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Monday, April 7, 2014

Who Are They?

They said to avoid Maple Avenue today.   (Who are they?  Friends?  Neighbors?  Newscasters?  Who?)

I heard the owl hoot from a tree nearby, but I couldn't see it.  (It?  The tree?  The owl?  An alien hiding in the brush?  What?)

Confusion can romp rampantly through an author's writing.  The indefinite use of pronouns is an evil demon.

English teachers across the country marking students' papers often shake their heads in the grading process and can be heard muttering, "Who are they?"  Clean up your writing and make your sentences clear by keeping the following rule in mind:

Rule:  In formal writing, avoid indefinite use of the pronouns, it, they, and you.

*Although the indefinite use of these pronouns in sentences like the following may occur in ordinary conversation, such use is not acceptable in most writing. 

1.  (Indefinite)  In this history book they refer to the Civil War as the War Between the States.
     (Better)        This history book refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States.

2.  (Indefinite)  In some nineteenth-century novels you are always meeting difficult words.
     (Better)        In some nineteenth-century novels, the vocabulary is quite difficult.

The pronouns above in the first examples have no clear antecedents. (The word to which a pronoun refers or whose place it takes is the antecedent of the pronoun.)

*Note:  Expressions such as it is snowing, it is too early, and it seems are, of course, entirely correct.

Remember to check your pronouns as you write or revise.  Make sure each pronoun has an antecedent, or otherwise, they will be coming to take you away!  


  1. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanksGrammarly reviews

  2. Should Steve's comment read, "NICELY Written"?