Friday, May 1, 2009

PUGS Pointers #22: Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”).

Commas should be used to set off interjections. Examples:
“Well, I don’t like to brag, but my last book sold twenty copies.”
“Why, I can’t even imagine that kind of success.”
“Hey, I meant twenty thousand copies.”

See The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) #5.192–197.


car pool/carpool
car pool (noun): an arrangement in which a group of people commute together by car, or the group entering into such an arrangement

carpool (verb): to participate in a car pool


Don’t confuse the reader with pronouns that are unclear or ambiguous. Example:
“When Lori and Jan entered the room, Gayle noticed her right away.”
Which woman did Gayle notice?

Avoid using the pronoun it in confusing contexts. Example:
“As Allison drove her car up to the service window, it made a rattling sound.”
Does it refer to the car or the window? Rewrite to something like:
“As Allison drove up to the service window, her car made a rattling sound.”

“Audrey reached for her glass and drank it in one gulp.”
In this sentence, the it refers to the glass, and she didn’t drink the glass in one gulp.


bookstore (one word)


PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site: Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available at


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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1 comment:

BJ Hamrick said...

The "car pool" one was new to me. Thanks for the great tips!