From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In English grammar, a pronoun has a possessive antecedent if its antecedent (the noun that it refers to) appears in a possessive case; for example, in the following sentence, Winston Churchill is a possessive antecedent, serving as it does as the antecedent for the pronoun him:
- Winston Churchill's history shows him to have been a good writer.
In the 1960s , some usage guides started to reject the use of possessive antecedents. These guides argue that a pronoun's antecedent cannot be a noun in a possessive construct; in this case, they contend that Winston Churchill, embedded as it is in the construct Winston Churchill's, cannot serve as the antecedent for the pronoun him.
The basis for this contention is that a pronoun's antecedent must be a noun, so that if Winston Churchill's is an adjective, then a pronoun cannot refer back to it. For example, consider the following sentence:
- The big green history shows him to have been a good writer.
Here, him lacks any clear antecedent — it certainly cannot refer back to the big green — and the sentence must be ungrammatical, or at least meaningless, unless a previous sentence provides an antecedent.
This rule does not reflect ordinary English usage, and it is commonly ignored (intentionally or otherwise) even by those who have heard of it. However, the concern that it reflects is meaningful in a sentence such as this one:
- I talked to William's brother today; it seems that he is not feeling well.
Here, if possessive antecedents are possible, then it is not clear whether he refers to William or to his brother. Many grammarians suggest that in this kind of sentence, "he" should not be used at all. (Note that it here is a dummy pronoun, and requires no antecedent.)
- ^ Nunberg, Geoffrey (2003). The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar and Politics. New York Time. Retrieved on March 22, 2006.