Grammar Tip: The Missing Antecedent
An antecedent is the noun, pronoun, or clause that a pronoun represents. The antecedent (from the
Latin antecedere "to go before") usually appears earlier in the same sentence or in a previous sentence. Each
pronoun should clearly refer to one specific antecedent.
A missing pronoun antecedent occurs when the author implies an antecedent but does not include it in the
sentence. The true antecedent, or reference, is therefore missing.
Often readers can correctly guess at the intended antecedent. But why make them work that hard? This grammar tip
describes missing antecedents and how to correct them.
Take a look at the pronoun her in the following example. The implied antecedent is the noun
nursing professor, but the adjective nursing professor's (possessive case)
cannot function as an antecedent. The antecedent is missing.
After reading the nursing professor's recent publication on patient care, the students contacted her to
obtain more information.
In the first and second corrections, a noun or noun phrase has been added as the antecedent. In the third
correction, the pronoun has been replaced with a noun.
Notice in the first correction that another pronoun (their) has been added. In this case, its antecedent
(the students) appears later, not earlier, in the sentence.
Correction 1 After reading the recent
publication on patient care by their nursing professor, the students contacted her to obtain more information.
After reading the recent publication on patient care by Johnson, the students contacted her to obtain more
The students contacted the nursing professor to obtain more information after reading her recent publication
on patient care.
Quick Tips: The Missing Antecedent
- Look for missing antecedents when the implied antecedent of a pronoun is in possessive case
(and thus an adjective).
- To correct a missing antecedent, replace antecedent adjectives with nouns or noun phrases; alternatively,
replace pronouns with nouns or noun phrases.
Do you have a question or comment about this tip? Simply contact
me online and I'll be pleased to help.