36. Errors with Pronouns

Pronoun errors in Written Expression involve several types of pronouns:

  • Personal pronouns
    (he, she, it, they; and so on)
  • Reflexive pronouns
    (himself, herself, itself, themselves, and so on)
  • Relative pronouns (adjective clause markers)
    (who, whose, which, that, and so on)
  • Demonstrative pronouns
    (this, that, these, those)

For the purposes of this lesson, possessive adjectives (his house, their bicycles) are considered personal pronouns and demonstrative adjectives (that book, those horses) are considered demonstrative pronouns.
The greatest number of errors involve personal pronouns.

A) Errors in Pronoun/Noun Agreement

A pronoun must agree with the noun to which it refers (the pronoun’s referent).
Most agreement errors with personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, and demonstrative pronouns consist of a singular pronoun referring to a plural noun or a plural pronoun referring to a singular noun.
Agreement errors with relative pronouns usually involve the use of who to refer to things or which to refer to persons. (Note: The relative pronoun that can be used in certain sentences to refer to both persons and things.)
Another error involves the use of this or these in place of that and those. (This and these are used to refer to things that are perceived as close in time or space; that and those are used to refer to things that are perceived as distant in time or space.)

Sample Item

Jackrabbits have (A) powerful rear legs (B) that enable it (C) to leap long distances (D).

(A) have
(B) rear legs
(C) it
(D) distances

The best answer is (C). The pronoun referring to the plural noun Jackrabbits must be plural (them).

The best way (A) for children to learn science (B) is to perform (C) experiments himself (D).

(A) best way
(B) science
(C) to perform
(D) himself

The referent is plural (children), so the reflexive pronoun must also be plural
(themselves) to agree with it. Therefore, the best answer is (D).

The Canadian Shield is a huge (A), rocky region who (B) curves around (C) Hudson Bay like (D) a giant horseshow.

(A) a huge
(B) who
(C) around
(D) like

The best choice is (B). The referent for the pronoun who is region. To agree with the referent, the relative pronoun which or that must be used. The pronoun who can refer only to a person.

Trademarks enable (A) a company to distinguish its (B) products from these (C) of another (D) company.

(A) enable
(B) its
(C) these
(D) another

The demonstrative these cannot be used to refer to the products of another company. The demonstrative those should be used instead.

B) Errors in Pronoun Form

These errors involve personal pronouns. A subject form like he might be used in place of an object form like him, or a possessive pronoun like hers might be used in place of a possessive adjective like her. This type of pronoun error is usually easy to spot.

Sample Item

Herman Melville gathered (A) material for him (B) novels, including Moby Dick during his (C) years at sea (D).

(A) gathered
(B) him
(C) during his
(D) at sea

The best choice is (B). The possessive form his, not the object form him, is required.

C) Incorrect Type of Pronoun

In some sentences, the wrong type of pronoun is used. For example, a reflexive pronoun might be used when a personal pronoun is needed, or a personal pronoun used when a relative pronoun is required.

Sample Item

As larvae, barnacles are (A) free-swimming, but as adults (B) they attach them (C) to stones, docks, and hulls of ships (D).

(A) are
(B) as adults
(C) them
(D) of ships

The best choice is (C). The reflexive pronoun is required because the subject and object are the same entity: they attach themselves.

A barometer is a (A) device it is (B) used to measure (C) atmospheric pressure (D).

(A) a
(B) it is
(C) to measure
(D) pressure

The best choice is (B). A personal pronoun (it) cannot be used to connect an adjective clause to the rest of the sentence. A relative pronoun (which or that) must be used instead.

D) Incorrect Inclusion of Pronouns

Some errors involve the unnecessary use of pronouns. Often, this type of error occurs when a personal pronoun is used as a subject in a sentence that already has a noun subject. It may also involve a personal pronoun used unnecessarily in a relative clause.
In a few items, a relative pronoun is used unnecessarily.

Sample Item

Block Island in (A) Long Island Sound it is (B) surrounded (C) by cold, dangerous (D) waters.

(A) in
(B) it is
(C) surrounded
(D) dangerous

The best answer is (B). The subject of the sentence is Block Island; the personal pronoun it is an unnecessary repetition of the subject.

Dutch elm disease, which it is (A) caused (B) by a fungus, can destroy (C) a tree within (D) four weeks.

(A) it is
(B) caused
(C) can destroy
(D) within

The best answer is (A). The relative pronoun which is the true subject of the relative clause; the personal pronoun it is not needed.

Certain types (A) of turtles that may (B) live as long as (C) 100 years (D).

(A) types
(B) that may
(C) as long as
(D) years

The relative pronoun that is unnecessary in this sentence because there is only one verb (may live). A sentence that contains a relative clause must have a verb in each clause.

Exercise 36.1

Exercise 36.2

Exercise 36.3

Exercise 36.4

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