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Pronoun Shifts:

A pronoun shift is a grammatical error in which the author starts a sentence, paragraph, or section of a paper using one particular type of pronoun and then suddenly shifts to another. This often confuses the reader.

The most common shift is from third person nouns and pronouns (he / she / it / they) to second person pronouns you / your / yours. However, some students switch between first person pronouns (I / we / me / us / my / our) to other pronouns halfway through a sentence or essay as well. Here are some examples of faulty sentences (in red) followed by examples of corrected sentences (in blue).

WRONG! INCORRECT! When we asked about Anglo-Saxon literature, we discovered you could learn to speak Old English in a few months if a teacher were available to instruct you.

In the faulty sentence, the word we undergoes a pronoun shift to you midway through the discussion.

CORRECTED VERSION: When we asked about Anglo-Saxon literature, we discovered we could learn to speak Old English in a few months if a teacher were available to instruct us.

In the corrected version, the writer maintains plural first person pronouns throughout the discussion.

WRONG! INCORRECT! If you eat sensibly and watch your caloric intake, most people should be able to maintain their desired weight.

CORRECTED VERSION: If you eat sensibly and watch your caloric intake, you should be able to maintain your desired weight.

OR EVEN BETTER: If dieters eat sensibly and watch their caloric intake, they should be able to maintain their desired weight.

Sometimes, in an effort to be formal or scholarly, writers will use the indefinite pronoun one, as in "Nothing makes one appreciate life like a beefy burrito with one's salsa." Many readers find this diction unnatural or pretentious. Instead, take the word one and replace it with a specific plural noun of some sort. For instance, "Nothing makes hungry diners appreciate life like a beefy burrito with their salsa." This is an advantageous choice for two reasons. First, using a noun gives the writer a place to hang an adjective. It allows the author to use more description if she wants to. Second, using a plural noun means the writer avoids both awkward singular phrases like "his or her" or "his/her" and still avoids sexist language by inserting a their.

This grammatical error is the first most common type of pronoun shift. The second most common type of shift is to switch between using singular pronouns at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph and plural pronouns at the end of a sentence of paragraph. This is called an error in pronoun antecedents or a shift in pronoun antecedents. If you want to review this, you can read about it here. You should also beware of those tricky pronouns which have an indefinite reference. These pronouns require grammarians to remember if they are singular or plural. You can read about them here.

You can also click here to go back to the page on pronoun antecedents.

 

 

 
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