8.1 Conventions of Standard English

Avoiding Vague Pronoun References

  • To avoid a vague pronoun reference, make sure that a pronoun cannot possibly refer to more than one antecedent. If a pronoun seems to refer to more than one antecedent, either reword the sentence to make the antecedent clear or eliminate the pronoun.

    Vague: When Lily saw her friend, she smiled.
    (Which word is the antecedent of she? Did Lily or her friend smile?)

    Clear: Lily smiled when she saw her friend.
    (In this reworded sentence, Lily is clearly the antecedent of she.)

    Clear: When Lily saw her friend, Lily smiled.
    (In this sentence, Lily replaced she; now it is clear who smiled.)

  • Vague pronoun references also occur when the pronouns it, you, and they are incorrectly used as indefinite pronouns. In these cases, change the pronoun to a noun that names the performer of the action.

    Vague: On my street, they pick up the garbage on Mondays.

    Clear: On my street, trash collectors pick up the garbage on Mondays.

    Vague: In this magazine article, it recommends eating more vegetables.

    Clear: In this magazine article, the writer recommends eating more vegetables.


Now practice avoiding vague pronoun references. Click the Practice button below.

After you have practiced, go back to the Main Page to learn more about pronouns.