Pronoun – Antecedent Agreement

Tina Annas



Description: This lesson provides students with a grammar review exercise about pronoun-antecedent agreement in writing (and speaking)


Objectives: For grade level 8, (competency goal 6) The learner will apply conventions of grammar and language usage. Specifically, the learner will use pronouns correctly, including clear antecedents and correct case (6.01) and will be able to identify errors in spoken and written English (6.02). This lesson would be used during instruction for writing assignments, or following demonstration of errors in student writing and speaking.


Goals: Students will understand what pronoun-antecedent agreement is, and will learn how to correct problems with pronoun-antecedent agreement.


Materials/Resources: Materials needed: Overhead projector; pencils; handouts of pronoun agreement rules; handouts of exercise for classwork; transparencies of handouts.


Time needed: 20 minutes.



Give students the “Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement” guidelines handouts and explain the “rules” for pronoun-antecedent agreement. First ask students, as a review, to define pronouns.

[Wait for response.]


“Write these on your sheet and we’ll file these in our notebooks to keep.”


“A pronoun is a substitute for a noun. It refers to a person, place, thing, feeling, or quality but does not refer to it by its name. What is an antecedent?”


[Wait for responses, then explain the definition of the antecedent.]


“An antecedent is the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers, understood by the context. For example, in the sentence, ‘Anybody can have his picture made at the studio,’ the pronoun is ‘his’ and the antecedent is ‘anybody’.” [Write the sentence on the overhead.]


Explain, “The problem comes when we say or write sentences in which the pronoun and antecedent don’t agree. Although we tend to say these incorrectly at times (but we shouldn’t), the error is even more noticeable when written.”          


“The basic principle is, ‘A pronoun usually refers to something earlier in the text (its antecedent) and must agree in number — singular/plural — with the thing to which it refers’.”

“So, some of the rules to remember are (fill these in on your sheet):


1. The indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one, and nobody are always singular. This is sometimes perplexing to writers who feel that everyone and everybody (especially) are referring to more than one person. The same is true of either and neither, which are always singular even though they seem to be referring to two things.”


On board or overhead projector, write and discuss an example of an incorrect sentence, such as, “Everyone needs to stay in their seat.”  Explain that “everyone” is singular, and “their” is plural, so the two don’t agree. Ask students to help revise the sentence.


[Wait for response, and write revised sentences on  transparency.]


“The revised sentence should read, ‘Everyone needs to stay in his seat.’ or  ‘They need to stay in their seats’.”


“Besides number, our pronouns must agree in other ways with the antecedents to which they refer. So, another rule to remember is:


2. The need for pronoun-antecedent agreement can create gender problems. If one were to write, for instance, ‘A student must see his counselor before the end of the semester,’ when there are female students around, nothing but grief will follow. One can pluralize, in this situation, to avoid the problem.”


[Say  the revised sentences:]

·        Students must see their counselor before the end of the semester.
Or, one could say

·        A student must see his or her counselor. . . .


“But, too many his's and her's eventually become annoying, however, and the reader becomes more aware of the writer trying to be conscious of good form than he or she is of the writer’s thoughts.


3. Trying to conform to the above rule (#2) can lead to a great deal of nonsense. Although it is incorrect, it’s widely regarded as being correct (or correct enough),  to say

·        Somebody has left their bag on the floor. [Display sentence on board.]


but many people would object to its being written that way because somebody is singular and their is plural. But, we want to learn to say it and write it correctly. I don’t think people take us seriously as writers when we use incorrect grammar.”


[Ask for students to revise the sentence correctly, and write responses on board or transparency.]


“We also have to remember that,


4. When we compound a pronoun with something else, we don't want to change its form. Following this rule carefully often creates something that doesn't sound good.”

“You would write, ‘This money is for me,’ so when someone else becomes involved, don't write, ‘This money is for Fred and I.’ Try these sentences. Are they correct?”


            [Write the following sentences on the board and wait for response.]

·        This money is for him and me.

·        This arrangement is between Fred and him.

“Those are both good sentences.”


“Remember, a pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, but also in gender. Pronouns are substitutes for nouns. They are like shortcuts so that we don't have to repeat ourselves. The antecedent is the noun that the pronoun replaces. For example, look at this sentence:” 

[Display on transparency.]

Murray is an excellent cook, but he never does the dishes.


Murray is the antecedent, and he is the pronoun.”


“As we just discussed, pronouns must agree in number (singular or plural) with the nouns they refer to. This is so your reader will know what, or who, the pronoun refers to. The sentence below illustrates this:” [Display sentence.]


A cook uses lots of dishes, and they should clean them, too.


“In this case, they (plural) sounds like it refers to dishes (plural). Of course, it should refer to cook (singular). You could revise the sentence like this:


A cook uses lots of dishes and should wash them, too.


Also watch the number agreement in sentences such as: [Display sentence:]

We all want our students to use their brain.

“What’s wrong with this sentence?”

[Wait for response.]

 (Students – plural – do not have one collective brain!)


[Ask for and display revisions.]

REVISED: We want each of our students to use his or her brain. Or:

REVISED: We want the students to use their brains.


“So, How Do I Check For Agreement?”


“The best thing to do is circle all the pronouns in your draft and decide what the pronouns refer to, that is, what are the antecedents? If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural as well. If the pronoun is singular, make sure the antecedent is singular, too. Look at these examples:”

WRONG: A cook should always clean their mess in the kitchen.
CORRECT: A cook should always clean his mess in the kitchen. OR:

CORRECT: Cooks should clean up their messes.


“Sometimes the incorrect pronoun is used because the writer doesn't know the gender of the antecedent. To fix the problem, follow the examples below:”

 A good chef will be proud of their work. (WRONG)
[Ask for revisions and wait for response.]


REVISED: A good chef is always proud of his or her cooking.
REVISED: Good chefs are proud of their recipes.
REVISED: Most chefs proudly exhibit superior cooking skills.


[Offer the following incorrect sentences on the overhead projector and allow the students to help revise:]


A manager should always be honest with their employees.

Organizations must be careful about discriminating against its employees.

If you really care about somebody, let them make their own choices.

Everybody ought to do their best.

Neither of the girls brought their umbrellas.

A good teacher will want to help their students.


“Does anyone have any questions? Try to recognize these errors in speaking and writing. I think you’ll notice them more in your own work and in other people’s writing and speaking, too.”


[Make sure students have guidelines handout filled out correctly (review on overhead). Pass out exercise handout and work together, filling in the blanks on the overhead.]


For homework: have students find examples of correct (or incorrect) agreement in books they’re reading, or in other examples of writing they see.