Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson


Imagine if all people individually chose how to form and utilize a language. That language would be drastically different from city to city, town to town, street to street, and even house to house! In this circumstance, would you be able to communicate with the people in your community? Most likely not. Our language has developed many rules in order to prevent that kind of chaos from happening. These guidelines are imperative in order for communication to actually occur.

One aspect of those rules deals with agreement. In grammar, agreement refers to words that change form depending on other words in the sentence. Many times, natural speakers have been so immersed in a language that they can easily identify when agreement goes wrong. For example, imagine a stranger comes up to you and asks ‘Be you from here?’ You should easily know that that question is not grammatically correct. This example shows a mistake in agreement.

Pronoun Agreement

For this lesson, we will focus on agreement between nouns and pronouns. All pronouns must agree with their antecedents. Remember, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, and an antecedent is the noun that is replaced. These two sentences show how we use pronouns to replace antecedents and simplify sentences:

‘The girl was playing with a basketball.’

‘She threw it at her sister.’

The second sentence is full of pronouns. What words were replaced in the second sentence? ‘She’ replaced ‘girl,’ and ‘it’ replaced ‘basketball.’ Thus, ‘girl’ and ‘basketball’ are antecedents for the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘it.’ In addition, ‘her’ is another pronoun that also refers to the girl. So, the two pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ both have the antecedent ‘girl.’ Without pronouns, these sentences would read:

‘The girl was playing with a basketball. The girl threw the basketball at the girl’s sister.’

You can certainly see how repetitive our language would be without pronouns.

There are three ways in which pronouns must agree: gender, number, and case. Let’s look at each in turn.


Firstly, pronouns should agree in gender with their antecedents. Basically, certain pronouns refer to girls or women, and others refer to boys or men. This can help clarify who the person is who is being described.


Next, pronouns must also agree with their antecedents in number. There are certain pronouns that are only used for singular antecedents, and there are certain ones to replace plural antecedents.

Look back at this example from earlier: ‘The dog chases his tail.’ Which word is a pronoun?

‘His’ is a pronoun replacing the word ‘dog.’ Since we have already discussed gender, we can assume the dog is male. Secondly, the dog is singular, so we use the singular pronoun ‘his.’

Look what happens if the antecedent becomes plural: ‘The dogs chase their tails.’

First, note how the verb changes to agree with the newly plural subject. Second, the pronoun ‘his’ can no longer be used since the antecedent is now plural. It changed the plural pronoun to ‘their’ to follow the rules of agreement.


The final way pronouns must agree with their antecedents is in case. Case refers to the position the word is used within the sentence. The three positions for pronouns are subject, object, and possessive.

If a pronoun is in the subject case, then this means that it is the subject of the sentence. The subject pronouns include ‘she,’ ‘he,’ ‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘we,’ ‘they,’ and ‘it.’ In this sentence, ‘She threw it at her sister,’ ‘she’ is in the subject case since it is the subject of the sentence. You cannot use a pronoun that is not a subject pronoun in the subject position. For instance, in the sentence ‘Her threw it at her sister,’ you know immediately that something is wrong with that sentence. This is because a subject pronoun is needed to function as the subject of the sentence.

The other two types of cases, object and possessive, can fall somewhere else in the sentence other than the subject position. Object pronouns receive the action, and possessive pronouns show ownership. The object pronouns include ‘me,’ ‘you,’ ‘us,’ ‘them,’ ‘him,’ ‘her,’ and ‘it’. On the other hand, possessive pronouns show ownership. They include ‘my,’ ‘your,’ ‘our,’ ‘their,’ ‘his,’ ‘her,’ and ‘its.’

For example, let’s consider the sentence ‘I gave them their books.’ In this case, ‘I’ is the subject representing the person doing the action. ‘Gave’ is the action, or verb. ‘Them’ represents the people receiving the action, or getting the books, and thus is in the object case. ‘Their’ is showing who owns the books and thus is the possessive case. Each of those pronouns must be placed in the specific position in the sentence according to their functions.

Would this next sentence make sense? ‘Them gave their I books.’ Of course not! This is because a subject pronoun is in the possessive spot, an object pronoun is in the subject spot, and a possessive pronoun is in the object spot. The pronouns are in positions they are not meant to be in.

Lesson Summary

To review, agreement refers to the rules for making words agree with other words in sentences. Pronoun agreement involves using pronouns that agree with their antecedents. The three aspects of this agreement are gender, number, and case.

For gender, pronouns for girls or women must be used to replace antecedents for girls or women, and the same goes for those for boys and men.

For number, singular pronouns must be used to replace singular antecedents, and plural pronounces must be used to replace plural antecedents.

Case is a bit more complicated, since it refers to the position of the word in the sentence. If the antecedent is the subject of the sentence, only subject pronouns can be used. The same goes for if the pronoun falls in the object or possessive spot. Remember, objects receive the action in the sentence, and possessive pronouns show ownership.

These topics can be tricky concepts, but if you always match your pronouns with your antecedents, you will avoid making errors in agreement.

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