The Grammar Monster presents ~
Clear Pronoun Reference
A Backwards Approach
The true key to any communication is awareness of what interferes with the message.
Communication depends on clarity.
Approaching any message, word-based or graphic image, from the stance of “What can go wrong?” seems backwards. However, any longtime writer will confess that is the question constantly in mind as they prepare to write.
From Business to Athletics to the Arts
“Begin with the End in Mind” is the mantra of any endeavor: business, sports, arts, religion :: the customer, the win, the performance, Heaven . . . or Hell.
Once the idea is in place, all impediments are then removed. As the idea progresses to reality, impediments are continually removed until the idea becomes tangible reality.
If businesses don’t start by creating smooth pathways for customers, then customers will leave. So they should begin by identifying the blocks that will impede or frustrate their customers.
Few inventions begin with someone saying, “Great idea.” Most inventors want to devise a better method.
Athletes create regimens by removing what interferes.
Artists don’t start painting their visions on blank canvasses. They prep their canvas to remove any imperfections. Then they begin.
Writing begins with idea. Removal of impediments begins next by determining characters and GMC*, plot situation and structure, and setting. We refine as we process, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
The End is Not the End
When we all come to the end of our goal, we haven’t reached the end of our task. We’re still putting on final touches. And we’re thinking of the next goal that we want to communicate to our audience—even if that audience is just ourselves.
And we constantly look—beginning, middle, end—for impediments to our message. We want those impediments gone!
Especially when those impediments are glaringly obvious.
Grammar Mistakes so Bright
Throughout this series of blogs, we’ve talked about grammar checkers and readability stats, mis-used words (“Vial Trolls”) and sentence subjects being lost (“Pesky Trolls”). We’ve covered fossilized verbs and MisMods & DangMods.
We’ve offered ways to create emphasis and ways to add interest.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these trips.
Clear Pronoun Reference, part 3 of 3
Pronouns cause problems when our audience cannot quickly determine the nouns they refer to.
- Oscar waved to his coach as he came down the escalator. >> Who is on the escalator?
- Oscar met up with Mike after he saw Julio yesterday and said that he had the gear. >> Who has the gear? We have 3 choices. Who exactly saw Julio yesterday? 2 choices.
- Before the gate could fit the opening in the fence, it has to be made smaller. >> What needs to be smaller: gate or fence opening?
Awareness of the problem helps us avoid it, just as we noted above: Begin with the End in Mind. If you know you make certain errors, you will learn to spot those errors more quickly.
CPR for CPR
When proofreading, touch every pronoun back to the noun immediately preceding it. If too many nouns have inserted themselves between your pronoun and its antecedent, divide the sentence to conquer the problem. (btw: ¶ = paragraph)
- Oscar met up with Mike. ¶ “I saw Julio,” Mike said. “He said he’s got our gear. We just need to pack it up.” ¶ “When can we do that?” ¶ “Well, yesterday.” (grin)
As a rule of thumb, nouns should be in the same ¶ with the pronoun. Repeat the noun when entering a new ¶.
FICTION follows a slightly different rule: In training through a situation, several ¶s will occur. Restate the noun occasionally and in different positions within the different types of ¶s.
¶ types vary greatly: some narration, some dialogue, some exposition, some action.
Read aloud for flow and continuity and pronoun reference.
*GMC is goal, motivation, and conflict, as first expressed in my knowledge by Deb Dixon in her book of the same name.