Who Is She?

I’ve often said that it’s the simple words that get officers into trouble when they write reports. Today we’re going to look at she and her. Easy words, right?

Wrong. There’s a problem called indefinite pronoun reference that often creates confusion.

Here’s a typical mistake. Can you figure out what’s wrong?

Martha said she had not been in touch with her daughter in quite a while because her telephone wasn’t working. INCORRECT (Whose phone wasn’t working? Not clear)

Whose telephone wasn’t working? When there are two women in a sentence, she becomes a confusing (or indefinite) word.

Be specific about identities when you’re using pronouns (he, she, him, her, they). Here’s a more clear version of the same sentence:

Martha said she had not been in touch with her daughter in quite a while because her daughter’s telephone wasn’t working. CORRECT

But maybe it was Martha’s telephone that wasn’t working. When you write your report, you could write the sentence this way:

Because Martha’s telephone wasn’t working, she said she hadn’t been in touch with her daughter in quite a while.  CORRECT

The same principle applies when there are two males in a sentence. When you write your report, make sure you’ve clarified who is who:

John’s brother said he often returned from work after midnight.  INCORRECT (Who returned after midnight? Not clear)

John said that his brother often returned from work after midnight.  CORRECT

John’s brother said that John often returned from work after midnight.  CORRECT

Confusion

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