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Noun and pronoun consistency

Pronouns (e.g., he, she, his, hers, their) can replace a noun in a sentence to improve the flow or reduce wordiness. For example, "the student submitted his paper." Where authors can run into trouble is making sure that the number (i.e., singular or plural) of the pronoun matches that of the noun. For example, in the statement, "the student must submit their paper on time", "student" is a singular noun, whereas "their" is a plural pronoun. This error most often appears in sentences when the author tries to construct a sentence that doesn't present a gender bias (e.g., only using "his"), or tries to use "their" as a neutral singular pronoun in place of the clumsy "his/her". Unfortunately, English doesn't have a neutral singular pronoun, so using "their" to refer to one individual is incorrect. The good news is that the error is easily avoided by making all the necessary words in the sentence plural so that the number is consistent throughout. For example, in "the students must submit their papers on time", the subject (students), pronoun (their), and object (papers) are all pluralized so that the number is consistent throughout the sentence.

See Pronouns for more information, and if you have any questions, please contact the Writing Centre

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 

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