Pronouns that can get you in trouble

by Ariana Dale

I recently sent a text to a friend to tell him how grateful I was for his presence in my life. I started by telling him about some difficult things I’d been working through, then I transitioned into my gratitude with “It all started with….”I re-read the text after I sent it and was horrified. By using “it” without defining what I was referring too, I had basically just told my friend that all the difficult things that had happened started with him! This was the absolute last message I wanted to convey.

So how can you make sure that you’re using pronouns correctly? Try this:

  1. Find all of the demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those, it, etc.) in your paper. You can circle them, highlight them, put a massive star in the margin to help you remember…but find them. Find them all.
  2. Figure out what subject you’re actually referring to. You can keep note of it in the margin.
  3. Find a word that concisely describes what you’re referring to and add it after your pronoun. For example, if you say, “This was really confusing,” you might want to clarify this by saying, “This concept in astrophysics was really confusing.” (If you’ve already clarified your pronouns, give yourself a big thumbs up!)

Here’s what I should have done.

My original text looked something like this:

“Lately, I have been having a really difficult time balancing work, school, and personal life. It all started with our conversation and your note of encouragement.”

In this example, it is referring to the difficult time I had been having. As I said earlier, this text I sent was meant to give gratitude, so the way I wrote it was sending the wrong message! What I intended to say was that our conversation, especially his encouragement, was the start of a positive change.

Here’s how I could have written it:

“Lately, I have been having a really difficult time balancing work, school, and personal life. A positive change all started with our conversation and your note of encouragement.”

Now, my overall text could use some polishing up, but at least this way I’m not telling my friend that he’s the source of everything awful!

Sometimes it’s easy to disregard grammar in a text, but this mistake was a good reminder to me that grammar is important in all forms of writing!

 

Ariana is the post-graduate teaching intern (PGTI) for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). This spring, she started grad school at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville (SIUE) and is working toward a master’s in education in instructional technology.

1 thought on “Pronouns that can get you in trouble

  1. Ariana, thank you for this post! I will definitely use this idea with my students. Thank you for sharing your insights!

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