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Schemata: Student Essays Across the Curriculum
Rules for Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
Nouns joined by and are treated as plural.
Ex: The player
the coach decided
When nouns are joined by or, the pronoun agrees with the closest noun.
Ex: The mother or the
were able to complete
The daughters or the
was able to complete
Collective nouns such as them take the singular if they are acting as a unit and the plural if they are acting as individuals.
Ex: The team (as individuals) decide today if they want to strike.
The team (as a group) won its first game.
Special Singular Antecedents: Each of these constructions is considered singular. Any pronoun that refers to them must be singular.
of the choices has
of the students had
his or her
test paper corrected.
of the bracelets was missing from
of the saleswomen received
Indefinite Pronouns can be singular, plural or both. Just refer to the following lists to make sure your agreement is correct.
Each of these pronouns is singular: One way to remember is to think of body and one as singular.
book on the bus.
should leave with
Each of these indefinite pronouns is plural:
of the boys lost
keys to the room.
The following pronouns can be singular or plural, depending on the noun or pronoun they refer to:
of the candy is out of
box. (candy is singular)
of the reports are in
folders. (reports is plural)
of the historic house is in
of the visitors found
Special Rules for Pronoun Case
Personal pronouns take different forms depending on how they are used in the sentence. They can be subjects, objects of verbs, objects of prepositions, or possessive.
he, she, it
him, her, it
his, her (hers), its (NOT it's)
likes to fish. (subject)
on television. (object of verb)
Please give this message to
. (object of preposition)
The first house on the left is
Case in Compound Constructions
Compound constructions are those which have two nouns, two pronouns, or a noun and a pronoun. Sometimes the extra noun or pronoun makes the sentence "sound" right when it is not. Always check that you are using the correct pronoun by dropping the other words from the compound.
Johnny and I
went to the grocery store. (subjects)
Johnny and me
might "sound" right, if you drop Johnny and from the sentence, you will "hear" that
Me went to the grocery store is wrong
Ex: He returned the packages to Barbara and
(object of preposition to).
Just between you and
, I think that was a terrible movie (object of preposition between).
Barbara trusted Carl and
to do the work (object of verb trust).
Pronoun Case in Comparisons
Pronouns that complete comparisons, such as the word
in the phrase
he is stronger than I
, may be in any case. The best way to decide which case is needed is to "complete" the sentence.
Ex: His son is as stubborn as
(is). (subject of verb)
If you add the word is to complete the sentence, you know that you need he and not him in the comparison because you would not say him is.
Ex: The budget revisions will affect you more than (they will affect)
. (object of verb)
Here you needed to add the words
they will affect
to complete the sentence.
Notice that the meaning of the following sentence changes depending on the pronoun used to complete it. If you make a pronoun error, you may be misunderstood.
Ex: She likes Mary more
than I (do)
She likes Mary more than
(she likes) me
Use of Who and Whom
To decide whether who or whom is the appropriate choice, you need to determine whether the pronoun is being used as a subject (who) or an object (whom).
is at the door? (subject of verb)
do you wish to invite? (object of verb)
were you speaking? (object of preposition)
Tip from students: If you have trouble deciding on who or whom, change the question to a statement and substitute he or she for who and him or her for whom to see which "sounds" correct.
is at the door. Who is at the door?
You wish to invite
. Whom do you wish to invite?
You were speaking to
. Whom were you speaking to? Or- To whom were you speaking?
When who (or whoever) or whom (or whomever) appears in a clause, deciding which is correct can be difficult. You have to determine how the pronoun is used in the clause, not how it is used in the rest of the sentence.
Ex: I will give the best grade to
whoever deserves it
. In this sentence, although the pronoun seems to be the object of the preposition to, actually the entire clause is the object of the preposition. The pronoun is the subject of the verb deserves and is therefore in subject form.
Ex: I prefer working with volunteers
I already know. (Whom is object of the verb know.)