Grammar: Antecedent

Posted December 26, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

This is one I am always careful of when editing. It’s too easy to get carried away with the writing, and if you are the author, going back and proofreading rarely helps as you’re too close to the story. You know what you mean, and so it reads perfectly. To you.

The number of times I’ve gone over a sentence, trying to figure out to whom or what the her (or he, his, she, etc.,) is referring… When I go over my own writing, I frequently find myself rewriting that bit to ensure people will know that I meant the Mary who had the little lamb and not the Karen with the wolf.

Jamie and Tom were picking his nose. Yeahhh, and the question has to be asked, ick. Whose nose is being picked?

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page. And consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Antecedent
Credit to: Chomp Chomp
Definition: A noun word, noun phrase, or noun clause that is replaced by a third-person pronoun when mentioned again in the same sentence or later.

There are three different pronouns used:

Maintaining agreement between antecedent and pronoun requires a:

Types of Antecedent-Pronoun Combinations
Personal Pronoun Definition: Specifically refers to a particular person, group, or thing
Return to top List of Third-Person Personal Pronouns
he
him
his
himself
she
her
hers
herself
it
its
itself
they
them
their
theirs
themselves
Analysis of the Antecedent-Personal Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the personal pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the antecedent phrase

Adeline bit her lip.

Our carnivorous friends will not attend the picnic because they despise tofu hotdogs and black bean burgers.

When Kris sprained his ankle, Coach Ames replaced him with Jasper, a much slower runner.

Eating with your mouth closed has several benefits. Most importantly, it keeps people from turning away in disgust.

Karline hopes that her roommates remember to walk the new puppy. It will mean less urine to mop up when she gets home.

Emily is nice because she brings me flowers.

Demonstrative Pronoun Definition: Indicates if something is near or far from the speaker/writer. It can also indicate the singular or plural.
Return to top List of Demonstrative Pronouns
that this these those
Analysis of the Antecedent-Demonstrative Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the demonstrative pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the antecedent phrase

Jackson rides his skateboard to work. Now this is an eco-friendly mode of transportation!

You need to work on throwing large, unwieldy objects and catching heavy things. Those are the skills you must acquire to be a successful chainsaw juggler.

Francine prays that the neighbors will keep their barking dog inside. That will allow her to get a good night’s sleep.

Relative Pronoun Definition: Modifies a word, phrase, or idea in the independent clause
Return to top List of Relative Pronouns
who
whom
whose that which
Analysis of the Antecedent-Relative Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the relative pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the antecedent phrase

Principal Meyers, whose nose hair curled outside his nostrils, delivered the morning announcements.

The dish that contains the leftover squid eyeball stew cannot go in the microwave.

Eating ice cream for dinner, which might not be nutritionally smart, is what Teresa wanted after her long day of waitressing.

Maintain Agreement Between Antecedent & Pronoun
Rule: The antecedent (noun or noun phrase) and the pronoun that later replaces the antecedent must agree. If the antecedent is cat, the pronoun is it, its, she, he, her, or him; if the antecedent is dogs, the pronoun is their, etc.
Single Antecedent-Single Pronoun Rule: Singular antecedents take singular pronouns

Return to top

List of Third-Person Singular Pronouns
he
him
his
she
her
hers
it
its
Analysis of the Single Antecedent-Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the singular pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent

The cat yowled its happiness for tuna.

The cat yowled her happiness for tuna.

Each/Every = Single Rule: If each or every is included in front of a plural antecedent (no matter how many), it becomes singular and requires a singular pronoun

Return to top

Analysis of the Each/Every Antecedent
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the singular pronoun
  2. Green indicates the singular antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the each or every

Each beetle and baby snake was thankful it escaped the lawnmower blade.

Each beetle, baby snake, worm, centipede, lizard, grasshopper, and toad was thankful it escaped the lawnmower blade.

Plural Antecedent-Plural Pronoun Rule: Plural antecedents take plural pronouns

Return to top

List of Third-Person Plural Pronouns
they
them
their
theirs
who
whom
whose
Analysis of the Plural Antecedent-Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the plural pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent

The cats yowled their happiness for tuna.

1 + 1 = Plural Pronoun Rule: Two singular nouns/antecedents make it a plural pronoun

Return to top

Analysis of the Plural Antecedent-Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the plural pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the plural antecedent

The beetle and baby snake were thankful they escaped the lawnmower blade.

Correlative Conjunction Joins Antecedents Rule: If you use correlative conjunctions (see list below) to join the antecedents, only the second antecedent counts for agreement:

  • singular antecedent uses singular pronoun
  • plural antecedent uses plural pronoun

Return to top

List of Correlative Conjunctions
both … and either … or neither … nor not only … but also
Analysis of the Antecedent-Correlative Conjunction
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the correlative conjunction
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the singular pronoun
  4. Blue indicates the plural pronoun
  5. Pale green indicates the verb agreement

Neither the neighbors’ children nor Nora could find her dog.

Neither Nora nor the neighbors’ children could find their dog.


Either the Petersons or Mary has to make her move soon.

Either Mary or the Petersons have to make their move soon.

Singular Indefinite Pronoun-as-Antecedent Definition: Even though the singular indefinite pronouns listed below may seem plural, they are considered singular.

Rule: When used as an antecedent, you must use the singular.

Return to top

List of Singular Indefinite Pronouns
each
either
neither
anybody
anyone
anything
everybody
everyone
everything
nobody
no one
nothing
somebody
someone
something
Analysis of the Singular Indefinite Pronoun as Antecedent-Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the singular pronoun
  2. Green indicates the singular indefinite pronoun as antecedent

Neither of Tiffany’s boyfriends knows he has competition.

After diving for a hour at 60 feet, everybody will have to wait an hour before her next dive.

Does anybody know if he has a flashlight?

Collective Noun-as-Antecedent Definition: A collective noun is a term that refers to any group with two or more members. It takes a singular or plural noun when:

  • Singular: Every member is doing the same thing at the same time
  • Plural: Every member is doing their own thing

You can use the verb as an aid to determining if it’s singular or plural.

Read more about the group noun in the “Noun” post.

Return to top

List of (Some) Collective Nouns
army
class
clergy
committee
company
crowd
enemy
family
fleet
flock
government
group
majority
mess
number
pack
pad
population
public
staff
team
Analysis of the Collective Noun as Antecedent-Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the singular pronoun
  2. Green indicates the collective noun as antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the plural pronoun
  4. Pale green indicates the verb

The clergy at St. Marks has its annual retreat every May.

The government has its head up its collective …

The committee has adjourned its meeting.

A number of quilters did their shopping at several stores.

The police are on their way.

The class began arguing with their teacher about their homework.

The team spends their off-time pursuing a variety of hobbies.

Schools, Businesses, and Organizations as Antecedent Definition: More collective nouns, only they’re proper nouns

Rule: When the name of a school, a business, or an organization is an antecedent, use a singular pronoun

Return to top

Analysis of the School / Business / Organization-as-Antecedent-Singular Pronoun
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the singular pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent

British Petroleum will be under governmental oversight for years as a result of its conduct and safety practices after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Takefuku is a restaurant in Tokyo famous for its preparation of fugu.

Apple is known for its attention to design and detail.

Clearing Up the Other Pronoun “C.S. Lakin has an eye-opening post, “Clear and Present Antecedents, that notes a problem with others.

Be aware of the general idea of this problem when working with other pronouns. Always be sure that it’s obvious to which noun the pronoun is referring.

I see it as a problem that includes parallelism and agreement, only not your usual parallel or agreement. What can I say? It’s English.

Return to top

Rule: Provide a clear antecedent to which other refers. Lakin suggests that “it’s a pronoun without a noun”, and that you need to find out what the proper nouns have in common.
Find What the “Collective” Has in Common
The Problem Sentence:

Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the pronoun
  2. Green indicates the antecedent
  3. Orange indicates the in-common word

Jesse’s artwork has been displayed in the Omaha Public Library, Creighton University, and the governor’s mansion, among others.

Venues is common to all three places
Version 1

Jesse’s artwork has been displayed in the Omaha Public Library, Creighton University, and the governor’s mansion, among other venues.

Version 2

Jesse’s artwork has been displayed in venues such as the Omaha Public Library, Creighton University, and the governor’s mansion, among others.

Version 3

Jesse has created artwork for doctors, lawyers, politicians, and others.


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