at 9:30 tomorrow morning.
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”?
- Unclear: Clarice was going through some files with Sophia in her office. Suddenly, she started yelling.
- Clear: Clarice was going through some files with Sophia in Clarice’s office. Suddenly, Clarice started yelling.
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”):
- Confused: Yasuo distributed the semester paper guidelines a month in advance, because he wanted everyone to value time. However, you omitted to say how long you wanted the final paper to be.
- Clear: Yasuo distributed the semester paper guidelines a month in advance, because he wanted everyone to value time. However, he omitted to say how long he wanted the final paper to be.
Writers will occasionally unintentionally confuse quantities, as in this example of a single thing:
- Confused: The extra case of flour arrived this morning. The bakers are already using them.
- Clear: The extra case of flour arrived this morning. The bakers are already using it.
To avoid these issues, make sure that you use pronouns consistently.