Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Grammar

Who Started This Extra Pronoun Problem?

I’ve been noticing more and more people, including journalists, adding an extra pronoun to sentences that makes absolutely no sense.

The first couple of times I heard that extra pronoun people were slipping in, I may not have noticed it immediately. But once it was pointed out, it quickly became painfully clear every time.

Pronouns, as OxfordDictionaries.com defines them so well, “are used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned or that is already known, often to avoid repeating the noun.”

Consider the last part of that definition: “…to avoid repeating the noun.”

Here’s a pronoun being used properly:

After Patrick read the letter, he was inspired to write this post.

The he is a pronoun that is used so I don’t have to use Patrick twice in the same sentence. It reads easier and makes perfect sense.

The pronoun problem I’m seeing, however, switches things around and works like this:

Patrick, he, read the letter and was inspired to write this post.

At least, I guess that’s how you’d have to punctuate the sentence to prevent someone reading the sentence from assuming you were telling Patrick someone else read the editorial and then wrote the post. But in that sentence, the he is unnecessary.

It doesn’t read well. It doesn’t clear up anything. If it accomplishes anything at all, it only confuses things.

You could (and should) rewrite that sentence this way:

Patrick read the letter and was inspired to write this post.

The pronoun works better in this case when it isn’t there at all.

The letter I mentioned was written to a newspaper to criticize the writing in an article in The Kentucky Standard. One of the things the letter, written by a retired teacher, criticized was an apparent direct quote:

“The union, they don’t know how to do this.”

In this case, they refers to “the union,” which doesn’t need a pronoun there because you’ve just identified it as the subject of the sentence. Drop the pronoun and you have a perfectly good sentence:

“The union doesn’t know how to do this.”

Isn’t that easier?

I’ve heard this ridiculous trend gaining traction on the local news:

Investigators, they haven’t named a suspect.

The bank robber, he pulled a gun on the teller.

Make it stop! Investigators haven’t named a suspect, even after the bank robber pulled a gun. The pronouns are a waste of time for the writer and the reader.

Please tell me you can recognize how ridiculous these sentences look. Read them out loud and then tell me you can hear how silly they sound as well.

Are you noticing this extra pronoun form creeping into people’s speech where you live?

2 Comments

  1. It sounds as though casual speech is further hijacking formal writing.

    I was, at first, expecting to be reading a post about the gender/pronoun confusion issue. Actually, your first example,”Patrick, he, read the letter and was inspired to write this post” might be used by someone who wants to make it clear that Patrick is a “he” (or prefers the masculine pronoun). Although not your intent, here, I can imagine that someone might attempt such a thing to make the gender identity clear.

    “The union, they don’t know how to do this.” could have to do with the propensity to make all collective nouns plural. I would phrase it just as you did in your correction, “The union doesn’t know how to do this.” However, if one determines that “the union” is plural, writing “The union don’t know how to do this” sounds even worse than adding the “they.”

    Local news, I believe, is (not “are”) not able to find qualified writers these days. There are just too many news programs, along with a shortage of properly educated writers. Social media has even lower standards, and I think the disregard for proper grammar there has leaked into the more-mainstream news.

  2. That’s absurd! (and unnerving)
    I wasn’t sure what you meant when you described it but when you gave examples, I realized what you were talking about.
    I don’t know who started this but it needs to stop.

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.