To my knowledge, personal pronouns and the noun they represent can be inter-swapped. So both these sentences are correct. (I may be wrong, I'm not sure.)

"Unless she arrives here early, Susan will be fired."

"Unless Susan arrives here early, she will be fired."

However in the case of possessive pronouns is such a rule/ understanding also the same? My question is, simply put, must the noun be in the main clause always and the possessive pronoun in the subordinate clause? Are both iterations correct or is one more popular/grammatical than the other?

"Due to his poor memory, Richard forgot about the appointment."

"Due to Richard's poor memory, he forgot about the appointment."

One proponent suggested to me that the noun must always be in the main clause, since the main clause can stand alone as a sentence. Is this true? Anaphora or cataphora?

  • 1
    I don't see a problem with either of your 'Richard' sentences, but the first seems to flow better to me. Mar 24, 2015 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


There are no problems with the sentence "Due to his poor memory, Richard forgot about the appointment".

The other sentence, "Due to Richard's poor memory, he forgot about the appointment" contains a possessive antecedent (Richard's poor memory), which has offended some prescriptivists.

Wikipedia has a short entry on the possessive antecedent and why some object to it. The entire entry is reproduced below:

In English grammar, a pronoun has a possessive antecedent if its antecedent (the noun that it refers to) appears in the possessive case; for example, in the following sentence, Winston Churchill is a possessive antecedent, serving as it does as the antecedent for the pronoun him:

  • Winston Churchill's history shows him to have been a good writer.

In the 1960s, some usage guides started to reject the use of possessive antecedents. These guides argue that a pronoun's antecedent cannot be a noun in a possessive construct; in this case, they contend that Winston Churchill, embedded as it is in the construct Winston Churchill's, cannot serve as the antecedent for the pronoun him. The basis for this contention is that a pronoun's antecedent must be a noun, so that if Winston Churchill's is an adjective, then a pronoun cannot refer back to it. This rule does not reflect ordinary English usage, and it is commonly ignored (intentionally or otherwise) even by those who have heard of it.

There is also a discussion of the topic by Professsor Pullum on Language Log, based on a controversy as to whether the following sentence from a question in a PSAT test contains a grammatical error or not:

Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured.

You can read more about the issue by doing a search on PAP or Possessive Antecedent Proscription.

  • Pullum also wrote a follow-up post later that month ("Grammaticality, Anaphora, and all that" Oct. 21, 2003) with some useful additional arguments.
    – herisson
    Aug 6, 2019 at 0:49
  • @sumelic. Thanks for alerting me to this interesting follow-up.
    – Shoe
    Aug 7, 2019 at 7:08

The 1st example - "Due to his poor memory, Richard forgot about the appointment." - seems better than the second example - "Due to Richard's poor memory, he forgot about the appointment."

A very unorthodox look at the sentences prompts me to choose the 1st one to the 2nd. I read the 1st sentence in the following way - "Richard forgot about the appointment, due to his poor memory". The meaning and sense remain unchanged. But in case of the 2nd sentence it is - "He forgot about the appointment, due to Richard's poor memory". In this case the meaning and sense is different.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.