Who Did What? Clarifying pronoun References in Your Business Blog

pronoun references“Your readers will appreciate it, even if they aren’t conscious of why,” says Laura Yates, introducing the Grammar Cheatsheet for Bloggers with the comment that getting grammar right will make you a better writer. In fact, Yates asserts, “the purpose of grammar is not to be 100%, absolutely correct.  It’s to make your writing easier to understand.”


Even in the more informal style bloggers use, unclear pronoun references leave readers wondering who, exactly, did what. Whenever you use a pronoun, make sure it’s clear what the antecedent is for that pronoun The antecedent, the York University website explains, is the noun to which that pronoun refers. “Jane told Helen that no one would take her away.” (Who is “her”?  Who won’t be taken away – Jane or Helen?)

Towson Education observes that “Unfortunately, it is very easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun WITHOUT a clear unmistakable noun antecedent”, and offers the following example: “After putting the disk in the cabinet, Mabel sold it.”  (What was sold – the disk? the cabinet?).“
“The supervisors told the workers they would receive a bonus.” (Who will be getting the bonus – the supervisors or the workers?) A pronoun should have only one, clear and unmistakable, antecedent, Towson teaches.

Try your hand at rewriting the following two sentences:  (The first two examples come from the Writing Commons website, the others from blogs I actually read today.) Remember you’re your purpose is to make clear to readers just who did what to whom:

  1. “President George Washington and his vice president, John Adams, had a difficult relationship, which he wrote about in letters to friends.”  (Who wrote the letters?)
  2. “American students differ from European students in that they expect more personalized attention.” (Who expects personalized attention?)
  3. “The answers were a bit comical to me, not to downplay their situations, but the fact they actually used the written form communication and ultimately it was enough evidence to have a restraining order against them.” (The answers? The people?)
  4. “Whereas Microsoft restricts access to files and locks users out, multiple people can collaborate and work on a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide at the same time. And it automatically saves your work! “  (What saves – Microsoft? Google Doc?)

Who did what to whom? Clarify the references in your business blog!

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