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Pronoun Agreement

  1. Every pronoun must agree with its antecedent in person, number, and gender.
  2. Antecedent is the noun or other pronoun that a pronoun replaces or refers to.
Person is the classification of speaker, writer, and audience:

First person is the category for the speaker or writer.

Second person is the category for the audience (reader or listener).

Third person is the category for whoever or whatever is spoken about or written about and is the classification for all nouns.

Number refers to the singular or plural nature of a word.

Gender classifications apply to humans and animals: masculine for males and feminine for females.

Person Singular/ Plural
I me my  mine  myself we
us  our ours  ourselves 
you your yours  yourself you   your
yours yourselves 
Third Feminine:
she her hers herself  they them 
 their theirs themselves
Third Masculine:
he him his himself   they  them
 their theirs themselves
Third Neutral:
it  its  itself  they  them  their
 theirs  themselves 

Rules and Examples

1. Antecedents joined by and usually require plural pronouns.

Ann and Grace sold their books.

The winner and the loser brought their trophies.

2. With antecedents joined by or or nor: the pronoun agrees with the closer of the two antecedents.

Either the cows or the horse must move from its stall.

Neither the horse nor the cows must move from their stalls.

3. Indefinite pronoun antecedents (such as either, neither, everybody, nobody, each, every) are usually considered singular and therefore require singular pronouns. Current usage in academic and business writing avoids the assumption that an unknown antecedent is masculine. Either recast the sentence to avoid gender references or use he or she or his or her. Do not use s/he or he/she or his/her.

Neither of the boys paid his dues.

Everybody brought his or her favorite food to the picnic.

Each woman carried her own suitcase on board the plane.

Nobody passed his or her test.

Neither of my sisters ate her spinach.

4. A few indefinite pronounsall, some, mostcan be singular or plural, depending on their meaning within a sentence.

Most of the water lost its salty flavor.

Most of the children lost their gloves last winter.

5. Collective nouns may be considered either singular or plural, depending on the context. If presented as a single unit or amount, they are singular; if presented as individual items or as countable items, they are plural.

The team won its fifth game even though the team often fought among themselves.

The committee adjourned because they could not agree.

The committee celebrated because its plan was adopted.

6. When the antecedent is the relative pronoun one, later references must be third person singular; in formal usage, maintain one throughout.

One must watch his or her step when hiking in the rain.

One must watch one's step when one dines with royalty.

7. Use the relative pronoun who or whom when the antecedent is a person; use which or thatwhen the antecedent is not a person. Use whose when of which seems too formal.

The girl who found the book is my sister.

Here is the book that I lost.

Where is the cow that jumped over the moon?

The students whose classes are most demanding often make the best grades.

Last revision: August 4, 2003