1. Before Sarah can board the bus, she needs to get some coins for the fare.

  2. Before she can board the bus, Sarah needs to get some coins for the fare.

My questions are:

  • Between the above two sentences, which is more correct?

  • Can the pronoun come before the noun?

  • Is there any rule defining this issue?

  • Also, must the noun only be in the main clause?

  • 1
    THIS AIN'T A DUPE FOLKS! This questions asks about putting a pronoun before a noun in a sentence and if there are any rules about it. The other post only asks about two sentences that are both grammatical. The answer there also only talks about grammatical possibilities too and doesn't describe the rules. There are ungrammatical sentences that fit the OP's question and there are rules that are important for what's grammatical and what isn't too!!! Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:08
  • 1
    THIS AIN'T A DUPE FOLKS 2! In addition that question asks exclusively about the use of possessive pronouns. There's not a possessive pronoun in sight in this question here! Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:16
  • @tchrist Hi there. Do you still believe this is a dupe of the linked-to Q? If not, any chance of a reopen vote? Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 20:07
  • Seem to be four questions here. Can you restrict yourself self to one?
    – David
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


a. Before Sarahi can board the bus, shei needs to get some coins for the fare.

b. Before shei can board the bus, Sarahi needs to get some coins for the fare.

Pronouns can:

  1. Refer to anything in the speaker's and listener's environment that they are both aware of (they can be exophoric).
  2. Refer to something previously mentioned within the sentence or within the conversation.
  3. Refer to something higher up in the clause structure (so a pronoun in a subordinate clause can refer to a thing or person mentioned in the main, matrix clause).

Sentence (a) is fine because she co-refers backwards with Sarah which appears earlier in the sentence.

Sentence (b) is fine because she appears in a subordinate clause and refers to Sarah which is in the main clause.

Both types of sentence are perfectly acceptable and are very common in all types of speech and writing. Notice, however, that if none of conditions (1-3) hold, then she will not be able to co-refer with another common noun in the sentence. So we cannot have she in a main clause trying to co-refer with a later Sarah in a subordinate clause.

c. *Shei needs to get some coins for the bus before Sarahi can board it.

In sentence (c) she and Sarah cannot refer to the same person. This is because, firstly, she occurs before Sarah. Secondly, Sarah is subordinate, and she cannot refer to a noun in a lower clause. This sentence is not possibble.

  • Excellent. Concise and clear.
    – ba_ul
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:48
  • But lacking the supporting references of stature that ELU prizes. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 12:01

I find the two equally acceptable, regardless of whether "she" refers to the same person as "Sarah". And grammatically, they are both expected to be acceptable, since in the first, the potential antecedent "Sarah" precedes "she", and in the second, "Sarah" commands "she". "She" is commanded, because it is inside every clause that "Sarah" is inside:

[S1 Before [S2 she can board the bus ], Sarah needs to get some coins for the fare.]

So "she" is inside clauses S1 and S2, but "Sarah" is only inside clause S1.

The command relation was introduced by Ronald Langacker in 1969. It has led to much (not very productive) discussion since then.


The pronoun is defined by the proper noun. Therefore the proper noun should always be introduced prior to use of pronoun.

  • 1
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    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 4:47

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