Pronoun Antecedent Agreement

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Worksheet 1 explains what constitutes agreement of a pronoun with its antecedent, some common problems, and ways to correct pronoun-antecedent errors. It includes 8 exercises. Worksheet 2 has 18 exercises.

Worksheet 1, Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement, 8 Exercises
Worksheet 2, Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement, 18 Exercises

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A Pronoun Must Agree in Number With Its Antecedent

In order to earn good marks (grades) in written compostions and to be perceived as a competent, if not proficient, writer at work, you must adhere to the rules of standard written English and the conventions of proper punctuation.

The Problem

A common error in standard written or spoken English is the misuse of a pronoun when it refers to another noun or pronoun in the same sentence. In common usage, the following sentence may seem perfectly acceptable, but look closely; it is not.

  • Lack of Agreement: Every camper must bring their lunchbox to the bus.

So what is the problem? The word "their" is a pronoun in the possessive case; it describes the word "lunchbox," but it refers to the word "camper" (the antecedent). In this case, the pronoun "their" is plural (more than one) and does not agree in number with its antecedent, "camper," which is singular.

Some Terminology

  • Pronoun: A word that takes the place of a noun. For example, in the example, the pronoun "their" takes the place of "camper," although it does it incorrectly.
  • Number: In English grammar, the term "number" means either singular (only one) or plural (more than one).
  • Antecedent: The word in the sentence that comes before the pronoun. Note the Latin rood "ante," meaning before.

A correct form of the example is given below.

  • Proper Agreement: Every camper must bring her lunchbox to the bus.

Sexist Language

People use the word "their" to refer a singular antecedent as an attempt to avoid the obvious sexist (but grammatically correct) form of "he" or "she." Many writers use the form "he or she," but this approach weighs the sentence down.

The Solution

  1. Recast the sentence to make the singular antecedent plural.

    Solution: Campers must bring their lunchbox to the bus.

  2. Omit the possessive pronoun if you can.

    Solution: Every camper must bring a lunchbox to the bus.

These two solutions should work for many instances where we have a lack of agreement of a pronoun with its antecedent.

Careful: These Pronouns Are Always Singular

Some pronouns in English are always singular, although they are commonly used with plural intents. The pronouns

  • anyone
  • anyone
  • anybody
  • everyone
  • everybody
  • someone
  • somebody
  • no one
  • nobody

are always singular.

So, for example, we would not write, "After the storm, everyone became better acquainted with their neighbors," but rather a correct form (omitting the possessive pronoun): "After the storm, everyone became better acquainted with neighbors."


I would be less than honest if I did not mention the controversy concerning the use of "they," "their" and other constructions to refer to singular pronouns. Gabe Doyle, a linguistics student from the University of California, San Diego, makes a compelling argument for the use of "they" and "their" as a singular. Take a look.

Singular "they" and the many reasons why it's correct

He argues, correctly, that it has been used since Chaucer, that it is accepted by authority, and that good writers use it. All true.

He makes an excellent point. English composition teachers, and I am one, tend to be conservative in language use. We owe it to our students. And while I might describe myself as a "descriptivist" (correctness in language is determined by popular usage), I owe it to students to help them function in a largely prescriptivist (correctness in language is dictated by authority) world.

The worksheets, with their exercises, are prescriptivist. But please be aware that the issue discussed here is not black and white.

Worksheet 1, 8 Exercises

The following exercises are in the free PDF worksheets. The worksheets may be reproduced freely, and students must write out the complete, correct sentence.

  1. Would everyone please bring their computer to the writing workshop?
  2. The principal indicated that every staff member had to submit their self evaluation by Wednesday.
  3. The operations officer noted that every soldier should have their own blanket.
  4. School psychologists note the importance for every student to express their emotions.
  5. Is every candidate for the position going to be given their application materials at the interview?
  6. If any investor has a question about the quarterly reports, they should contact their broker directly.
  7. If every customer complains that an item is missing in their order, something is wrong with our procedure.
  8. Would everyone who attended the meeting, please bring their tee shirt to the rally?

Worksheet 2, 18 Exercises

Rewrite each sentence so that each pronoun agrees with the antecedent.

  1. Mrs. Carrasco told the secretary that yet another candidate for the job had forgotten their resume.
  2. When even one student forgets their assignment, the entire class suffers the consequences.
  3. Please congratulate anyone who remembers their employee number.
  4. Franklin remembered that the other runner had forgotten their registration fee.
  5. Would someone please remind the class that nobody is to leave their patrol area without notifying an officer?
  6. If anybody sells six hundred boxes, they will qualify for a free trip to Athens.
  7. Is each representative going to deliver their speech in front of the camera?
  8. Anyone who does not have the correct change should give their money to the line monitor.
  9. Nobody is willing to give up their parking space for the guest speaker.
  10. Unless another contestant forgets the lyrics to their song, last place in the talent show will go to Carl.
  11. Each girl should bring their scout handbook and merit badge guide on the field trip.
  12. Every gardener must fertilize their palm trees with nitrogen or the fronds may turn yellow.
  13. Mrs. Gomez told her class that anyone who attends the music recital will receive extra credit.
  14. Every player on the team must play to the best of their ability.
  15. The principal told the PTA that anyone who wants their children to take art classes may enroll them for free at the community center.
  16. When you give someone your trust, you believe that they will not betray it.
  17. If nobody wants their complimentary plastic cup, they should place it in the recycling bin.
  18. Each manager must make sure that their employees’ performance reviews are signed and dated.

Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Links

  • Towson University Online Writing Support

    This is one of the best sites for an explanation of problems with pronoun-antecedent agreement. The examples are clear; the explanations are visual, with boxes and arrows. Lists are provided. The page also has hotlinks for "antecedents" and "indefinite pronouns." Start here.

  • St. Cloud State University, Literacy Education Online (LEO)

    A short page with lots of good examples and explanations. Discusses agreement in number, person, and gender. Lacks lists of problematic singular pronouns.

  • Capital Community College

    The information is reliable, and there are online quizzes. A solid, if stodgy reference.

  • Purdue University OWL

    The information is there; it is clear. Quick and clean.