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Avoiding Confusion With Pronouns

Look at these sentences:

The members of the parliament and their wives were present at the party, and most of them were visibly under the influence.
In order to improve their prowess, amateur actors were cast alongside professionals, and they looked slightly offended.
Tom and his brother are in the same company, and he is doing better.

All these sentences have at least two main nouns and one pronoun, which arouses confusion as to which it is referring to. This article will help you think more of your readers in order to avoid confusion in sentences involving pronouns.

Pronoun Agreement

Every pronoun refers to one noun, which may have been referenced in the same sentence or anyone preceding it. The pronoun should always agree with the noun. Pronouns like anyone, every, each, none, etc., are singular, while they, these, all, etc., are always plural. Check out these sentences:

Jenny's friends were home, and they were excited (clearly, they refers to Jenny's friends).
Jenny's friends were home, and she was excited (clearly refers Jenny).
Matt and his brother were learning new technologies, and they were finding it rather difficult (referring to both of them).

Due to this rule, the following sentences are wrong as they don't agree:

Tom and Matt are good friends, and he was so all his life.
Everyone was pleased at their achievement.
All of Joe's friends got his share of entertainment.

You see that each sentence uses a different type of pronoun than the original noun. They should be corrected as:

Tom and Matt are good friends, and they were so all their life.
Everyone was pleased at his/her achievement.
All of Joe's friends got their share of entertainment.

Rewrite Long Sentences

Pronouns involved in longer sentences often confuse the readers. Here are a few of such examples:

Joe's neighbor Matt's wife was rather agreeable to his wife, though she was not quite fond of her or he was not taking any interest in Joe or his (own) wife.

This sentence involves only confusion. Note that 'own' in parenthesis. It, if used, would look like referring to Matt's wife, while, when not used, would look like Joe's wife. When sentences turn to such confusion, it is always better to rewrite them.


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