Monday, June 22, 2009

The vague antecedent (2)

Another weakness to avoid, if you want to make your writing clear, is the vague antecedent. An antecedent is a noun (a word, phrase or clause) that a pronoun refers to. The antecedent should precede the pronoun.* The antecedent should be clear, not vague. In summary: every pronoun should have an easily identifiable noun as its antecedent.

When writers leave antecedents vague, they confuse their readers. They also create unintentional humor, which can distract their readers.

The advertisement pictured above contains a good example of a vague antecedent. In the sentence at the bottom of the ad, what did the writer intend as the antecedent of the pronoun it? Why was that antecedent not immediately clear to the reader? What caused the unintentional humor?

To be clear, the writer of the ad should have written something like this:

Buying a new car? Let us detail your current car before you sell it or trade it in. After we finish, you’ll like your car so much you might even decide to keep it.

The Takeaway:
Avoid vague antecedents. Every pronoun should have an easily identifiable noun (a word, phrase or clause) as its antecedent. Don’t make your readers guess which noun you mean. That’s bad manners and bad marketing.

*The English word antecedent comes from Latin for going before.

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