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Pronouns: Agreement with Antecedent

A plural antecedent needs a plural pronoun; a singular antecedent needs a singular pronoun.

Make a demonstrative pronoun agree with its antecedent.

The demonstrative pronouns this and that refer to singular nouns; these and those refer to plural nouns.
Demonstrative Pronouns
Singular Plural
this these
that those
  Examples He published his autobiography two years ago. This was his first book.
[singular antecedent = autobiography]

One reviewer praised his honesty and directness. Those were qualities he had worked hard to develop.
[plural antecedent = his honesty and directness]

Make a pronoun agree with a generic antecedent.

Some nouns are used to describe a class or type of person or object, such as a student meaning "all students" or a company meaning "any company" or "all companies." Nouns that make such generalizations are called generic nouns. When a singular generic noun is the antecedent of a pronoun, make the pronoun singular. Do not use they to refer to a singular generic noun.

  Faulty    When a student is educated, they can go far in the world.
[singular antecedent = student; plural pronoun = they]
  Revised    When a student is educated, he or she can go far in the world.
[singular antecedent = student; singular pronoun = he or she]

When students are educated, they can go far in the world.
[plural antecedent = students; plural pronoun = they]

Increasingly, you will see in advertising and journalism a plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent.

  Example One day your child turns sixteen and you let them borrow the keys to the wagon.

However, in formal academic situations, readers will expect a pronoun to agree with its antecedent. Often the best solution is to make the antecedent plural.

  Faulty    We should judge a person by who they are, not by the color of their skin.
  Revised    We should judge people by who they are, not by the color of their skin.

Make a pronoun agree with the nearer of compound antecedents joined by or or nor.

After a compound antecedent connected by or or nor, a pronoun agrees with the element of the antecedent nearer to it. If one antecedent is singular and the other plural, put the plural antecedent second and have the pronoun agree with it.

  Examples Either my father or my brother has left his bag in the hall.

Neither Bill nor the campers could find their luggage.

Make a pronoun agree with a collective noun.

Refer to a collective noun like class, family, jury, committee, couple, or team with a singular pronoun.

  Examples The class revised its examination schedule.

The committee has not yet completed its report.

However, when the members of the group named by the collective noun are considered to be acting individually, use a plural pronoun.

  Example The committee began to cast their ballots in a formal vote.

See also
Personal Pronouns
Possessive Forms
Clear Reference
Gender Bias
Point of View
Use of you
Intensive and Reflexive Pronouns
Who Whom, Whoever Whomever