Nothing makes writing look amateurish and unprofessional like basic sentence errors. This week we look at errors in pronoun-antecedent agreement and subject-verb agreement.
First, let’s define some terms. A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun (or noun phrase). An antecedent is the noun (or noun phrase) it stands in for. Pronouns and antecedents must agree in number, person, and gender.
Number: Use singular pronouns for singular antecedents and plural pronouns for plural antecedents.
- Everyone on the committee took his or her [not their] seat.
- All the committee members cast their [not his or her] vote.
Person: Pronouns may be first person, referring to the speaker(s), second person, referring to the listener(s), or third person, referring to something being spoken about. Always match the person of the pronoun to its antecedent.
- Survey responders are asked to include an email address with their [not your] submissions.
Gender: Pronouns may be masculine (he, his, etc.), feminine (she, hers, etc.), or neutral (it, its). Make sure to match the correct gender between pronoun and antecedent.
- The tugboat broke loose from its (not her) moorings.
For more information about pronoun-antecedent agreement, see pages 325-326 in Write for Business and pages 366-367 in Write for Work.
The verb of a sentence must agree with the subject in number (singular or plural). Here are two basic examples.
- Our manager happily agrees to order pizza for everyone. (singular subject and verb)
- We certainly agree about that great idea. (plural subject and verb)
Many things can make subject-verb agreement a bit tricky. Here are three examples.
- Two subjects joined with and call for a plural verb.
- When two subjects are joined with or, the verb must match the last subject.
- Collective nouns (class, family, team, and so on) may be singular or plural, depending upon how they are used.
See pages 323-324 in Write for Business or 363-365 in Write for Work for more explanations and examples.