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I often have problems with article words referencing to its correct referent. In the following statement for example:

The touching scenes in the film leaves the audience a heavy feeling, encouraging them to consider charitable acts and the role it plays in our society.

My intention is to have the word "them" linked to the audience, and the word "it" linked to the charitable acts.

I am quite confident that the word "them" does link to the audience. But I am worry that the word "it" may not link to the charitable acts. I find that there is possibility the reader may confuse "it" referring to the touching scenes in the film instead of the charitable acts.

Are the article words in the sentence that I have constructed above correctly linked to its referents?

In general, is there a rule to watch out when identifying references in long and complex sentences?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If the pronoun refers to ‘charitable acts’ then it needs to be ‘they’ (followed by ‘play’). You also need ‘leave’ to agree with ‘scenes’ and you need to follow it with ‘with’. However, I’d suggest a version rather along these lines:

The touching scenes in the film leave the audience with a heavy feeling, encouraging them to consider the role charitable acts play in our society.

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@FumbleFingers: Typing error, which Hellion has kindly corrected. –  Barrie England Mar 8 '12 at 15:24
1  
I just had to make a "non-edit" so I could reverse the downvote. Which is a relief, to be honest - a typo is no biggie, but I'd have been a bit concerned if you were going to defend it! –  FumbleFingers Mar 8 '12 at 15:43
    
@FumbleFingers: Thanks. –  Barrie England Mar 8 '12 at 16:15

I would revise your sentence so that it's not so complicated, removing some of the references/antecedents:

The touching scenes in the film leave a heavy feeling, encouraging the audience to consider the role charitable acts play in our society.


In answer to your question "In general, is there a rule to watch out when identifying references in long and complex sentences?" -- yes, if you, the writer, are confused, your reader will be too. Eschew obfuscation.

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You are thinking right, but you need to consider that the target "charitable acts" is plural, and you need to use plural also in the reference.

The touching scenes in the film leave the audience a heavy feeling, encouraging them to consider charitable acts and the role those play in our society.

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