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Pronouns—Clarity

Summary:

These resources provide guidelines for using pronouns in your writing.

Clarity

Clarity is one of the most challenging issues involving pronoun use, and it comes in several forms. There are problems of specificity, in which the particular person or thing being referenced isn’t clear. In following example, who is “her”? Who is “she”?

  • Unclear: Clarice was going through some files with Sophia in her office. Suddenly, she started yelling.
  • Clear: Clarice was going through some files with Sophia in Clarice’s office. Suddenly, Clarice started yelling.

Re-read your writing to make sure that your pronouns refer only to the person or thing you intend. If it is unclear, it often means there are too many competing nouns. In such cases, switch back to a noun.

Occasionally, writers will unintentionally switch the person of the pronoun. In this example, the writer begins by referring to Yasuo in the third person (“he”), but then switches to the second person (“you”):

  • Confused: Yasuo distributed the semester paper guidelines a month in advance, because he wanted everyone to value time. However, you omitted to say how long you wanted the final paper to be.
  • Clear: Yasuo distributed the semester paper guidelines a month in advance, because he wanted everyone to value time. However, he omitted to say how long he wanted the final paper to be.

Writers will occasionally unintentionally confuse quantities, as in this example of a single thing:

  • Confused: The extra case of flour arrived this morning. The bakers are already using them.
  • Clear: The extra case of flour arrived this morning. The bakers are already using it.

To avoid these issues, make sure that you use pronouns consistently.

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.