Video: How to repair pronoun-antecedent disagreement by Grammar Aid Editing Service (new tab). (Watching time: 4m:03secs).
Male and female nouns
English has specific pronouns for individual males and females.
What is an antecedent and its pronoun?
A 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.
A 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).
It's easier if the nouns are plural because plural pronouns are non-gender specific.
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.
Using a singular noun, like "child", without there being any matching non-gendered singular pronoun
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.
Instructions: Hover or tap the questions below to see the reason for the answers given in the quiz.
1. In order to truly be an effective teacher, the teacher must acknowledge that each child in 1__________ classroom is different and unique. The classroom teacher must meet each child at his or her point of need, which will in fact be a different “point of need” for every child. The teacher must be willing and able to adapt to the child and give that child what 2________ needs. Some professionals may call this way of thinking “unfair”, but in all reality, the very definition of fairness is every person gets what he or she needs, not necessarily the same thing or the same amount. Educators must not confuse the concept of fairness with equality. A young child may tell you that fair means everyone should get the same thing; however, an educator should know that fairness is when all children get what 3_______ need.
Place the correct pronoun/s in the spaces provided.
1. his or her ✔
2. he or she ✔
3. they ✔
Why: 1. Teacher is a singular noun, but we don't know if the teacher is male or female
2. The child is a singular noun, but we don't know if the child in question is male or female.
3. Children is a plural noun, and there is no distinction between male and female... easier.