Trying to figure out how to use pronouns correctly? We at Writer’s Relief want to make it easy for you. The basic grammar rule governing pronoun agreement is that pronouns must agree with the word or words they refer to in both number and gender.
Simply put, agreeing in number means that if the word is plural, the pronoun should also be plural; if the word is singular, the pronoun should be singular as well. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
1. The man in the blue suit pushed his way through the train’s closing doors. (The singular pronoun his agrees with the singular noun man.)
2. When the final bell rang, the children ran to their school buses. (The plural pronoun their agrees with the plural noun children.)
Now let’s look at gender agreement. Agreement in gender simply means that if the word is feminine (like the name Alice), the pronoun should be feminine, and if the word is masculine (like the word boy), the pronoun should be masculine. If the word has no gender (like the word chair), the pronoun should also be genderless (it, its, they, their).
In the examples above not only do the pronouns agree in number, but they agree in gender as well. In the first sentence the pronoun his agrees with the masculine noun man, and in the second sentence, their is the appropriate pronoun since the plural noun children can refer to a group of boys, girls, or a mix of boys and girls.
Here are a few more examples:
3. The trees lost their leaves at the same time each year. (The plural pronoun their agrees with the genderless noun trees.)
4. Rachel always insists on watching her family’s home movies. (The singular pronoun her agrees with the feminine noun Rachel.)
5. The jury reached its verdict. (The singular pronoun its agrees with the genderless singular noun jury. Note: Jury is a collective noun, a noun that is considered to be singular even though it refers to a group of people or things. Other collective nouns include team, committee, and class.)
Easy, right? Well, as with everything in English grammar, some sentences create tricky pronoun situations. Just remember the following rules, and you’ll never have a problem with pronoun agreement.
1. Pronouns that are always singular include anybody, anyone, anything, each, each one, either, every, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, somebody, someone, and something.
Example: Each of the boys passed his math test.
2. Pronouns that are always plural include many, few, several, and both.
Example: Many of the poets at the conference read their new poems.
3. Pronouns that can be either singular or plural, depending on the noun they refer to, include all, none, any, some, more, and most.
Example: Some of the participants brought their lunch. (In this sentence the pronoun some refers to the plural noun participants, so the plural pronoun their is correct.)
Example: Some of Jill’s poetry has been published, and it is available in the local bookstore. (Here some refers to the singular noun poetry, so the singular pronoun it is correct.)
Understanding and using these basic rules will help you to write sentences in which the pronouns always agree. Now if only we could say the same about people!
Still not sure that your pronouns are in agreement? Contact Writer’s Relief.
I would also add that the terms such as anyone, someone, and everyone are singular and do not agree with the pronoun they. The usage of his or her, or he or she, is clumsy but apparently more politically correct than he as was common in the past.
Example, "If anyone wants to go to the movies, all he needs to do is ask." Not, "If anyone wants to go to the movies, all they need to do is ask."
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What about gender neutral pronouns they and them?
Merriam-Webster recently added the non-binary “They” to the dictionary: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/17/us/merriam-webster-nonbinary-pronoun-they-trnd/index.html