Thursday, January 5, 2012

Schoolhouse Rock: Pronouns

Next up in the School House Rock repertoire: Pronouns starring Rufus Xavier Sarasparilla . . . and a little bit about pronouns on your résumé.

How'd you like to have a name like Rufus Xavier Sarsasparilla? What if pronouns didn't exist and you had to keep repeating "Rufus Xavier Sarasparilla" instead of "I" or "he"? Wow, pronouns make things a lot easier. "Saying those pronouns over and over can really wear you down."

Here's what the OWL at Purdue has to say about pronouns:
Because a pronoun REFERS to a noun or TAKES THE PLACE OF that noun, you have to use the correct pronoun so that your reader clearly understands which noun your pronoun is referring to.

Therefore, pronouns should:

1. Agree in number. If the pronoun takes the place of a singular noun, you have to use a singular pronoun.

     If a student parks a car on campus, he or she has to buy a parking sticker.
     (NOT: If a student parks a car on campus, they have to buy a parking sticker.)

2. Agree in person. If you are writing in the "first person" (I), don't confuse your reader by switching to the "second person" (you) or "third person" (he, she, they, it, etc.). Similarly, if you are using the "second person," don't switch to "first" or "third."

     When a person comes to class, he or she should have his or her homework ready.
     (NOT: When a person comes to class, you should have your homework ready.)

3. Refer clearly to a specific noun. Don't be vague or ambiguous.

     NOT: Although the motorcycle hit the tree, it was not damaged.
     (Is "it" the motorcycle or the tree?)

Click here if you think you're ready for a pronoun quiz.

I on your résumé

Many career coaches recommend that you avoid using I, me, mine in your resume while using more team building words like ours and we. It says a lot about a person. Think about it, what does it say when an employer reads a résumé filled with phrases like "my team" or "my sales group," it makes the employer wonder if you are a team player. On the other hand, a résumé is selling "I" not "you" so if you need to use I to make your point clear, do so.

Here's a good exercise for eliminating "I" from your resume (It is also helpful when you notice one page of your essay contains sixteen "I"s).

First, write the sentence with I.
     I devised a marketing plan with advertising aimed at Generation Y and I increased company profits.

Second, just eliminate I.
Devised a marketing plan with advertising aimed at Generation Y and increased company profits.

Even though this sentence would make most English teachers cringe, if it makes sense, then use it in your résumé!


  1. After viewing this video, it really made me realize how much easier pronouns make life. I never realized how exhausting it would be if pronouns did not exist and we had to keep referring to a proper noun every time we wanted to talk about it or had to mention it, especially if you have a long name like the people in the video. If I had to replace the word "I" with "Adam Massey", or "you" with "(your name here)" every time I spoke, it would definitely be a much uneasier world.
    You must also agree in number, as mentioned. You cannot replace "he or she" with "they". You must first make sure the word you are replacing is referring to a plural. Example: "The employees went on strike for a week." in the following sentence you would write "they" to refer to the employees. If the sentence was "The employee went on strike.", then in the following sentence you would write "he or she" in reference to the single employee.
    Also, you must agree in person. When speaking about yourself, and you use the word "I", then you must stay consistent with it. Do not keep switching the way you speak of yourself. Example: "I went to the store. I couldn't find the soda isle." is the correct way, not "I went to the store, you couldn't find the soda isle."
    Also, make sure you are clear when you are referring to a specific noun. If there are two nouns in the sentence, make sure you are clear as to which one you are speaking of when using a pronoun. Example: "The shopping cart hit the car. The cart was damaged.", and not "The shopping cart hit the car. It was damaged."

  2. I really enjoyed viewing this video! The video taught me that pronouns were made to make speaking so much easier. Pronouns refer to nouns, they take the place of the noun. For example, instead of writing, "John went to the park with his friends" you can write, "he went there with them" "He" and "Them" are the pronouns. I learned that a pronoun should "Agree in Number" meaning that if pronoun takes the place of a singular noun, you also have to use a singular pronoun. For example, "when a customer buys a product, he or she will receive a bag", not "they will receive a bag".

  3. Pronouns can be a very powerful but also dangerous tool. As mentioned in this post, not using “I” in a resume is something that makes a lot of sense and has valuable reasoning behind it. Pronouns are very dangerous because they often come with a certain connotation; in this case excessive use of the pronoun "I" gives off a vibe of narcissism and self-absorbment while other pronouns like “you” may give off an air of arrogance in writing (“you do it”, “you people”, etc.).

    Although it’s easy to avoid thinking about the pronouns that are being used, their impact on the tone and flow of a paper often cannot be understated. Pronouns are especially powerful within dialogue in written work as they often shape the character speaking them.

  4. Although the use of pronouns has sometimes shown to be confusing, as the quiz made me realize, it can be quite useful as a substitute for any noun. They also make writing flow smoother by keeping the reader from reading a specific name or other such noun repeatedly. Pronouns are effective when used properly. I have taken the quiz and missed a couple of items unexpectedly. A quick review of the Owl at Purdue's rules has made things clearer.