PDA

View Full Version : A question about pronoun agreement



Lee G.
03-08-2006, 07:14 PM
When two people are mentioned in a sentence, is it incorrect to use pronouns in the next sentence if they are both mentioned again? I have three examples.

Example 1: Each morning Elizabeth walked past Teresa's house. Elizabeth thought it was odd that Teresa's door was wide open on this particular morning, long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

Okay, that was nice and spelled-out, but could I also write the following?

Each morning Elizabeth walked past Teresa's house. She thought it was odd that Teresa's door was wide open on this particular morning, long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

Example 2: Elizabeth, after listening to the doorbell chime three times unanswered, called Teresa's cell phone. She picked up and began to whimper and sob.

Example 3: Elizabeth had often smoothed her face into a pleasant mask when Teresa had pulled her aside at parties, usually to blab on and on about her husband's new boat or her ever-approaching trips to distant locales. She struck Elizabeth as the sort of a woman who would cry over a chipped nail, but this time seemed different.

These situations come up in my writing a lot. I've always read that you should always use the proper name if there is even the possibility of confusion, but this often leads to stiff-sounding sentences. What do you think? Is it grammatically correct to use a pronoun in the situations above?

CaroGirl
03-08-2006, 07:37 PM
Each morning Elizabeth walked past Teresa's house. She thought it was odd that Teresa's door was wide open on this particular morning, long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

So is it grammatically correct to simply use a pronoun in these situations?
Sure it's correct. There are only two people here, and the second sentence uses a pronoun for one of them and the proper noun for the other. Abundantly clear. No problem.

Medievalist
03-08-2006, 08:12 PM
. . . . long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

A grammar purist would point out that the "her office" is a potential vague pronoun reference (is it Teresa's or Elizabeth's office?) and might suggest "departed for work" instead -- me, I think it's just fine.

reph
03-08-2006, 10:50 PM
Your suggested rewrite of Example 1 is all right, but Examples 2 and 3 will slow down the reader. The default referent of "she," when the preceding sentence contains two candidates, is always the grammatical subject of that sentence. Readers will interpret "she" as Elizabeth at first and have to go back and reconstrue it when they find that the sentence doesn't make sense that way.

In Example 2, the antecedent of "she" is "Teresa's," the possessive form. It isn't solid enough to hold up a later "she."

Additional comments on Example 1, no extra charge: I would have started the sentence with "On this particular morning" and ended with "left for her office."

PastMidnight
03-09-2006, 12:18 AM
I agree with reph's explanations as to why the pronouns in Examples 2 and 3 aren't clear grammatically, but wanted to point out that Example 3 ends up being clear (at least to me) since you say "She struck Elizabeth," eliminating "Elizabeth" as the antecedent of "she".

Jamesaritchie
03-09-2006, 08:37 AM
When two people are mentioned in a sentence, is it incorrect to use pronouns in the next sentence if they are both mentioned again? I have three examples.

Example 1: Each morning Elizabeth walked past Teresa's house. Elizabeth thought it was odd that Teresa's door was wide open on this particular morning, long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

Okay, that was nice and spelled-out, but could I also write the following?

Each morning Elizabeth walked past Teresa's house. She thought it was odd that Teresa's door was wide open on this particular morning, long after Teresa usually departed for her office.

Example 2: Elizabeth, after listening to the doorbell chime three times unanswered, called Teresa's cell phone. She picked up and began to whimper and sob.

Example 3: Elizabeth had often smoothed her face into a pleasant mask when Teresa had pulled her aside at parties, usually to blab on and on about her husband's new boat or her ever-approaching trips to distant locales. She struck Elizabeth as the sort of a woman who would cry over a chipped nail, but this time seemed different.

These situations come up in my writing a lot. I've always read that you should always use the proper name if there is even the possibility of confusion, but this often leads to stiff-sounding sentences. What do you think? Is it grammatically correct to use a pronoun in the situations above?

There's nothing at all wrong with two and three. They work much better than using the actual names in every case.

I would move the name "Elizabeth" in number two. "After listening to the doorbell chime three times unanswered, Elizabeth called Teresa's cell phone. She picked up and began to whimper and sob."

Elizabeth is the one making the call, so Teresa is the ONLY one who can pick up and begin to whimper and sob. It works fine, and reads a heck of a lot better than using "Teresa" yet again.

This is a case for using your ear, not your grammar book. I think the grammar is fine, as well, but to the ear, your way of writing it works very well.

Lee G.
03-09-2006, 03:46 PM
Thanks for the advice. Now I can tell my internal grammartarian to nag a little less. Doesn't that always feel good?

Aconite
03-09-2006, 07:03 PM
I would move the name "Elizabeth" in number two. "After listening to the doorbell chime three times unanswered, Elizabeth called Teresa's cell phone. She picked up and began to whimper and sob."

Elizabeth is the one making the call, so Teresa is the ONLY one who can pick up and begin to whimper and sob. It works fine, and reads a heck of a lot better than using "Teresa" yet again.
Show of hands from those who read After listening to the doorbell chime three times unanswered, Elizabeth called Teresa's cell phone. She picked up and began to whimper and sob and thought the second "she" referred to Elizabeth until farther into the sentence. I did. Yes, eventually you figure out who must be doing the picking up and whimpering and sobbing, but it's not immediately clear. I vote with reph on this one.

Bufty
03-09-2006, 07:48 PM
Probably just me, but I find Example 2 confusing either way and it jars me a tad.
If this is supposed to be in Elizabeth's POV wouldn't it be better to give the 'picking up' as a heard event by Elizabeth. I'm obviously outside the house but feel I'm being temporarily bounced inside with the 'She picked [it] up...,' which is not information that can be known to Elizabeth for certain until she hears her friend's voice....but then what do I know?
And a tad off topic, and to be ultra picky, one doesn't answer a mobile by picking it up - no? Personally, I would redo the last sentence.

Aconite
03-09-2006, 09:05 PM
And a tad off topic, and to be ultra picky, one doesn't answer a mobile by picking it up - no? Nor does one "hang up" a mobile phone, or "turn on" most lights these days.

reph
03-09-2006, 11:14 PM
We still speak of dialing a number.

Aconite, do you mean "turning on a light" originally referred to a rotational action?

Aconite
03-10-2006, 12:23 AM
Aconite, do you mean "turning on a light" originally referred to a rotational action?Indeed it did. Ever watch the original Lassie programs? In them, you'll see people turning dials to bring on lights. I suspect electrical lights originally dialed on because that's how gas lights are turned up, and the action was familiar to people of the time.