Top 10 grammar tips: unclear pronoun referencing

You can cause confusion for your readers when your pronouns (e.g. it, this) don’t relate clearly back to a specific word or words (known as their antecedent).

The three common types of vague pronoun referencing:

  • Ambiguous referencing
  • Remote reference
  • Vague reference

Ambiguous reference

With ambiguous pronoun referencing, the pronoun could refer back to one or more element in the sentence.

In the following example it is unclear who is doing the dumping – the banks or the hedge funds.

The conversion of former US investment banking giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley into commercial banks (which have tougher capital requirements) had the unintended consequence of squeezing funding to hedge funds – which in turn has exacerbated their dumping of assets across world markets.

Remote reference

Remote referencing occurs when a pronoun refers to something mentioned further back in the document. Sometimes this works, but often the reader has to re-read to find the reference.

A deregulated foreign exchange market, in this view, would gravitate towards stability.

This theory…

Vague reference

Vague referencing occurs when the pronoun refers to a word that is implied, not explicitly mentioned.

The situation was deteriorating. The president frowned – he was clearly worried by it.

Sometimes, it is clearer to repeat a key word or phrase or choose a different word.

The situation was deteriorating. The president frowned – the situation worried him.

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