Friday Fundamentals for Solid Writing Habits: Pronoun Confusion

Pronouns are those words that point to or replace specific nouns, like he, or it, this, or which. There are three general areas where writers tend to confuse their use of pronouns.

Personal Pronouns

The most common problem here is when we refer to two different people and then use a personal pronoun afterwards, which leaves us uncertain as to which person the writer refers.

Confused Use: Karen went with Stephanie to her house.  Who’s house? Always clarify the noun (in this case, a person) to which you refer.

Proper Use: Karen went to her house with Stephanie.  OR do not use a pronoun at all: Karen went with Stephanie to Karen’s house. 

Other personal pronouns: he, she, they, them, I, me, us, we, you, and it.

The possessive forms of those personal pronouns are further confused with contractions:

Your shows that You own something. You’re is short for You are.

Its shows that It owns something. It’s is short for It is.

Demonstrative Pronouns

There are four pronouns used to demonstrate or show: This, That, These, and Those. Here is the formula to follow:

Nearby in time or place: This (singular) or These (plural). Distant in time or place: That (singular) and Those (plural).

Interrogative Pronouns

These 10 pronouns are used to ASK (as in to interrogate) by showing selection or choice of nouns: Who, Whom, What, Which, When, Where, Whose, Why, Whether, and How. Here is the formula for asking with these words:

  • What: things
  • Who: people (subject) or person taking action
  • Whom: people (object) or receiver of the action
  • Where: places
  • When: time
  • Why: reasons
  • How many, or How much: quantity
  • How: method
  • Whose: possession (who’s is short for who is)
  • Which: choice
  • Whether: confirmation and always combined with or not (wikipedia).

Always take the time needed to check these uses. Proper use, of course, leaves our intentions clear.


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