Pronoun Reference

Faulty pronoun reference means the antecedent of your pronoun is not totally and immediately clear. There is no single rule for making pronoun reference clear in all cases. Most often a reader will try to connect the pronoun with the subject of a previous clause or sentence:

Your reader should connect your pronoun with its antecedent at once.

When Andre cut his finger, he screamed out in pain.

But not always, sometimes the reader will connect it with the closest noun:

When Andre cut his finger, it started to bleed.

In both cases the meaning is clear, and so there is no problem. Problems occur, though, when two words compete as antecedents and the meaning blurs:

Finally, he wrapped his finger in a bandage, and it stopped bleeding.

Or when the antecedent is not named explicitly:

The danger of creosote build-up has not been properly publicized by the makers of wood burning stoves. This should be looked into thoroughly.

Or when a pronoun seems to refer back to a single word but is intended to refer to a whole clause:

My brother caught my cold which made me feel bad.

Because "which" seems to refer to both "cold" and the entire base clause, the meaning is slightly out of focus. Careful writers keep the meaning focused by making pronoun/antecedent relationships totally and immediately clear. It isn't enough to say readers who want to understand your meaning will if they work hard enough. Your reader should connect your pronoun with its antecedent at once.

To make the reference clear you could change the wording slightly:

The danger of creosote build-up has not been properly publicized by the makers of wood burning stoves. This lack of publicity should be looked into thoroughly.

You may want to re-word the entire sentence and eliminate the pronoun:

I felt bad that my brother caught my cold.

First, notice the problem, and having seen it, eliminate any ambiguity.

Activity

4.14 Edit the following sentences for clear pronoun reference.

a. This car has a small dent. It shouldn't be much of a problem.

b. The car drove slowly along the back road. It was quite muddy.

c. I got home late from my date, which was okay.

d. The foothills were covered with flowers. They were many different varieties.

e. The beach was littered with broken glass. I think the park service should look into it.

f. I like his ideas about fall gardens. They just make sense.

g. Whenever the ladies made gingerbread men for the children, they looked delighted.

h. Miss Waldman said if I worked hard I could still get an A or a B, but it didn't happen.

i. The sun was hot, and although the water was polluted, it made me want to dive in anyhow

j. The faster I walked, the more water spilled out of the bucket, and it became a real nuisance.