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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module 11 – Pronoun Reference and Other Pronoun Problems – Hint Sheet

Some Indefinite Pronouns (everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, somebody, no one, nobody, each) are singular in written English and require singular pronouns.

  • Everyone forgot his lunch.
  • Someone is playing his or her stereo too loud.
  • Each of the daughters has her own apartment.
  • Because there is no singular pronoun that refers to both men and women and because a lot of he or shes can get awkward, you may want to avoid indefinite pronouns by using plural nouns or avoiding pronouns:
  • All of the students forgot their lunches.
  • Someone is playing a stereo too loud.


  • Who and Whoever are used for subjects, subject complements, and appositives to these.
  • Whom and Whoever are used for direct objects, indirect objects, objects of prepositions, and appositives to these. Look at the word's use in the clause that it is in.
  • I don’t know who called. (Who is the subject of called.)
  • To whom are you speaking? (Whom is the object of the preposition to.)

Comparisons – In comparisons, you may find the subject of an understood verb at the end of the sentence:

Arnie is taller than she. (Arnie is taller than she is.)

Possessives – Use possessive forms before verbals.

  • We approved of his doing the exercises. (Not him doing)
  • We applauded their playing. (Not them playing) [It’s not them we approve of, but their playing.]

Standard/Nonstandard – Use standard pronouns in written English.

  • Use standard forms: myself, ourselves, yourself, yourself, himself, themselves, herself, itself
  • Avoid nonstandard forms: ourself, hisself, themselves, herself

Agreement – Make sure pronouns agree with the nouns they stand for (their antecedents).

  • Madeleine buys her own clothes. (Her agrees with Madeline.)
  • Xerox pays its employees well. (Its agrees with Xerox.)

Faulty Reference – Make it clear what word the pronoun stands for.

I rubbed Vicks all over my chest, and now it is gone. (What’s gone – mMy chest, the Vicks, or the unnamed cold?)

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