A pronoun antecedent is a word that comes before a pronoun to which the pronoun refers. Following are definitions of antecedent and pronoun, information about their functions in a sentence, and examples.
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun or another pronoun. Personal pronouns substitute for a certain thing or person and are classified by subjective, objective, and possessive. Other types of pronouns are demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite, reflexive, and intensive.
Subjective personal pronouns are the subject of the sentence and are: I, we, you, he, she, it, and they.
Objective personal pronouns are the object of a preposition, verb, or infinitive phrase. These are: me, us, you, him, her, it, and them.
Possessive personal pronouns show ownership. They are: mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, and theirs.
Demonstrative pronouns identify and point to the noun or pronoun. They are: this, that, these, and those.
Interrogative pronouns are used to ask a question. These are: who, whom, what, which whoever, whomever, whatever, and whichever.
To link clauses or phrases to the rest of the sentence, you would use a relative pronoun. It could be: who, whoever, whom, whomever, that, which, and whichever.
Indefinite pronouns are not specific and refer to all, some, or none. There are many of these, and a few are: one, few, any, nobody, anything, and everything.
To refer back to the subject of a clause or sentence, you use reflexive pronouns. These are: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.
Intensive pronouns emphasize and intensify the word preceding it. They are the same as the reflexive pronouns. An example is “I myself could not believe it.”
The word “antecedent” means something that precedes something else. In language, it is the word that a pronoun refers back to. Since the pronoun replaces the noun, it has to agree in number. So, if the antecedent, or word that comes before, is singular, then the pronoun that takes its place must also be singular.
It can be confusing if there are several words between the pronoun and its antecedent. These words or clauses have no bearing on the words and need to be ignored. Following are some special situations with examples of the correct way to have pronoun antecedent agreement.
Compound subjects can be a problem. If the subjects are joined by an “and” then the pronoun needs to be plural, as in “Bob and Paul took their books. If the subjects are joined by “or” or “nor”, then have the pronoun agree with the subject that is closer, or closest, to the pronoun. An example is “Either the actor or the singers messed up their performance.
If the pronoun is referring to one thing or a unit, like a team or a jury, then the pronoun needs to be singular. An example is: “The jury has reached its verdict.” Sometimes words sound plural and are not, like measles or the news. These would need a singular pronoun, as in: “Measles is not as widespread as it once was.” This makes sense if you replace the word “measles” with “disease.”
There are several rules concerning the use of indefinite pronouns as antecedents and the pronoun antecedent agreement. The following indefinite pronouns are singular and need a singular pronoun: one, no one, some one, everyone, anyone, nobody, anybody, somebody, everybody, nothing, anything, something, everything, each, either, neither. An example is “Everything here has its own box.”
The plural indefinite pronouns: several, both, few, and many, need to have a plural pronoun, like in this sentence: “Several are there because of their looks.”
Lastly, if there is an indefinite pronoun that is being modified by a prepositional phrase, then the object of the phrase will determine the agreement between the pronoun and its antecedent. These special indefinite pronouns are: some, most, all, any, or none. Look at these two sentences: “Most of the flour fell out of its canister” and “Many of the gems have lost their shine”. If the object, like “flour” is uncountable, then the pronoun has to be singular (its). If the object is countable, like “gems”, then the pronoun needs to be plural (their).