Level I

§        Make personal pronouns agree with their antecedents in number and gender.

§        Understand the traditional use of common gender and be able to use its alternatives with sensitivity.


Level II

§        Make personal pronouns agree with subjects joined by or or nor.

§        Make personal pronouns agree with indefinite pronouns, collective nouns, and organization names.

Level III

§        Understand the functions of who and whom.

§        Follow a three-step plan in selecting who or whom.

§        Use the possessive pronoun whose correctly.



Level I




n    Clear Reference.  Do not use pronouns unless the person or thing referred to, the antecedent, is clear.

    Don told Andrew that he was eligible.
       (To whom does he refer?)

    In some restaurants they require coats and ties.
       (Instead of the vague pronoun they, use a noun
       such as the owners or management.)



n    Number Agreement.  Pronouns must agree in number with the nouns they represent.


    One member of the girls’ team forgot her tennis
           shoes.  (The singular pronoun her refers to the
           singular antecedent member.)

        Several candidates were given their tests at once.

n    Plural Pronoun.  If a pronoun refers to two nouns joined by and, the pronoun must be plural.


    The manager and the supervisor discussed their plans
           for improving work flow.

n    Antecedent Location.  Disregard phrases that come between a pronoun and the word to which it refers.


    Judy Foster, along with several staff members, took
           her vacation in August.

        One of the male employees had his merit review.

n    Gender Agreement.  Pronouns must agree in gender with their antecedents.


        Ms. Cortez gave her approval. (Feminine gender)

        Josh parked his truck. (Masculine gender)

        Our office has its own lunch room. (Neuter gender)

n    Gender-Biased Pronouns.  When the gender of the antecedent is unknown, the use of common-gender, or masculine pronouns, was accepted in the past.  Sensitive writers today should avoid common-gender pronouns, which can sound sexist.

Common Gender:
    Every worker is trained for his job.

    All workers are trained for their jobs.
    Every worker is trained for a job.
    Every worker is trained for his or her job.
         (Avoid using this wordy construction.)

    Every worker is trained for their job. 
(Why is this unacceptable?)

                                          Subject (worker) is singular and takes a singular pronoun.

Level II


SPECIAL CHALLENGES With Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement


n    Or-Nor. When antecedents are joined by or or nor, a pronoun should agree with the antecedent closest to it.

It was either Matthew or Kevin who offered his seat.

Neither the supervisor nor the workers expected to see
their salaries increased this year.

Neither the workers nor the supervisor expected to see
his (or her) salary increased this year.

n    Indefinite Pronouns. When they function as antecedents, some indefinite pronouns are always singular and others are always plural.

            Always Singular                       Always Plural

    anybody           everything               both
    anyone             neither                     few
    anything          nobody                    many
    each                 no one                     several
    either               somebody
    everyone          someone

    Everyone in the men’s chorus wore his robe.

    Somebody left his or her car lights on.

    A few of the employees in our company have their own
    private parking spaces.

n    Collective Nouns. Words such as jury, faculty, committee, staff, union, team, flock, and group are considered singular when they function as a unit.  Collective nouns can also be plural when the elements operate separately.

    The jury rendered its (not their) verdict.

    The jury entered the courtroom individually and took
    their seats.


n    Company and Organization Names. The names of companies and organizations are generally considered to be singular.


        Southwest Airlines is expanding its (not their) routes.

        Milberg & Weiss changed its (not their) name.


n    Each, Every, and Many a. When each, every, or many a (not many) precedes a compound subject joined by and, the subject is considered singular.*


    Every player and coach on the men's team is expected to bring his (not their) own play book.
    [Think: Every single player and every single coach is expected to bring his own play book.]

    Once on the job many an intern and new employee
    values his or her (not their) computer training.
    [Think: Many a single intern and many a single new

    employee values his or her computer training.]


*This idiosyncratic usage is difficult to accept, but authorities agree on it.

Try Your Skill


Select the correct pronoun or word to complete the following sentences.


1.           (They, Meteorologists) predict it will rain tomorrow.

2.           One member of the boys’ soccer team left (his, their) jacket on the bus.

3.           Gordon Young, together with his employees, ate (his, their) lunch outdoors.

4.           Every employee is free to speak (his, his or her, their) mind.

5.           Either Max or his employees will have (his, their) requests denied.

6.           Either his employees or Max will have (his, their) request denied.

7.           Someone still needs to cast (his, his or her, their) vote.

8.           Next, the faculty turned (its, their) attention to salary issues.

9.           Target plans to lower (its, their) prices.


10.     Every manager and sales rep is provided (his or her, their) own company car.





KEY: 1. Meteorologists   2. his   3. his   4. his or her   5. their   6. his   7. his or her   8. its   9. its   10. his or her [Think: Every single manager and every single sales rep is provided his or her own company car.]

Level III


Advanced Pronoun Uses: Who/Whom


n    Case. Who and whoever are subjective-case forms and are used as subjects and subject complements. Whom and whomever are objective-case forms and are used as objects of verbs and prepositions.


n    Procedure. Follow these steps to select who or whom.

1.   Isolate the who/whom clause.

2.   Invert the clause, if necessary, to restore normal
     subject-verb-object order.

3.   Substitute he (she or they) for who and him (her or
     them) for whom.

4.   Equate and complete the clause.


1.   Isolate clause         (who/whom) we want
2.   Invert                      we want (who/whom)
3.   Substitute               we want him
4.   Equate                    we want whom
5.   Complete                He is the one WHOM we want.


Try Your Skill



Select the correct pronoun to complete the following sentences.


1.       He is the applicant (who/whom) applied last week.

2.       An old friend (who/whom) we had not seen for years surprised us with a visit.

3.       Did the visitor say (who/whom) she wanted to see?






KEY: 1. who   2. whom   3. whom




n    Intervening Phrases. Mentally ignore parenthetical phrases like I believe, you think, we know, and we are sure.


1.   Isolate clause         (who/whom) you think is good
2.   Ignore phrase         (who/whom) is good
3.   Substitute               he is good
4.   Equate                    who is good
5.   Complete                Hire a clerk WHO you think is good.


n    Clauses. Clauses containing whoever/whomever often function as subjects or objects in sentences. When the entire clause acts as a subject or object, determine how whoever/whomever functions within that clause.


1. Isolate clause           (whoever/whomever) ordered them
2. Substitute                he ordered them
3. Equate                     whoever ordered them
4. Complete                 Those supplies are for WHOEVER
                                    ordered them.




Try Your Skill


Select the correct pronoun to complete the following sentences.


1.       We will hire (whoever/whomever) you may recommend.

2.       Have you checked with (whoever/whomever) placed this order?

3.       Brian is the employee about (who/whom) I believe you asked.

4.       We wonder (who/whom) the new manager will be. (Tricky!)





KEY: 1. whomever   2. whoever   3. whom   4. who (subject complement)