Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sample text without pronouns:

I don't remember how it started but Monica began talking about Monica's mother—a topic Monica had always avoided before. Monica told me about how Monica's mother used to take trips to Mount Everest every time Monica's mother had a fight with Monica's father. Monica's mother would stay in a hotel for two days, and on the third one, Monica's mother would come back home acting as if nothing had happened.

Same text with pronouns:

I don't remember how it started but Monica began talking about her mother—a topic she had always avoided before. She told me about how her mother used to take trips to Mount Everest every time she had a fight with her father. She would stay in a hotel for two days, and on the third one, she would come back home acting as if nothing had happened.

Is it clear to whom the pronouns are referring to? If not, how to modify the text so it reads better? (I'm also open to other suggestions)

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I would replace her father with Monica's father as it becomes a little unclear who you're refering to in that section (did the mum fight with her own father or Monica's father?)

Also I'd say you can scrap the last she and replace and on the third one, she would come back with returning home so the last sentance would read:

"She would stay in a hotel for two days, returning home acting as if nothing had happened."

This will keep that sentance punchy and reduce the amount of times you use the word "she" in one paragraph.

Other than that it reads very well.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for "Monica's father" :) –  Tannalein Jul 3 '13 at 11:56
add comment

In addition to the great answers you have already received, don't be shy to reword where necessary. For example, I might change:

She told me about how her mother used to take trips to Mount Everest every time she had a fight with her father. She would stay in a hotel for two days…

to

She told me about how her mother used to take trips to Mount Everest every time her parents fought. Her mother would stay in a hotel for two days…

share|improve this answer
1  
"She told me about how her mother used to take trips to Mount Everest every time her parents fought." I think its sounds as "Monica's mother used to take trips to Mount Everest, every time Monica mom's parents fought." EDIT: Oh, wait, I'm not sure anymore. I think I'm going crazy. –  Alexandro Chen Jul 3 '13 at 15:00
    
@alexchenco — yes, I agree, it can be ambiguous. The main point of my post is to suggest that rewording can eliminate the problem. Feel free to provide your own wording :) –  Paddy Landau Jul 3 '13 at 15:12
add comment

It's a classic, tricky problem. Sometimes it's not clear who a pronoun refers to. But if you spell it out every time, your text sounds very awkward. You can say "she" twenty times in a paragraph and it flows naturally, but say "Monica" twenty times and it sounds repetitious.

I'll ditto ClockeWork on his comments about your second paragraph. There really is very little ambiguity.

How we match pronouns to their antecedents can be a complex thing. A pronoun doesn't always refer to the most recent noun or anything like that. Often we figure it out by our understanding of the people referred to, or logical analysis of the action. It would, I suppose, be possible for someone to read that paragraph and think that Monica's mother went away on a trip every time that MONICA had a fight with her father. Or, someone might start to read the last sentence thinking that when Monica's mother went on a trip, Monica stayed in a hotel. But then when they got to the final clause about coming home, they would probably realize that you meant that it was her mother that stayed in the hotel.

Often we do this without even thinking about it. It is only when we realize that our assumptions don't make sense that we go back and say, "Oh, 'she' here must be referring to the lady in the red dress, not Sally's aunt ..."

Two tips: 1. Go back and re-read a sentence, preferably some time after you've written it, and see if the pronouns are obvious. This should be a part of your proof-reading. If you have someone else available to proof-read, that's better still. Someone else may notice an ambiguity that you didn't realize was there. 2. If someone is identified only by a long description, it can seem particularly awkward to have to repeat this to identify him. Like if you mention "the clerk at the hardware store with red hair" and "the clerk at the hardware store with brown hair", you can be tempted to just say "he" rather than repeat that whole description when "he" is ambiguous. In such cases, it can help to give the character a name, or invent a nickname on the spot.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.