Insulting with pronouns

bridesmaidsPronouns (he, she, it, they, his, her, its, that, them, this, for example) are useful shortcuts. They allow us to avoid saying:

Sir William Willingham Shropshire has assumed leadership of The International Institute for Global Peace, and the annual meeting of the International Institute for Global Peace was held at the estate of Sir William Willingham Shropshire.

Instead, we can say:

Sir William Willingham Shropshire has assumed leadership of The International Institute for Global Peace and hosted its annual meeting at his estate.

The handy pronouns its and his enabled us to avoid repeating two long and clumsy phrases. But writers, tossing around pronouns with no concern for where they land, often confuse us with unclear pronoun references. Sometimes the ambiguity even results in an unintended insult. Watch for these errors the next time you read a newspaper, magazine, or online article.


  • Because the representative is less committed to saving money than drafting legislation, she sometimes overlooks it.

What does it mean? Does she overlook drafting legislation or saving money? Here’s how the sentence might have been clearer:

The representative sometimes overlooks saving money because she is committed to drafting legislation.

  • Stewart has a great vocabulary. That is how he is able to convince people he is smart.

Pronouns have to refer to something. That suggests an action, but it has no referent in the first sentence. Simply having a good vocabulary does nothing to convince anyone of anything. Here’s a clearer version:

Stewart uses his great vocabulary to convince people he is smart.

  • The bride told the maid of honor she hated her dress because it made her look fat.

Is the bride referring to her own dress or to the bridesmaid’s dress? This is either an insecure bride or a snarky bridezilla who doesn’t deserve an honor attendant. Let’s hope it was this one:

The bride told the maid of honor, “I hate my dress. It makes me look fat.” […followed by reassurances that she is beautiful and this is her special day …]

My friend’s dad told me his pet peeve was a guy who confuses pronouns, just like he does. But, as he always says, he’s an idiot and his opinion has never mattered much to him.

Insulting with pronouns. See how easy that is?

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe last weekly post to this blog will be July 3, 2016. After that, see TextCPR on Facebook for occasional new posts. Thanks for nearly four years of readership and engaging comments.

The spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *