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Use of Pronouns for Clarity and Diversity

When writing sentences, pronouns are your friend, but they can also trip up the readers logic. A healthy balance of pronoun referencing and noun repetition is needed to maintain both clarity and diversity.

The purpose of a pronoun is to refer to a noun without repeating that noun. For example, “John ate dinner. He did not like the peas.” The pronoun “he” refers to John, so the writer does not have to keep writing “John” every time. How convenient!
However, using pronouns too many times can put the reader to sleep. Compare these two versions:

John ate dinner. He did not like the peas, but he liked the carrots. He drank all of the milk, but he did not care for drinking it with hot meat. Since he is Polish, he is not used to drinking cold milk while eating hot meat.

John ate dinner. He did not like the peas, but he liked the carrots. John drank all of the milk, but he did not care for drinking it with hot meat. Since John is Polish, he is not used to drinking cold milk while eating hot meat.

The first one is monotonous, while the second flows easier when reading. If you cannot feel the difference, try reading them aloud.

Sometimes, using too many pronouns and not referencing the noun directly can lead to ambiguity. For example:

John told Tom that he liked carrots. After thinking about it, he said that he should like peas too, because they are just as healthy as carrots.

The problem is that we don’t know which pronoun “he” refers to Tom and which to John. Was John thinking this or was Tom. Who should like peas? Tom or John? Don’t slow the reader down with ambiguities created by laziness. Watch for these traps and correct them as you write your essay. Clarity and diversity are critical skills when using something as simple as pronouns.

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