In this GMAT grammar tutorial, we look at the definition of pronoun agreement and cover the various types you’ll encounter. Do brush up on the basic building blocks of grammar – nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives – before moving on.
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent (word referred to by the pronoun) in number (singular or plural), gender and person (first person/second person/third person).
Compound subjects joined by ‘and’ take the plural pronoun
a) Rita and Tina completed their assignment.
The following sentences have a compound subject joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, where one noun is singular and the other is plural.
a) Neither the boss nor the team members finished their
b) Neither the team members nor the boss finished his
The pronoun agrees with the antecedent nearer to it.
The following sentences are often confused:
1) If a guest (singular) wants to use the gymnasium, they (plural) have to pay for it. (Incorrect)
Here, the pronoun does not agree with its antecedent in number. So, the sentence is incorrect. The right way would be:
If a guest (singular) wants to use the gymnasium, he or she (singular) has to pay for it. (correct)
You can also use the plural form:
If the guests (plural) want to use the gymnasium, they (plural) have to pay for it. (correct)
Take another example:
If anybody (singular) wishes to give any suggestion, they (plural) can do so now. (incorrect)
As ‘anybody’ is singular, the pronoun used has to be singular:
If anybody (singular) wishes to give any suggestion, he or she (singular) can do so now. (correct)
We can also change the sentence by making the antecedent plural:
If people (plural) wish to give any suggestion, they (plural) can do so now. (correct)
Singular indefinite pronouns – either, neither, somebody, someone, anybody, anyone, no one, nobody, nothing, everyone, everybody, everything take singular pronouns.
a) Neither of the girls finished her
b) Each of the boys tried to solve the puzzle to the best of his
c) You have to ensure that everything is in its place before you leave.
Plural indefinite pronouns – ‘many’, ‘several, ‘few’, ‘both’ take plural pronoun.
a) Both got a promotion for their good work.
b) Few of them had decided to book their tickets online.
For ‘every’, we use a singular pronoun:
a) Every project has its share of responsibilities.
b) Every piece of furniture needs to be put in its
There’s a common misconception that ‘everyone’ is plural and the following incorrect usage seems to be very common.
Everyone (singular) should complete their (plural) work before leaving. (incorrect)
However, ‘everyone’ is a singular indefinite pronoun. So, keeping in mind the ‘number agreement’, the correct usage would be:
Everyone (singular) should complete his or her (singular) work before leaving. (correct)
Note the use of the pronoun ‘some’ in different ways:
Some (singular) of the flour spilled out of its (singular) pack.
Here flour is uncountable, so we use a singular pronoun.
Some (plural) of the apples fell out of their (plural) bag.
As apples are countable, we use a plural pronoun.
Collective noun acts as one entity and hence takes a singular pronoun.
The department announced its decision to scale-up.
However, the usage differs in the sentence below:
The members of the department announced their decision to scale-up.
Here though a collective noun is used, we are referring to the members of the department which is a plural form and hence the pronoun used will also be plural.
1) If a person (third person) wants a high score in the GMAT, you (second person) have work hard. (Incorrect)
In the above sentence, the pronoun and its antecedent do not agree ‘in person’.
So the correct usage would be:
If a person (third person) wants a high score in the GMAT, he or she (third person) has to work hard. (correct)
If you (second person) want a high score in the GMAT, you (second person) have to work hard. (correct)
2) One (third person) should take a decision about your (second person) career choice very carefully. (incorrect)
One (third person) should take a decision about his or her (third person) career choice very carefully. (correct)
You (second person) should take a decision about your (second person) career choice very carefully.
The pronoun has to agree with its antecedent in gender. There are cases where the gender can be masculine or feminine. Instead of using any one gender which would create a gender bias, the best way would be to mention ‘his or her’.
a) Every student is expected to put in his best. (incorrect)
b) Every student is expected to put in his or her best. (correct)
Also read How to improve Sentence Correction