I have a question regarding this sentence:

The personalities of project leaders affect their reactions while they face problems in the project.

Do you think that the sentence is grammatically correct and clear?

I'm afraid people will be confused that the word their refers to the personalities of project leaders instead of to the project leaders.

Do you have any suggestions?

  • The problem is with while (indicates a time interval whilst 'reactions' are punctive, and this doesn't work well here); the antecedent of their is easily retrievable. Jan 18, 2017 at 15:42
  • There's no confusion because personalities don't have reactions or face problems, people do.
    – Barmar
    Jan 19, 2017 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


Know that "their" is the possessive form of the pronoun "them", which is used to refer to the object of the clause. The basic sentence structure is subject + does something to + object. In your sentence, the personalities of the project leaders + is affecting + them (the project leaders). "Project leaders" is the object, thus "their" refers to them.

TD;DR: You have structured the sentence correctly as "project leaders" is the only phrase that can be referred to "them".

Sources: Them and They, Object Clauses

  • I'm not sure of your reasoning here. Do you think that a possessive pronoun may only refer to an object? Or that it may only refer to persons? BTW, I am not the downvoter.
    – deadrat
    Jan 18, 2017 at 18:27
  • @deadrat The possessive pronoun refers to persons.
    – pidgeon
    Jan 18, 2017 at 18:50
  • Not always. I refer you to Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents.
    – deadrat
    Jan 18, 2017 at 19:13
  • 1
    I think it generally depends on what's being possessed. A personality can't possess a reaction, so the antecedent must be the people. But if it said "their expressions", it could refer to the personalities, since personalities can have expressions.
    – Barmar
    Jan 19, 2017 at 19:12

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