Pronoun agreement issues commonly occur in writing. Since such errors can be confusing for a reader, it is important that writers choose a pronoun that agrees in number with the noun it refers to, known as the antecedent. (See References 1 and 2) Agreement involving collective nouns may be particularly difficult because you need to determine the meaning of the noun. (See Reference 2)
Collective nouns are words that represent groups, typically groups of people. (See Reference 2) For instance, "choir" is a single group made up of numerous people. Other common collective nouns include "jury," "committee," "class" and "team." The term applies to collections of animals and objects, as well (See Reference 2), as in a "flock" of geese or a "flight" of planes. The term "collective noun" applies because such groups may function as a single entity or as individuals within the group.
Pronouns take the place of nouns. Examples include "his," "she," "it," "their" and "them." Writers and speakers use pronouns to avoid unnecessary repetition of nouns in language. For instance, the sentence "Shelly raised Shelly's hand to respond to the question" would typically be written as "Shelly raised her hand to respond to the question," replacing the second use of the noun "Shelly" with the pronoun "her" since the reader knows Shelly raised her own hand. (See Reference 1)
When the group indicated by the collective noun functions as a single entity, the pronoun must agree in number, so it must also be singular, a pronoun that agrees with the idea of "one." For instance, since a jury typically renders a verdict that the group agrees upon, that action comes from the entire assemblage, so the pronoun should be singular: "The jury delivered its verdict of guilty." "Its" is a singular pronoun that agrees with the singular function of the jury in this instance. (See References 2 and 3)
When the members of the group act as individuals, the collective noun changes to plural, more than one, and so requires a plural pronoun to create agreement. In the case of a jury, each person within the jury may be asked to give an opinion, requiring the plural form: "The jury informed the judge they were deadlocked." As individuals, the people on the jury cannot agree on a verdict, so the pronoun "they" is needed to illustrate the members are not functioning as a group. (See References 2 and 3)
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