Male and female nouns

What is an antecedent and its pronoun?

mother can always recognise her own baby's crying.

The builder needs his tools.

An antecedent is a word that appears early in a sentence or paragraph, that later words may refer to or replace—such as mother in the above example.
pronoun (like he or him) usually has a noun (or another pronoun) that serves as antecedent.

This is useful because it reduces the clutter of having to repeat the noun in the sentence.

What is important to note here is that the pronoun needs to agree with its antecedent noun in terms of gender and number (consider whether it is male/female and singular/plural). In the first sentence above, because the subject is one mother, the pronoun 'her' must be singular and feminine.

Fun explanation: watch the BBC's video and try their three games on pronouns: BBC lesson on pronouns. (Not iPad friendly).

Plural pronouns

Mothers can always recognise their own baby's cries.

Builders need their own tools.

In this case the antecedent builders is plural, so it needs a plural pronoun their. The same applies for mothers.

In Part 3 we explain what the problem is for you as a student, and how you can avoid making this mistake.

The problem for you

What about when you are writing about a child, or a person, or someone—a single person—but you cannot assume on the gender? This is when mistakes can happen. We have noticed that education students quite often flounder over this aspect of their writing, particularly as they often have to write about child development theory, or classroom management theory, and they wish to avoid obviously sexist language. English is rather awkward in this respect!

The following example has a solution to this problem:

Every individual child should have his or her identity and sense of belonging acknowledged so that he or she can flourish.

Here is another way to address this problem:

All individual children should have their identities and senses of belonging acknowledged so that they can flourish.

Student Learning