For Clearer Writing, Use Personal Pronouns.

 Use personal pronouns.

Meet the personal pronouns.  They are your friends and will help you to write more clearly.

If you use personal pronouns, the quality of your writing will substantially improve, no matter what level of sophistication your reading audience has. Pronouns help your readers relate better to your writing by visualizing themselves in the text.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed. p. 995), defines a pronoun as “any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose references are named or understood in the context.”   The noun it replaces is called the antecedent.  Thus, in the sentence, “Gold is not only a rare metal, but it has become a symbol of wealth,” “Gold” is the antecedent of “it”.

As a reminder, the most common types of personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.  Pronouns can vary in person (first, second, or third) and in number (singular or plural). Why use them? Even with a knowledgeable reader, use of personal pronouns will dramatically improve the clarity of your writing.  They will,

–    help keep sentences short and concise.

–   provide the information your reader wants to know in a logical order,

–   assign responsibilities and requirements clearly.

Pronouns also aid in reader understanding of your writing because they eliminate ambiguity and minimize abstract language by encouraging the use of more concrete, everyday words.    They also help to lock in reader interest by allowing you to “speak” directly to your reader and specify exactly who is being addressed. Remember that you are speaking to the one person who is reading your document, even though it may affect the public at large.  For example,

You should carefully review your ballot before voting,

is clearer and more definite than,

The ballot should be carefully reviewed before voting.

Use of personal pronouns may also avoid the awkwardness of the he/she dilemma.  Thus,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought them each a hotdog,

is better than,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought him and her a hotdog.

You must provide the requisite information, including name, address, and telephone number, when replying,

is better than,

The addressee must provide his or her name, address, and telephone number when replying.

Good teachers should not lose their tempers,

is better than

A good teacher should not lose his or her temper.

Use of the pronoun in the foregoing examples eliminates confusion and allows the sentences to flow more smoothly.

A Pronoun Must Agree With Its Antecedent.

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender, number, and person.  The following words when used as antecedents are deemed to be singular:  each, every, any, no one, thing, body either and neither (except when they refer to plural sets) are singular.  Here are some examples:

Everybody did his best [Not their].

Every one raised his hand.  [Not their].

Each person must have  his ticket. [Not their].

Neither [Albert nor Louis] speak with an accent. [Not speaks].

Kind and sort are also singular:

I like that kind of pants.  [Not those].

That kind of scissors is very sharp.  [Not those].

But where the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must still agree:

Both know their trade.

Other antecedents may be singular or plural:

Most of this is mine.  Most of these are useless.

A collective noun usually takes a singular pronoun:

The assembly has given its report.

The team has played its last game.

The jury has reached its decision.

Sometimes, however, a collective noun may be thought of as separate individuals.  In that case a plural pronoun is appropriate, as in the following:

The jury disagree.


Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement

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