Compound Antecedents: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:06 Pronouns and Antecedents
  • 0:59 Number Agreement
  • 1:41 Compound Antecedents
  • 6:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

You may know already that an antecedent and its pronoun must agree in number. In this lesson, you'll learn about compound antecedents and the various rules involving how they can be made to agree with pronouns.

Pronouns and Antecedents

Pronouns are words that help us avoid being really repetitive in our writing. Technically speaking, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. Remember that a noun is a part of speech that names a person, place, thing, or idea.

Without pronouns, we'd have lots of awkward sentences like, 'My teacher told us that my teacher would be awarding points for good grammar on my teacher's students' papers.' With the help of pronouns, we can have a much more streamlined sentence like this one: My teacher told us that she would be awarding points for good grammar on her students' papers.

The words 'she' and 'her' in this new sentence are pronouns that replace the noun 'teacher.' That means that in this sentence, the word 'teacher' is the antecedent. An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to. If you've got a pronoun, that means that you'll have to have an antecedent nearby.

Number Agreement

One rule to keep in mind is that an antecedent must agree with its corresponding pronoun in number. In other words, a singular antecedent must be paired with a singular pronoun, and a plural antecedent must be paired with a plural pronoun. Remember that singular means just one, and plural means more than one.

For example, you would say, This class requires a textbook, and it is long. Here, the antecedent is 'textbook,' and the pronoun that replaces it is 'it.' They're both singular, so we're in good shape with this sentence. You might also say, This class requires two textbooks, and they are long. In this version, the antecedent is 'textbooks,' which is plural. We've correctly matched it up with the plural pronoun 'they' in this sentence.

Compound Antecedents

You may remember learning in school about compound words, which are just two or more shorter words stuck together; examples are flagpole, homeowner, and notebook. There are other things in grammar that can be compound, too. A compound antecedent is made up of two or more words joined by 'and' or 'or.' The rules regarding whether to use a singular or plural pronoun with a compound antecedent can get just a bit complicated, but they're pretty easy to sort out.

Here's the first rule to keep in mind: When the parts of a compound antecedent are joined by 'and,' that antecedent is plural, and a plural pronoun is required.

Here's an example: Jorge and Tasha left their books in the classroom. In this sentence, the phrase 'Jorge and Tasha' has the word 'and' as the connector, and we can refer back to our rule that tells us that when the parts of a compound antecedent are joined by 'and,' that antecedent is plural, and a plural pronoun is required. Therefore, we know that we need a plural pronoun here. The word 'their' is a plural pronoun - one that shows that something or somethings belong to more than one person - so we've correctly paired a compound antecedent that's plural with a plural pronoun in our example sentence.

Here's the second rule to remember: When the parts of a compound antecedent are joined by 'or,' you may end up needing a singular or a plural pronoun. There are three different scenarios that we have to analyze here, and we'll look at them one at a time. This is the first: if both of the parts of the compound antecedent joined by 'or' are singular, then you'll use a singular pronoun to refer back to the entire compound antecedent.

Here's an example: I'm worried that either my car or my house will have its windows broken in the hail storm. Notice that in this sentence we have a compound antecedent that's joined together by the word 'or' - 'my car or my house.' By using the word 'or,' I've signaled that I'm talking about one or the other of the items mentioned, but not both. Here's what's important to check: Are both items singular? Yes, 'my car' is singular, and 'my house' is singular. When we review our rule, we see that we've used the correct singular pronoun - 'its' - to refer back to our compound antecedent - 'my car or my house.'

What about when you have a compound antecedent joined by 'or,' but both parts of the antecedent are plural? Here's the rule: If both parts of the compound antecedent joined by 'or' are plural, then you'll use a plural pronoun to refer back to the compound antecedent.

Here's an example: Would you like bananas or apples, or would you rather not have them? In this sentence, we have a compound antecedent, 'bananas or apples,' that's joined by 'or.' Because 'bananas' is plural and 'apples' is plural, we know that we need a plural pronoun to refer back to our compound antecedent. The pronoun 'them' is plural, so this sentence has correctly matched up a compound antecedent with the right pronoun.

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