Most of the errors that occur when speakers or writers use pronouns fall into two categories:
1. misuse of subject or object pronouns
2. unclear pronoun use (ambiguity)
Writers and speakers are sometimes confused about whether a pronoun is the subject or object of an utterance or sentence. This is not surprising since common usage does not always conform to formal grammatical rules and also changes over time. For example, in speech, when the reply to a question is a pronoun, the object form often replaces the subject form of the pronoun. In this situation it is the me that is most frequently used:
'Who received the letter?' previously the response would have been: 'It was I', more recently it is: 'It was me'.
But sometimes the object (me) is correct:
Before starting this activity you may want to remind yourself of the subject/object pronoun forms.
Select the correct formal pronoun for each of the sentences below and determine whether it is a subject or object.
|1. ___ went on the fieldtrip.|
|2. She took ___ on the fieldtrip.|
|3. The article was written by ______.|
|4. The article was written by ______ .|
|5. Katherine and _______ conducted the research.|
|6. _____________ have been colleagues for many years.|
|7. The experiment helped ________ to understand the concept.|
|8. The prize was for ______ and me.|
|9. Between you and _________, there is much difference.|
|10. My colleague and _______ submitted the paper.|
In some of the sentences below, the link between the pronoun and its referent is clear, but in others, the link is ambiguous. Which sentences are clear and which are ambiguous?
(The clear sentences are taken from Simon Schama’s A History of Britain Vol 3, BBC, 2000 and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century, MacMillan London 1978)
|1. The union workers were angry with their supervisors because of the size of their pay rise.|
|2. The union workers were angry about the size of their pay rise and this anger was directed at their supervisors.|
3. In the year that the Westerners were bragging about the benefits brought by Britain to India, the Indian economy had become deeply depressed.
|4. In the year that the Westerners were bragging about the benefits brought by Britain to India, it had become deeply depressed.|
5. When educated urbanized Indians looked at what were supposed to be the economic benefits of the British modernizers, they saw things that seemed to be designed more for the interests of them.
|6. When educated urbanized Indians looked at what were supposed to be the economic benefits of the British modernizers, they saw things that seemed to be designed more for the interests of the rulers than for those of the ruled.|
|7. The apparent absence of earthly cause gave this a supernatural and sinister quality.|
|8. The apparent absence of earthly cause gave this epidemic a supernatural and sinister quality.|
|9. The doctors’ primary effort was to keep the plague at bay, chiefly by burning a mixture of aromatic substances to purify the air.|
|10. The doctors used a mixture of aromatic substances to purify the air in their primary effort to keep the plague at bay, chiefly by burning it.|
|11. The doctors or France and England used remedies in the 14th century that ranged from the empiric and sensible to the magical, for patients noble and common, with little distinction made between them.|
|12. Doctors’ remedies in the 14th century ranged from the empiric and sensible to the magical, with little distinction made between the one and the other. These remedies were applied to noble and commoner alike.|
|13. Sewage disposal was not unprovided for in the 14th century, though they should have made it more adequate.|
|14. Sewage disposal was not unprovided for in the 14th century, though it was far from adequate.|
|15. Compounds of rare spices and powdered pearls or emeralds were prescribed to alleviate it.|
|16. Some abbeys and large castles had separate buildings to serve as latrines for the monks or garrison that disposed of them.|
In English most subjects occur before the verb and most objects follow the verb (the exception occurs in sentences that use the passive voice.
Look at the paragraph below and hover your mouse over the pronouns to see whether they function as subjects or objects and why.
Captain Wentworth had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession, but spending freely, what had come freely, had realised nothing. But, he was confident that he would soon be rich; full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship and that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. There was an engagement between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth but Anne was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing - indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it. Lady Russell, whom she had always loved and relied on, advised her against it. But it was not merely a selfish caution under which she acted in putting an end to it. Had she not imagined herself consulting his good, even more than her own, she could hardly have given him up.
(adapted from Persuasion by Jane Austen)
In the sentences below, select the correct pronoun from the drop down menu.
|judgment was upheld in the appeals court.|
|paper was accepted by a peer-reviewed journal.|
|required many changes.|
|was an unfortunate life.|
|research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods.|
|interviews were transcribed and then analysed.|
|were not transcribed.|
|has taken longer than expected.|
|writing is clear, concise and cohesive.|
Which of the following sentences use the reflexive pronouns correctly.
|1. They practised the technique on themselves first.|
|2. I found myself wishing that I had started the project earlier.|
|3. This was helpful to themselves.|
|4. The participants wanted to trade with ourselves.|
|5. The older participants often talked to themselves.|
|6. Such a problem should have been apparent to yourselves.|
|7. You will have to make the corrections yourself.|
|8. She constantly repeats herself.|
|9. We had to rely on ourselves during the field trip.|
|10. My colleague and myself submitted the paper.|
(This activity is adapted from: Academic Writing for Graduate Students (2012) by John M. Swales & Christine B. Feak. University of Michigan Press and uses the NSW EPA report of 2014 as a source of text examples http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/soe09/09716atmos.pdf )
Choose a noun from the dropdown menu to add to the demonstrative pronoun to lessen the ambiguity of the sentences and improve their flow.
|1. In New South Wales, overall emissions from motor vehicles and commercial, industrial and domestic activities have remained relatively stable. Despite this photochemical smog concentrations continue to exceed national air quality standards on a number of days each year.|
2. The AAQ NEPM sets a standard for PM10 of 50 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) (24 hour-average). This would not be exceeded on more than five days per year.
|3. DECCW's air quality information system was upgraded in 2008 to make it more flexible and accessible. This , in conjunction with an improved data acquisition and telemetry system, has resulted in a number of significant changes in how air quality data is reported and presented. These include: a revised Air Quality Index calculation, hourly updates of the Air Quality Index, six air pollution categories instead of three, a new subscription service.|
|4. The NSW EPA has initiated a Woodsmoke Reduction program that targets woodheaters which are a significant source of benzo(α)pyrene and other air toxins. This aims at educating local government, and hence the community, about better management of wood smoke and will therefore address particle and air toxic emissions simultaneously.|
|5. NSW will continue to work with other governments to develop appropriate controls at a national level. For example, NSW is a member of a national working party, which is considering management options to reduce emissions from small engines. This was initiated by NSW and has been taken up at a national level.|