Pronoun Tips


There are a few specific tips, a few common errors when it comes to pronouns that I very often see as a writing instructor. Now, the first tip is that you will always want to avoid the second person in your scholarly writing. Now, the second person are the words “you”, “your”, “yours”, “yourself”, any word like that. It’s just a little too casual for scholarly writing. So instead of saying something like, “I’m going to tell you about childhood obesity,” that just sounds very conversational. It sounds like I’m sitting down to lunch with you and I’m going to tell you about childhood obesity. In scholarly writing you want to be a little more – a little more formal than that. So it would be better to remove the second person and say something like, “This paper is about childhood obesity.” So that is tip number one, avoid the second person.

A few more pronoun tips on this page. In addition to avoiding the words “you”, “your”, “yours” and so on, you want to avoid the words “we”, “us”, and “our” except in a few specific circumstances. Per APA, you want to avoid using the words “we”, “us”, and “our” to refer to people in general or a specific group of people. In fact the only time it’s acceptable to use these words in an APA paper is in one of these team papers that students are sometimes assigned to. So if you and some of your classmates are assigned to a team and you are writing about your experience as a team, then it’s appropriate to use the first person, you can say, you know, “We delegated responsibilities and we set our deadline to have our research done by next week.” In that case it is appropriate to use the words “we,” “us,” and “our,” but otherwise, it’s a good idea to avoid doing so.

So in this example sentence here, instead of saying “We all need to focus on patient satisfaction,” as a reader I’m thinking, well, who needs to focus on this? I don’t have patients as a writing instructor, so I just don’t know who you’re referring to. It would be stronger to use a noun instead: “Nurses need to focus on patient satisfaction.” Okay, so that is pronoun tip number two.

[Source: Walden University. ]


Pronoun tip number 3 is that it should always be clear what noun your pronoun is referring to. In other words, you want to avoid what I tend to all ambiguous pronouns. So take a look at this example: “When the customer and the manager spoke on the phone, he was angry.” The problem here is that it’s not clear who the “he” is. Is the “he” the customer? Or is “he” the manager?

So you just want to reword a little bit to clarify: “The customer was angry when he spoke on the phone with the manager.”

[Source: Walden University. ]


Pronoun Tip 4 is that you want to maintain what’s called noun-pronoun agreement. In other words, whenever you use a plural noun, you need to use plural pronouns to refer to that noun. And similarly, when you use singular nouns, you need to use singular pronouns to refer to that noun. So we have a couple examples here. “A manager should always listen to their customers.” “A manager” is a singular noun, right? “Their” is a plural pronoun. So we have an issue here. It’s better to say “managers”, plural, “should listen to their customers.”

The second example is a little bit trickier. “The family needs to work on their anger issues.” And we know that a family consists of multiple people, right, so this sounds okay, it sounds like a sentence you might say in conversation, but it actually is grammatically incorrect, because family is actually a singular word. So you’d either have to say “The family needs to work on its anger issues” or if that sounds kind of strange to you, to refer to people as “it,” you can say “The family members need to work on their anger issues.” In this case you’re using a plural noun and a plural pronoun. So whatever noun or pronoun you do use, you just have to make sure they agree.

[Source: Walden University. ]


As you’re writing, you also want to remember that the number of your nouns and the pronouns that refer to them should also agree when you’re writing sentences. So, if you have a word that you are replacing with a pronoun, like “his” or “her” or “its” or “their,” the pronoun needs to agree in number with the original word.

So here we have “The student has to take his or her test.” A lot of times we see a sentence like “The student has to take their test,” but then you have a plural pronoun “their” and a singular noun “the student”, which would be an error in pronoun agreement. So you want to make sure that your pronoun and noun agree in number.

Here is a revision of the sentence that doesn’t have a pronoun agreement error: “The student has to take his or her test.” Another example would be the sentence “The team won its prize.” In this sentence, “The team” is one unit, so it needs a singular pronoun to replace it, so we use “its” instead of a plural pronoun like “their”.

Many times we tend to use the pronoun “their” as a singular word, but it doesn’t work that way. We might use “their” as a singular word while we’re speaking, but while we’re writing we really want to be consistent and use “their” as a plural pronoun. So as you’re writing, it’s always a good idea to double-check your pronouns and ensure you are using the appropriate pronoun for the noun it is replacing or referring to.

[Source: Walden University. ]

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