Problems with Pronouns

Grammatical terminology can be intimidating. If you’re told that you’ve made some pronoun mistakes, you might wonder what you should do. Do you need to enroll in an English class?

No! You’ve been using pronouns (small words like he, she, I, they, him, her, we, you) all your life. Slowing down and using common sense can help you make corrections quickly and confidently.

As an example, we’re going to use an incident report just released by the Cleveland Division of Police.

First, some background:

Justin Bieber is a subject in a Cleveland police report about an alleged fight in a Cleveland hotel on June 8. Bieber is accused taking Rodney Cannon’s glasses and punching him three times. Cannon also alleges that Bieber’s bodyguards punched him. The report wasn’t filed until February 14 – more than seven months later – and there have been no charges.

You can read more at this link: http://www.newsnet5.com/news/local-news/cleveland-metro/justin-bieber-mentioned-in-newly-filed-cleveland-police-report

The incident report is available at this link: https://www.scribd.com/document/339434580/Bieber-Incident-Report

The report is thorough and objective, and overall the writing is good. Read the excerpts below. Can you spot the pronoun problems – and do you know how to fix them? (Hint: look for the words he and him – and think about clarity.)

VICTIM STATED HIM AND A COUPLE OF FRIENDS WENT TO THE WESTERN HOTEL VICTIM NOTICED A BLACK VEHICLE WAS BEHIND THEM UPON THEIR ARRIVAL AT THE BEST WESTERN VICTIM STATED ALL HIS FRIENDS WENT INSIDE THE HOTEL BESIDE ONE OF VICTIM’S FRIEND AND HIM.

VICTIM STATED WHEN THEY CAME OUTSIDE AFTER ENDING THE NIGHT, VICTIM STATED THAT THE DEFENDER JUSTIN BEIBER TOOK OFF HIS GLASSES FROM THE VICTIM PERSON AND THE VICTIM TOOK A PICTURE OF HIM WITH HIS GLASSES.

My comments:

  • The first thing I noticed was missing periods – and Bieber’s name was misspelled. As the report continued, the periods began to appear. Clearly the officer knows how to use them, and the problem was probably time pressure. Solution: slow down, reread what you’ve written, and make corrections.
  • The next thing I noticed was a pronoun mistake. Can you find it?

VICTIM STATED HIM AND A COUPLE OF FRIENDS WENT TO THE WESTERN HOTEL

Is “him and a couple of friends went” correct – or should it be “he and a couple of friends went”? There’s an easy way to tell: just shorten the sentence. 

VICTIM STATED HIM AND A COUPLE OF FRIENDS WENT TO THE WESTERN HOTEL

VICTIM STATED HE WENT TO THE WESTERN HOTEL    √

VICTIM STATED HE AND A COUPLE OF FRIENDS WENT TO THE WESTERN HOTEL  √

I call this the “thumb rule”: Use your thumb to cover the extra words, and you’ll instantly hear the correct word.

Let’s try the “thumb rule” on another excerpt from the report:

VICTIM STATED ALL HIS FRIENDS WENT INSIDE THE HOTEL BESIDE ONE OF VICTIM’S FRIEND AND HIM.

VICTIM STATED ALL HIS FRIENDS WENT INSIDE THE HOTEL BESIDE HIM.  √

VICTIM STATED ALL HIS FRIENDS WENT INSIDE THE HOTEL BESIDE ONE OF VICTIM’S FRIEND AND HIM.  √

(Of course it should be “one of the victim’s friends and him.” Slow down, and check your writing!)

  • Now let’s look at the clarity issue. “He” and “him” are confusing words in this report because there are two males – Bieber and the victim:

VICTIM STATED THAT THE DEFENDER JUSTIN BEIBER TOOK OFF HIS GLASSES FROM THE VICTIM PERSON AND THE VICTIM TOOK A PICTURE OF HIM WITH HIS GLASSES.

Whose glasses? A useful trick is to break a complicated sentence into two shorter ones. Notice that this rewrite is easier to understand:

THE VICTIM STATED THAT BIEBER GRABBED HIS GLASSES AND PUT THEM ON. THE VICTIM USED HIS PHONE TO TAKE A PICTURE OF BIEBER WEARING THE GLASSES.  √

    Justin Bieber

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