WRITING:     ANTECEDENTS                                January 28, 2018

In writing, correct words and punctuation marks serve as traffic signals on the road of life to tell readers where to go and how to interpret instructions.  These are critical for accurate comprehension and to avoid mistakes and accidents.


For example, readers always need to be sure whom we’re talking about or referring to.  A pronoun reference to a noun is known as an antecedent.  Webster defines “antecedent” in this way:

“1. A noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause referred to by a personal or relative pronoun.”
Now, I must also define personal and relative pronouns so that you can be on your way to understanding antecedents and how they meet their missions.

Personal pronoun:  I, you, he, she, it, we, they

Relative pronoun:  who, whom, that, which

To keep this lesson simple today, we will discuss only personal pronouns as antecedents.


Repeating nouns many times makes sentences sound odd and sort of difficult to read:

Mark is happy because Mark is playing golf.

The use of personal pronouns as antecedents keeps writers from having to repeat the nouns:  Mark is happy because he is playing golf.

Next, let’s put pronouns to use in both unclear and then clear references.


Unclear antecedents:

Mark said that Don has a secret but he isn’t glad about it.

[Which man isn’t glad about the secret—Mark, or Don?]

Joan urged Hannah to respect her opinions.

[Whose opinions are not being respected—Joan’s, or Hannah’s?]


How to fix?  Sometimes a portion of a sentence must be rewritten or a word should be removed or added to make the sentence clear.
Mark said that Don has a secret but Don isn’t glad about it.

Mark said that Don has a secret and Don isn’t glad about it.

Mark said that Don has a secret; Don isn’t glad about it, though.

Mark said, “Don has a secret, but he isn’t glad about it.”

According to Mark, Don has a secret that he isn’t glad about.

Joan urged Hannah to respect her opinions. [Joan’s opinions]

Joan said, “Hannah, please respect my opinions.”

Joan urged Hannah to respect her own opinions. [Hannah’s opinions]

Joan said, “Hannah, you should respect your own opinions.”


I’ll say it again:  Clarity is everything in our communications, whether we’re writing or speaking.  Let’s do our best for others.

Many lessons and bits of advice in this writing/grammar series have been taken from Writestyle’s online campus of courses covering Grammar, Punctuation, Proofreading, and Editing.  If you need help, we’re here for you.  [Note: Our very-old Web site, https://writestyle.com, is being revamped but is still accessible.]

Vickie L. Weaver

Vickie L. Weaver

Owner at Writestyle
Writing has been an important talent and part of my life since I was a child.Professionally, after decades of employment for others, I founded Writestyle in 1996 to provide writing, editing, proofreading, training, and more to clients worldwide (www.writestyle.com).Clients often call my work “magic.”I have written and/or edited for “Coexistence Magazine” (national), for “Ohio Magazine,” and for various newspapers.In addition, I have edited or contributed to the writing of numerous books.Personally, I have written in various genres.I have always composed poetry; as such, I have won awards and publication for some of my poems, and I am compiling a book of my poetry.One of my children’s books is set for publication.With my second husband, family and friends in Ohio, I enjoy music and dance, aid charitable causes, and strive for beauty and harmony in life.
Vickie L. Weaver

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