Northcentral University Writing Center
Revising Unclear Pronoun Reference

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Writing Center

Revising Unclear Pronoun Reference


Writers use pronouns to provide sentence variety. Pronouns replace nouns. By definition, a pronoun refers back to the last noun used. 


                   Suzie is nice. She is my friend.


In the above example, Suzie is the last noun used, so she refers back to Suzie.


Writers frequently make unclear pronoun references during the Drafting process. During the Revising the Draft for Conventions stage, writers must work to isolate and correct these errors.


                   Suzie had fun with her dog and her friend, Amanda. She walked her in

                   the park.


In the example above, she refers back to Amanda; however, the writer intended she to refer to Suzie.  When in doubt, take the pronoun out.


                   Suzie had fun with her dog and her friend, Amanda. Suzie walked the

                   dog in the park, and Amanda went home.


The family of demonstratives (this/that/these/those/such) and the family of personal pronouns (you, we, our, he, she, it, they, his, hers, its, their (s), my, mine, him, her, them) can be utilized in an unclear fashion by a writer. This problem with usage often appears when the pronoun used lacks a noun after the pronoun. 


Adding a noun or a noun phrase after demonstrative pronouns, for example, provides clarity for the reader:


These pancakes are delicious.

Those pancakes that I had yesterday morning were even better.

This book in my hand is well written.


To ensure that the reader achieves proper understanding, the writer should make sure that each pronoun directly refers to the intended noun.


One method for ensuring clarity is to look for each pronoun and to then locate the noun that the pronoun is referring to in the text. If no noun is available, the writer must replace the pronoun with another noun which will aid in creating greater clarity for the reader.



For more information about Pronoun usage, see Revising Indefinite Pronoun Usage in the Revising the Draft for Conventions section of the NCU Writing CenterAdditionally, writers are also encouraged to visit the Writing Centers at Colorado, Purdue, and Chapel Hill.