Antecedent? Say What?

Ant and pencil-cropped

Antecedents??? Would you believe I got an A in English in high school. And unless I look it up, I can’t recall the definition of an antecedent. In my defense English class was over forty years ago. And as I said in a previous post, I tend to go with what sounds right. My husband on the other hand can still recall most English rules. Why? Because he’s weird that way. He can recall Spanish grammar rules, as well. Which only goes to show that unlike Algebra we do use grammar in everyday life. And like Algebra if you can’t remember the rules, you can make huge mistakes.

So, let’s review pronoun and antecedents use. And again because I admire Joyce K. Ellis’ grammar prowess, I’ll be referring to her booklet 8 Hidden Hazards of Grammar: Lessons for authors on the snags of the English language.

Let’s state the obvious first. Why? Because, as I said, a few of us out there are term illiterate.

Pronouns are used in place of nouns. (e.g., I, me, he, him, she, her, it, they, them)

The antecedent is the reference point for the pronoun. The word antecedent comes from antecede, synonym for precede. So look for the noun that precedes the pronoun. That noun must match the pronoun.

The pronoun and antecedent must agree in number (singular or plural), gender (male or female) and person (first/second/third.)

Here’s where I quote examples from Joyce’s booklet.

Agreeing in number. A plural antecedent needs a plural pronoun, and singles need singles.

Conflicting: Every conferee (singular) complained about their (plural) lack of time to write.

Better: Every conferee complained about his or her lack of time…

Less cumbersome (both plural): All the conferees complained about their lack of time…

Agreeing in gender: Make sure the gender of the pronoun matches the gender of the antecedent:

Not right: Nick maintained his yacht (antecedent) meticulously, polishing her (feminine pronoun) brass railings and waxing its (neutral pronoun) newly painted deck.

We need consistent pronouns. Since a yacht is referred to as a she, polishing her is correct but we also need to wax her.

Agreeing in “person.” Remain consistent, referring to first person (me, my) second person (you), or third person (he, him, they, them):

Incorrect: When writers (third person) work hard and keep getting rejection slips, we (first person) can get discouraged.

Correct: When writers work hard…they can get discouraged.

Also correct: When we work hard…we can get discouraged.

Again the greater the distance between pronoun and antecedent, the more likely we’ll make an “agreement” error.

Bottom line: Make sure your pronouns and their antecedents “get along.”

You know the drill. Go back to your manuscript to be sure your pronoun and antecedent are in agreement.

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