The word antecedent is a fancy name for a substantive word, phrase, or clause whose denotation is referred to by a pronoun.
For example, in the sentence I am true to my school, the antecedent is the pronoun I and the referring pronoun is my. (Hint: ante essentially means "before." The antecedent shows up before the pronoun referring to it.) A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, gender, and person.
Here are some more examples:
- I am true to my school, just as you must be to yours.
- Johnny said that he could do the job alone.
- Alice Louise wants to know whether her proposal has been approved.
- The club has not decided whether to change its policy on wakeboarding.
- The company's auditors will issue their report tomorrow.
- The Bonnakers are giving a party at their new mansion.
- The grand jury has completed its investigation.
- Why not have each member write his or her own acceptance speech?
- It is I who am at fault.
- It is he who is offering to jump first.
- It is we, the members, who have to dismantle the slalom course now.
- It is they who are behind schedule.
- It is you who are to blame.
- BUT: You are the person who is to blame. (Here who refers to person; hence the verb is is to agree with person.)
- Either Mark or Chuck will have to see his beloved team lose Saturday afternoon. (not: their)
- Neither Matilda nor Tallulah wants to do her share. (not: their)
- Neither Santa Claus nor his elves have reached their goal. (The plural pronoun their is used to agree with the nearer noun, elves; the verb have is also in the plural.)
- NOT: Neither the elves nor Santa Claus has reached his goal. (The sentence follows the rule: his agrees with Santa Claus, the nearer noun, and the verb has is singular; however, the meaning of the sentence has been distorted.)
Make sure that the pronouns you use refer to the antecedents you intend. To avoid confusion, reword as necessary.
- Confusing: Unrealistic deadlines, excessive pressures, and unsafe working conditions can be very damaging to your employees. You must do everything you can to eliminate them. (The employees or the destructive conditions?)
- Clear: Unrealistic deadlines, excessive pressures, and unsafe working conditions can be very damaging to your employees. You must do everything you can to eliminate these destructive conditions.
Source: The Gregg Reference Manual, Eighth Edition.