Monday, February 15, 2016

You Asked: How To Stop Overusing Pronouns

Welcome to another, You Asked, the Experts Answer, segment. This week ‘s question is: How can I stop overusing pronouns?

Pronouns: a word that can functions by itself as a noun/phrase and refers either to participants (e.g., I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse.”  

Words such as I, he, she, you, it, we, or they are examples of pronouns used instead of a noun or noun phrase.

We overuse pronouns because we get attached to a character or the name is often easier. I can relate to this problem. However, easy doesn’t always translate to better writing.

Norma crept by the sofa where Adam had passed out after Adam’s little welcome home. The kitchen looked like one of those Norma had seen on TV after a tornado. Norma opened the cabinet, pulled out a trash bag, and began picking up the scattered groceries.”

I tend to write like I talk and as a result, overuse pronouns especially in the draft stage. But, there is a method to the madness and used correctly, pronouns will enhance your writing. The paragraph above reads like someone in love with the name Norma or had an aversion to pronouns.

Tweet: “Pronouns are those clever little inventions that allow us to replace nouns and avoid clunky repetition.” K.M. Weiland

“Norma crept by the sofa where Adam had passed out after his little welcome home. The kitchen looked like one of those she had seen on TV after a tornado. She opened the cabinet, pulled out a trash bag, and began picking up the scattered groceries.”

Repeating the characters names, once introduced isn’t necessary. We understand Norma is the “she” picking up groceries and “his” refers to Adam.

Used Incorrectly Pronouns:

  • Creates choppy and boring sentences.
  • Pulls the focus away from the action in the scene.
  • Confuses the reader as to the who or what.
  • Pulls the reader from the story.
  • Tells rather than shows who and what is taking place.

Used correctly Pronouns:

  • Prevents repetition.
  • Creates a realistic flow of the narrative.
  • Keeps the focus on what’s happening in a scene.
  • Provides a sense of intimacy between characters.
  • Provides invisibility – like the tag “said,” readers process but don’t notice them.

When to Use Pronouns:

  • When only one character is present.
  • When two characters of opposite gender are present.
  • The pronoun’s reference is clear to the reader.

Tweet: “Ensure your pronouns have an unambiguous antecedent that is both before and near each pronoun.” Grammar Girl

Use Names:

  • To introduce your character, item, or event
  • To ensure clarity between characters when there are more than two characters in a scene.
  • To emphasize a character or his name.

No matter what your grammar sin may be, get your story down first. The revision stage and a good editor will help you make the necessary corrections. Below you’ll find a wealth of knowledge from the experts.


  1.  Janice Hardy from Fiction University will help you Clarify Ambiguous Pronouns.
  2. Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tricks explains how to avoid the three most common errors in Pronoun and Antecedents.
  3. Writing World’s offer us, Crafting Fabulous Fiction: Pondering Personal Pronouns by Victoria Grossack

What about you? I’d love to hear your comments. Talk to me. Tell me your story and look for me on Facebook at SheilaMGood,  PinterestBloglovinTwitter@sheilagood, and Contently.


Filed under: Editing, Grammar, Resources for Writers, Series, Style Guides, Tools for Writers, Writing, You Asked Series Tagged: #amwriting, #asksheila, Focus on writing, Grammar, Personal pronoun, Writing Tips & Resources

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