Today I bring you another common grammatical dilemma — how to revise your work to clarify vague pronoun reference.
What is vague pronoun reference?
The issue I see most often in student writing is the use of a pronoun which does not refer to one specific noun. To review, a pronoun is a word used to take the place of a noun, and should refer to one unmistakable noun preceding it. This noun is called the pronoun’s antecedent. Unfortunately, it is very easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun without a clear antecedent. Take a look at this example: “After putting the disk in the cabinet, Mabel sold it.” Did Mabel sell the disk or the cabinet? The pronoun reference is faulty here because the pronoun it has two antecedents.
So how do we revise for vague pronoun reference?
Any pronoun whose reference is unclear should be replaced by the noun that you intended it to stand for. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader and obscuring the intended meaning of your arguments.
To begin with, any pronoun that switches from the person (first, second, third) already established in a statement should be replaced by a pronoun that maintains consistent person.
For example: “I never ride roller coasters because they make you sick.” This sentence switches between the first person and the second person pronoun. To make it consistent, revise to: “I never ride roller coasters because they make me sick.”
According to the Cameron University Center for Writers, simple repetition is one of the most effective ways to keep your reader’s mind on your argument. The haste of writing a first draft may cause you to start on one train of thought but finish on another. Confusing sentences occur most often because we do not look for awkward phrases, or words that we have accidentally omitted, in our final drafts.
That’s it for now!
For student help and even more tips and strategies, please visit my Student Writing Support website.
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