Fixing Pronoun Problems

Do you know how to use pronouns? They are little words like he, she, it, we, you, and they. Mistakes with pronouns often show up in police reports. They’re such small and familiar words that we tend to be careless with them.

For this review, I’m going to use a 2017 incident report about Justin Bieber. He was the subject of a Cleveland police report about an alleged fight in Cleveland hotel in 2017. No charges were filed.

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  X

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.

Now let’s look at a 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.  X

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.  √  

You can download and print a free handout about pronouns by clicking here.

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