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Making Antecedents Clear

Be sure that your readers can tell what every pronoun refers to. Don’t let them be confused about the connection between a pronoun and the person, place, thing, or idea that it represents.

The word that a pronoun refers to is called the pronoun’s antecedent.

Often, confusion results when a pronoun has no clear antecedent, as in the following example:

We looked at every car dealership in town, but couldn’t find one that we could afford.

The reader of that sentence is likely to wonder whether the writer was looking for one car or one dealership to buy. The best way to revise the sentence is to replace the unclear pronoun with a clear noun:

We looked at every car dealership in town, but couldn’t find a car that we could afford.

Confusion also often results from using a pronoun to refer to a possessive word, as in the following example:

In a survey of residents’ attitudes, they didn’t seem to favor the mayor’s proposal.

The writer wants they to refer to residents, but in the sentence as written they can only refer to attitudes. Again, the best way to revise the sentence is to replace the unclear pronoun with a clear noun:

In a survey, residents didn’t seem to favor the mayor’s proposal.

 

Quick Check  
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Which sentence is clearer?

Andrea went to several shoe stores, but couldn’t decide which she wanted.
Andrea went to several shoe stores, but couldn’t decide which shoes she wanted.






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