Avoid vague pronoun reference in your writing

Sometimes the thought an author wishes to convey gets confusing once written because several pronouns are needed in it. For example:

If your kids don’t like those cookies, they must be really bad.

The sentence leaves the reader wondering who is bad – the kids or the cookies?

This problem is called a vague pronoun reference. Readers only can guess which pronoun the author means. Sometimes, of course, the reference is clear because one pronoun would be silly if it was what the author meant…and an unintentionally humorous sentence certainly isn’t what you want.

To fix a vague pronoun reference, you’ll have to restructure the sentence. This usually means getting rid of the pronoun that is confusing. The above sentence could be rewritten as:

Those cookies must be really bad if your kids don’t like them.

They now clearly refers to cookies rather than the kids.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.