Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Today's English lesson

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

Let's Come To An
Agreement Here

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in person, number, and gender. Most people have heard this grammatical rule at some time in their lives. An antecedent, of course, is a noun or pronoun referred to by a pronoun. Usually an antecedent comes before its pronoun (as in Dave played his guitar this morning) but sometimes the pronoun anticipates the antecedent (as in Although he knew he would be late, Mr. Stanton did not rush to get ready).

The problems involving agreement of person are less inherent to the pronouns themselves than created by shifts in point of view. Sometimes it is difficult to stick to the same person when using generic pronouns, such as one and you.

Problems in number agreement are often initiated by indefinite pronouns such as anyone, everybody, and somebody. These problems often involve the related issue of gender. Which pronoun should you use in a sentence such as Everyone thinks (he is/she is/they are) entitled to a raise this year? Using the plural pronoun in such constructions avoids the problem of gender bias but violates the rule of number agreement since indefinite pronouns like everyone are grammatically singular. Similar problems arise in sentences with singular antecedents of undetermined gender, such as
A good judge should never indulge (his/her/their) personal prejudices.
Perhaps the easiest solution here is to write in the plural:
Good judges should never indulge their personal prejudices.

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