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Major Pronoun Mistakes in Business Writing

Common writing mistakes creep up often. In this lesson, we review pronouns, which can be incredibly difficult. It’s important to note that non-native English speakers make pronoun mistakes all the time. The thing is, pronoun mistakes in writing are not completely ruinous of your meaning – that is, if you make a mistake, I will still understand you. The problem is that I will think you are a dummy. That’s a fact.

Watch the video, read through the transcript, and attempt to answer the questions below.

Pronoun Mistakes

What’s wrong with these three sentences?

1. Craig told Frank that many readers had written to him.

2. Frank and me plan to write many ebooks in 2013.

3. Neither Frank nor Craig like working long hours.

They all use use pronouns incorrectly or in an ambiguous way. This is a common writing problem for many non-native speakers of English. Even native speakers can be guilty too.

The first sentence uses the pronoun “him” ambiguously; we don’t know whether it refers to Craig or Frank. You need to rewrite the sentence to make it clear which person you are talking about.

Thus the correct sentence is: Craig told Frank that many readers had written to Frank.

The second problem occurs when a pronoun is used with a noun or another pronoun. The best way to avoid this problem is to separate the sentence into two separate sentences. “Frank plans to write many ebooks” sounds right. But “me plan to write many ebooks” doesn’t, unless you are a comedian imitating a poor speaker of English.

The sentence should read: Frank and I plan to write many ebooks in 2013.

The third sentence seems correct; however, the problem is more difficult to analyze. We’re dealing with indefinite pronouns which are in some cases singular and other cases plural.

The indefinite pronoun “neither” is always singular. Other examples are each, anyone, anybody, and everybody.

So the correct form is: Neither Frank nor Craig likes working long hours.

It’s good to know that these indefinite pronouns are always plural: both, many, several and few. Whenever you use those, make sure not to make one of the common pronoun mistakes of forgetting they are plural. On the other hand, the following indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural depending on their use: all, none, any, some and most.

For example, in the following two sentences all can be either plural or singular:

  • All the posts on Business English HQ are well written.
  • All the information is accurate.

 

Try These Pronoun Mistakes

1. Everybody likes to share their comments on Business English HQ posts.

2. On a recent post, many readers sent Frank and I great comments.

3. Frank and Craig work very hard, but both works smartly.

Answers:

1. Everybody likes to share his or her comments on Business English HQ posts.

2. On a recent post, many readers sent Frank and me great comments.

3. Frank and Craig work very hard, but both work smartly.

What mistakes do you tend to make? How have pronouns made your writing difficult?

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Andréanne Lessard March 8, 2013, 6:02 pm

    I found this post informative on the use of pronouns. I could recognize some mistakes I sometimes make when I write in English.

  • Maïté Frégeau March 8, 2013, 6:07 pm

    SO HELPFUL!

  • LacoursièreL. March 8, 2013, 6:31 pm

    Why in the first “test” sentence can’t we say “their comments”?

    And in the third one, is the word “both” a third person pronoun because of the letter “s” at the end of “work”?

    • Frank March 10, 2013, 9:06 pm

      Hi Laurence,

      We can’t use “their comments” in formal writing because the subject of the sentence, “Everybody,” is singular. In the third sentence, the word “both” is plural, so we don’t use “s” on the verb.

      Check in regularly for more grammar points.

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