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Friday, September 21, 2012

Weak Reference Wreaks Havoc!

Like a hurricane that makes landfall and wreaks havoc, weak references in your writing can do the same.  No, weak reference does not refer to anything related to a job seeker's recommendations, but weak reference does deal with writing. 

Weak reference occurs when the antecedent of a pronoun (the word to which a pronoun refers) has not been expressed but exists only in the writer's mind.  The grammar rule clearly states:  Avoid weak reference. 

WEAK     Every time a circus came to town, Alice wanted to join them.

So, let me ask you -- who's them?  In this sentence there is no antecedent for the pronoun them.  Them refers to the people with the circuses, obviously, but these people are not specifically mentioned in the sentence.

CLEAR     Every time a circus came to town, Alice wanted to become one of the troupe.

Here's another example of a sentence with no clear antecedent for the pronoun these.

WEAK     He was a very superstitious person, and one of these was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

In this sentence the antecedent for the pronoun these should be the noun superstitions, but the noun is only implied by the adjective superstitious.  The error may be corrected by substituting a noun for the pronoun or rewriting the first part of the sentence.

CLEAR     He was a very superstitious person; one of his superstitions was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

BETTER     He had many superstitions, one of which was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

Okay, let's see if you understand.  Here's one more example of weak reference.

WEAK     Mother is very much interested in psychiatry, but she doesn't believe they know all the answers.

CLEAR     Mother is very much interested in psychiatry, but she doesn't believe that psychiatrists know all the answers.

Remember weak reference may be corrected by replacing the weak pronoun with a noun or by giving the pronoun a clear and sensible antecedent.

Don't let storms of weak reference destroy your writing.  Keep your eyes on the winds whipping up that can blow your antecedents away.  Keep your eyes on your pronouns and write clearly. 

*(If anyone needs some practice sentences, let me know and I will type them up and send them to you.)

7 comments:

  1. Good post - so the antedent must be the same part of speech, usually a noun, as the pronoun and the antededent and pronoun should both be either singular or plural.

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  2. Thanks. Yes, you're right in the sense that the antecedent is a noun -- however, it could also be a noun form such as a gerund (half verb and half noun, that is used as a noun), for example, or anything else that is a "noun form" (used like a noun and replaces a noun).

    However, if you would really like to take it one step beyond, I can add a layer of complexity by saying that not all pronouns have antecedents. For example, I could write "Nobody was in the room." The pronoun "nobody" does not stand for a specific noun, but it is used "in placer of" a noun in the sense that it is used in a sentence in the place where a noun would ordinarily occur, as in the sentence "A woman was in the room." Then, again, however, this does not involve weak reference, per se.

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  3. And, yes, agreement of the pronoun and its antecedent is paramount.

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  4. Nice article, thanks for the information.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome. I'm glad I could be helpful.

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  5. Studying for the Praxis K-6; this really helped me understand! Thanks!

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  6. You're welcome, Kristina! Good luck on your Praxis :)

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