What is a Pronoun Shift? - Error & Examples

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  • 0:03 Types of Pronouns
  • 1:02 Mismatched Antecedents
  • 2:39 Changing Persons
  • 3:36 Examples of Errors
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to recognize and avoid an error in writing called a pronoun shift. A pronoun shift can happen when pronouns are mismatched or when the type of pronoun changes without reason.

Types of Pronouns

Before you can understand pronoun shift and how to correct it, you must be clear on the three different types of pronouns. Pronouns take the place of other nouns. The noun that a pronoun replaces is called its antecedent. Pronouns can be in the first, second, or third person.

  • First person pronouns include: I, me, we, us, my, and our

  • Second person pronouns include: you, your, and yours

  • Third person pronouns include: he, she, it, they, their, his, and her

Pronouns need to be used consistently and match their antecedents. Pronoun shift is a problem that occurs in writing when pronouns change person or do not match their antecedents, as we'll discuss next.

Mismatched Antecedents

As we just said, a pronoun shift can occur when a pronoun does not match its antecedent, either in a single sentence or in a longer piece of writing. Pronouns need to match the number of their antecedent. In the singular third person (he, she, him, her), they also need to match the gender.

Here's a sentence where the pronoun does not match the gender of the antecedent:

  • My wife left his sunglasses by the pool.

The word 'wife' should match the pronoun 'her' so that the gender is consistent:

  • My wife left her sunglasses by the pool.

It's also important to match the number of the pronoun: some pronouns are singular while others are plural. If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural.

Here's an example where a plural pronoun is mistakenly used with a singular antecedent:

  • Doug is on their way home from work.

This sentence could easily be corrected by changing the pronoun 'their' to a singular one:

  • Doug is on his way home from work.

It can be harder to catch a mismatched pronoun and antecedent when they're not in the same sentence, as in:

  • Suzanne went to the store to buy supplies for her party. They bought balloons, cups, and plates.

Here, 'they' should be changed to 'she' so that it matches its antecedent, 'Suzanne.'

Changing Persons

Another type of pronoun shift that's harder to catch is a change in persons. When writing, it's important to maintain the same person. If a paragraph starts in the third person, it should stay in the third person. Check out the pronoun shift in the following paragraph:

  • Patrice and I were so excited to travel abroad for the first time. We asked the hotel if you could check in early so that you would have more time.

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