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pronoun

Consistent pronouns

Mixing pronouns is a little like mixing drinks – both can lead to a fuzzy head!

Pronouns

Common pronouns such as we, us, they, he, she and our

Some common pronouns that make writing (and reading) English much easier.

Just as a reminder, a pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun. So ‘he’ replace’ John’ and ‘her’ replaces ‘Suzie’s’, and so on.

Pronouns are useful for

  • making writing shorter and clearer (it takes less to write ‘they’ than ‘John, Mary, Chuan and Connor’ for example)
  • avoiding repetition of the noun (compare ‘Joe rode Joe’s bike until Joe felt too tired’ and ‘Joe rode his bike until he felt too tired’)
  • provide emphasis towards one noun (such as ‘The teacher herself missed the error in that question’). Mind you, this is a somewhat old fashioned way to write and I don’t recommend its use in business writing.

There are different pronouns depending on gender and whether the noun is plural or singular.

Use pronouns consistently

When using pronouns, make sure you maintain the same or matching pronoun throughout a sentence and paragraph.

I recently read

For more details about {our product}, contact us on 1234 5678 or visit their website.

The writer swaps from being part of the company (by using ‘us’) to being external to the company (by using ‘their’). Which is jarring and somewhat confusing.

If in doubt about which pronoun to use, swap in the correct noun and make sure the sentence makes sense.

Or make a conscious choice about the type of pronoun (such as if your business uses me or we, us or it), put it into your style guide and stick to it.

Do you have any trouble with pronouns? Have you ever checked the pronoun use on your website is consistent?

Singular indefinite pronouns

Although it sounds simple, plural and singular words are not always placed with the appropriate version of a verb. While many people understand what to do for she, we and they, it gets harder for indefinite pronouns (those which refer to something not specific).

The following indefinite pronouns are always singular, even though they might, by implication, suggest many people:

another, anybody, anyone, each, either, every, everybody, everyone,
neither, nobody, no one, one, somebody, someone
Anything is possible in your dreams.
Everybody comes in the front door.

There are a few indefinite pronouns that may be singular or plural, depending on their use. They are:

any, all, none, more, most, some
All of us are running late. All is not lost.
None is more important than honesty. None of those books are mine.

He isn’t a good start

 As much as possible, avoid starting any sentence with a pronoun*. Sometimes the pronoun will clearly refer to one person, but often the pronoun is confusing so it is safest to avoid it.

I recently read the following in a book: “As Linda came back into the room, she saw Claire was back from lunch. She smiled at Marie then called Bill.” The question is, who smiled at Marie and rang Bill? The author meant Linda but grammatically the ‘she’ of the second sentence is Claire.

In business writing, that sort of confusion could lead to misunderstandings about who was to do certain tasks, or just annoy the reader so they will take their business elsewhere. Use a name or title to start a sentence for clarity.

 

*For the sake of clear communication, a pronoun is a word that can be used instead of a noun – for example, she, he and it are common pronouns.