Pronoun Reference Edition!
Even though they’re in a composition (as opposed to a grammar) class, I’ve been giving my students worksheets and quizzes to get them up to speed on the basics of grammar – you know, all the rules and conventions they don’t give a fig about when they’re texting their friends’ cell phones?
We started out, in the first class, with a quiz about possessive nouns. It did not go well for many of them (one student got only one of the apostrophes right, poor baby). This week, I hit them with a pronoun reference quiz.
Pronouns are simply words that stand in for nouns, and they can can be delightful things. They save us from having to write things like “Pronouns can be delightful things. Pronouns save writers from having to write things like ‘pronouns save writers from having…’” Here’s my favorite pronoun lesson – go on and watch; you’ll love it:
“WHAT made that horrible noise and WHICH one of them is getting off first!!”
So, we’ve very clearly established that pronouns save us a lot of speaking (or writing) and keep us from being mind-numbingly repetitive with all our nouns.
What this fun little lesson failed to mention, though, is that it’s terribly important to know WHO or WHAT we’re talking about before we start bandying pronouns about. We know that he in the Grammar Rock lesson is Rufus, that she is Rafaella and that I is Albert – that’s established before the pronouns start flying. We would get into trouble, though, if someone else were telling us this story – say the narrator is me, for example – and I said something like “he brought it on the bus, but they decided to walk.” Now we don’t know if Rufus is on the bus or if Albert’s on the bus (though we do know that Rafaella, being the only she in the story, is walking).
To illustrate my point further, let’s look at this sentence:
Carl told his father that he was too old to play with the Cub Scouts.
In this sentence, we’re not sure exactly what is being protested. Is Carl saying “Dad, I’m too old to be in the Cub Scouts” or is he saying “DAD! Go away! You’re too old to play with my Cub Scouts friends“?
I’ve given my class a worksheet boosted directly from this site, which I love – how can you not love a site which boasts that it’s “grammar instruction with attitude”? – and I’m really hoping they get it. They’ve been instructed to figure out whether a sentence is ambiguous in its pronoun reference and, if so, to rework the sentence to make sense, though I suspect most of them will miss the “decide if the sentence needs fixing” part and will try to fix them all. Some of the sentences are just terrible, though; take the first sentence, for example:
Fred told Tony that polka-dotted underwear was showing through the ripped seat of his dress pants.
So, Dear Readers, how would you fix that sentence so we know just whose skivvies are showing?