Pronouns and Antecedent Agreement: A Guide for Writers and Copy Editors

As a writer or copy editor, one of your primary goals is to communicate your message clearly and effectively. Pronouns are an essential tool in achieving this goal, but they can also be a source of confusion and ambiguity if not used correctly. One of the most crucial aspects of proper pronoun usage is antecedent agreement.

What is Antecedent Agreement?

Antecedent agreement is the principle that a pronoun must agree in number, gender, and person with its antecedent. The antecedent is the noun or pronoun that the pronoun refers to. For example, in the sentence “John ate the sandwich, and he enjoyed it,” “John” is the antecedent of “he,” and “sandwich” is the antecedent of “it.”

Why is Antecedent Agreement important?

The correct use of pronouns and antecedents is essential for clarity and precision in writing. When pronouns are not correctly matched up with their antecedents, it can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. It can also make the writer or speaker appear careless or unprofessional.

How to Ensure Proper Antecedent Agreement

1. Identify the antecedent: To avoid confusion and ambiguity, identify the antecedent clearly before using a pronoun. Make sure the antecedent is clear and unambiguous.

2. Match the pronoun to the antecedent: Ensure that the pronoun matches the antecedent in gender, number, and person. For example, if the antecedent is singular, use a singular pronoun like “he,” “she,” or “it.” If the antecedent is plural, use a plural pronoun like “they,” “we,” or “you.”

3. Watch out for indefinite pronouns: Indefinite pronouns, such as “someone,” “anybody,” and “each,” can be a source of confusion. Ensure that the pronoun used after an indefinite pronoun agrees with the gender and number of the antecedent. For example, “If anyone calls, tell them I`ll be back soon” is incorrect. Instead, say, “If anyone calls, tell him or her I`ll be back soon” or “If people call, tell them I`ll be back soon.”

4. Be mindful of gender-neutral language: To ensure inclusivity and respect for all individuals, writers should use gender-neutral language. Use “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her” when referring to someone whose gender is unknown or when referring to a group of people.

5. Proofread: Always proofread for proper antecedent agreement. Sometimes, mistakes can slip through the cracks even when the writer is confident that everything is correct. A second set of eyes can help catch any errors that may have slipped by.


Proper antecedent agreement is essential to clear and concise writing. By following the above guidelines, writers and copy editors can ensure that their writing is free of confusion and ambiguity. Taking the time to identify antecedents clearly and match pronouns accordingly can make all the difference in delivering a message effectively.