Pronoun Lessons: Helping Students Revise Pronouns for Clarity. Eliminate Second Person Pronouns from Writing

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A Near Death Experience

After reading 1456 papers that averaged 16 pronoun errors each, I wanted to grip my brains with needle nose pliers and extract it through my nose. Seconds before penetrating the layer of mucus immediately preceding my frontal lobe, my colleague down the hall recommended I come up with better pronoun lessons, perhaps something that explains what pronouns and antecedents are and how to revise writing for better pronoun use. Thinking it a better alternative than piercing my cranium with a sharp tool, I tried it.

In addition to saving my life, it turned out to be one of the best pronoun lessons ever. I now share it with you.


Explain what a pronoun is, the function for each type of pronoun, and the distinction between first, second, and third person pronouns:

  • A pronoun is used in place of a noun or another pronoun. The word a pronoun stands for is called the antecedent.
  • Subject pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they) do the action of a sentence.
  • Object pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them) receive the action of a verb or a preposition.
  • Possessive pronouns (my, mine, his, hers, its, your, yours, our, ours, their, theirs, your, yours) show possession.
  • Reflexive pronouns (myself, herself, himself, ourselves, themselves) emphasize the subject.
  • Indefinite pronouns (each, either, one, both, several, etc.) refer to unidentified person, places, or things.
  • First person pronouns (I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours) should almost never be used in expository writing, unless it is a direct quotation. In narratives using a first person narrator, first person pronouns are prevalent.
  • Second person pronouns (you, your, yours) should be treated like a disease. Pretend you have a stockpile of cheese that’s to last you from now until the end of the year, and second person pronouns are rats. They must be exterminated at all costs. There are two exceptions: 1) a second person pronoun is used in dialogue; 2) the writer wishes to address the reader directly (use sparingly).

Revise for Better Pronouns

  • Make sure students copy pronoun information in their notebook.
  • Keep it posted on the board.
  • Instruct students to highlight, underline or circle pronouns in their rough drafts.
  • Tell students that for every second person pronoun they use to slap themselves in the forehead 14 times, or
  • Tell students to replace second person pronouns:
    • When you go to the Dominican Republic, you should rent a surfboard.
    • Renting a surfboard makes the Dominican Republic more fun.
  • Discuss the definition for antecedent.
  • Instruct students, for each pronoun, to draw an arrow from the pronoun to its antecedent.
  • Explain: If a pronoun has too many antecedents then the writing may be unclear. For example if Tom Barrister is mentioned in the first sentence and referred to with a pronoun for the next three and a half pages, revision may be necessary.
  • Instruct students to revise all pronouns without antecedents for clarity. Often antecedentless pronouns indicate a lack of clarity in the writer’s thoughts.
  • Explain that this process will eventually become automatic and help them write better drafts for formal essays and will help them feel more confident in timed-writing assignments.
  • Make your pronoun lesson plans more interactive with fun activities.

This post is part of the series: Better Grammar Equals Better Writing

Grammar builds the foundation for good writing: the better the grammar, the better the writing.

  1. Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing
  2. Lesson Plan: Eliminate Weak Verb-Adverb Combinations
  3. Lesson Plan: Eliminate “To Be” Verbs
  4. Lesson Plan: Write With Strong Verbs
  5. Lesson Plan: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
  6. Revising Pronouns and Antecedents with this Lesson Plan
  7. Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Made Easy
  8. Lesson Plan: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses
  9. Teach Your Kids to Eliminate Fragments and Run-ons in Their Writing
  10. Lesson Plan: Use Parts of Speech to Improve Sentence Beginnings