Identifying Errors in Agreement for Nouns & Pronouns

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  • 0:01 Agreement
  • 1:16 Pronoun Agreement
  • 2:34 Gender
  • 3:12 Number
  • 4:08 Case
  • 6:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Agreement does not just mean sharing the same opinion. In grammar, agreement means so much more. Watch this video lesson to learn how agreement works in our sentences.

Agreement

Imagine if all people individually chose how to form and utilize a language. That language would be drastically different from city to city, town to town, street to street, and even house to house! In this circumstance, would you be able to communicate with the people in your community? Most likely not. Our language has developed many rules in order to prevent that kind of chaos from happening. These guidelines are imperative in order for communication to actually occur.

One aspect of those rules deals with agreement. In grammar, agreement refers to words that change form depending on other words in the sentence. Many times, natural speakers have been so immersed in a language that they can easily identify when agreement goes wrong. For example, imagine a stranger comes up to you and asks 'Be you from here?' You should easily know that that question is not grammatically correct. You might even be able to assume that the person is from another culture and is new to the English language. This example shows a mistake in agreement.

Pronoun Agreement

For this lesson, we will focus on agreement between nouns and pronouns. All pronouns must agree with their antecedents. Remember, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, and an antecedent is the noun that is replaced. These two sentences show how we use pronouns to replace antecedents and simplify sentences:

'The girl was playing with a basketball.'

'She threw it at her sister.'

The second sentence is full of pronouns. What words were replaced in the second sentence? 'She' replaced 'girl,' and 'it' replaced 'basketball.' Thus, 'girl' and 'basketball' are antecedents for the pronouns 'she' and 'it.' In addition, 'her' is another pronoun that also refers to the girl. So, the two pronouns 'she' and 'her' both have the antecedent 'girl.' Without pronouns, these sentences would read:

'The girl was playing with a basketball. The girl threw the basketball at the girl's sister.'

You can certainly see how repetitive our language would be without pronouns.

There are three ways in which pronouns must agree: gender, number, and case. Let's look at each in turn.

Gender

Firstly, pronouns must agree in gender with their antecedents. Basically, certain pronouns refer to females, and others refer to males. You cannot use a female pronoun if the antecedent is male, and vice versa.

Do these two sentences make sense?

'The girl was playing with a basketball. He threw it at his sister.'

The second sentence used the male pronouns 'he' and 'his' to refer to the girl. This is an obvious mistake in gender agreement. There was no male person in the first sentence at all! Making this kind of mistake can be very confusing to the listener or reader.

Number

Next, pronouns must also agree with their antecedents in number. There are certain pronouns that are only used for singular antecedents, and there are certain ones to replace plural antecedents.

Look back at this example from earlier: 'The dog chases his tail.' Which word is a pronoun?

'His' is a pronoun replacing the word 'dog.' Since we have already discussed gender, we can assume the dog is male. Secondly, the dog is singular, so we use the singular pronoun 'his.'

Look what happens if the antecedent becomes plural: 'The dogs chase their tails.'

First, note how the verb changes to agree with the newly plural subject. Second, the pronoun 'his' can no longer be used since the antecedent is now plural. It changed the plural pronoun to 'their' to follow the rules of agreement.

Case

The final way pronouns must agree with their antecedents is in case. Case refers to the position the word is used within the sentence. The three positions for pronouns are subject, object, and possessive.

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