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Writing Tip: Unclear Pronouns

We've got another fun tip: Unclear pronouns, sometimes also called missing antecedents. This is a very common problem in professional writing, so read on for how to become a pronoun pro!

Reminder: A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun: he, she, it, this, we, etc.

The takeaway with this post is, when you use a pronoun, make sure it's very clear what that pronoun is referring to.

Take this sentence for example: Here at work they expect us to show initiative.

Who is "they" in this sentence? You probably couldn't tell me without extra context. Instead, you should write something like: Here at work our bosses expect us to show initiative.

​The addition of an antecedent (bosses) makes it very clear who the sentence is about.

A good warning signal is to look for the words it and they/them/their in a sentence. If those words are alone in a sentence, without an antecedent (the noun the pronoun refers to), then make sure ​it's crystal clear what those pronouns refer to.

You should also default to putting the pronoun first, like this:

Confusing: If it's available, be sure to re-order that product.

Better: If the product is available, be sure to re-order it.

When the pronoun comes first, your reader doesn't have to wait until the end of the sentence to figure out what you're referring to. Give the people what they want! (Clear antecedents!)

So remember: When you use a pronoun, make sure it's very clear what that pronoun is referring to.

I hope this writing tip helps you write cleaner, clearer sentences. Good luck!

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