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This question already has an answer here:

I want to express that Brahma explained to Indra the mistake Indra had committed.
Is it proper to say it like this?

Brahma explained to Indra the mistake he had committed.

Is there any grammatical rule that says which of the two people (Brahma and Indra) does 'he' refer to?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, ScotM, Ellie Kesselman, anongoodnurse, Tushar Raj May 25 '15 at 5:40

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    No rule. Just try to be as clear as you can. When someone is worried about clarity you often see constructions like "Brahma explained to Indra the mistake he, Indra, had made." – Robusto May 21 '15 at 16:58
  • My usual interpretation is that the pronoun refers to the closest previous noun; however, there's enough "looseness" in the rule that something like your example sentence is ambiguous. – Matt Gutting May 21 '15 at 16:58
  • @MattGutting Yeah I agree, pronoun is always applicable to the closer noun. So in that way I have no difficulty in deciphering the meaning of the sentence as the speaker has intended. – Andy Semyonov May 21 '15 at 17:01
  • @AndySemyonov Usually - but see the second example sentence in Hellion's answer. – Matt Gutting May 21 '15 at 17:03
  • This could easily mean "Brahma explained to Indra the mistake he, Brahma, had committed." The sentence is quite ambiguous without a larger context. – A.Ellett May 21 '15 at 17:03
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By itself, that statement is ambiguous; there is no way to tell whether it is Brahma or Indra that has made the mistake.

You can add some context around it to make clear whose mistake it was:

Brahma saw that Indra had made a mistake. Brahma explained to Indra the mistake he had committed. (Clearly here Indra made the mistake.)

Brahma examined the work he had done so far and saw that he had made a mistake. Indra came in. Brahma explained to Indra the mistake he had committed. (Clearly here Brahma made the mistake.)

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