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pronoun agreement: compound antecedents with or

Pronouns have to agree in person, number and gender with the words they refer to (called their antecedents). But when a pronoun has two or more antecedents joined by or or nor, some special rules apply.

When antecedents are joined by or or nor, the pronoun agrees with the antecedent that is closest to it:

  • Either Rosa or John will lend you his key.
  • Either John or Rosa will lend you her key.

If one antecedent is singular and the other is plural, it will sound odd to put the plural antecedent first:

  • Neither the employees nor the manager submitted his report.

This sentence leaves us wondering whether the employees had been asked to submit the manager’s report in his absence. The sentence will usually be clearer and sound more natural if the plural antecedent is placed in second position:

  • Neither the manager nor the employees submitted their reports.