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Ambiguous References


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Ambiguous References


Make sure that the reference is clear when two pronouns could logically refer to either of two antecedents. The following examples demonstrate how ambiguities can occur.

UNCLEAR:

The manager told Mrs. Greenberger that she will have to train her new people by June.

As the sentence is written, it is unclear whether the manager or Mrs. Greenberger will have to train the new people, and whose new people have to be trained.

CLEARER:

Since Mrs. Greenberger will have to train her new people by June, she decided to take her vacation early in the year.

If the reference to an antecedent is not specific, confusion can arise. An unclear pronoun reference can usually be clarified by rearranging the sentence or by using the noun rather than the pronoun, as the following examples show.

UNCLEAR:

When you have finished with the stamp and bound the report, please return it to the storeroom.

CLEARER:
When you have finished with the stamp and bound the report, please return the stamp to the storeroom.

Sometimes, using it, they, or you incorrectly will result in a sentence that is vague or wordy. Removing the pronoun, eliminating excess words, or revising the sentence usually produces a clearer and more vigorous style.

WORDY:

In the cookbook it says that wooden chopping boards should be disinfected with bleach.

BETTER:

The cookbook says that wooden chopping boards should be disinfected with bleach.

WORDY:

They say you should use a cold steam vaporizer instead of the traditional hot steam one.

BETTER:

The doctor says we should use a cold steam vaporizer instead of the traditional hot steam one.


Sample Usage

As mentioned above.


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