I'm having a hard time with this sentence:

Professional bodies will monitor, and if necessary, discipline members who do not adhere to their ethical principles.

Does 'their' refer to the members or to the professional bodies?

  • Welcome to EL&U. I would say that the sentence is ambiguous in regard to whose ethical principles are in focus. – Nigel J Apr 20 '18 at 0:27

I agree with @Nigel J in that the sentence is ambiguous, but if I had to guess:

Short answer

'Their' refers to the professional bodies.


From a practical standpoint, a professional body probably doesn't exist to enforce one member's set of ethical principles, which may differ from one member to another. Rather, a professional body likely exists to enforce the agreed-upon ethical principles of an organization with which that professional body is associated.

  • 1
    I agree. Grammatically, it could be either. (Although on a purely grammatical basis, pronouns most often refer to the subject or object closest to them.) But logically, it's referencing professional bodies. If the sentence was actually referring to the members' ethical principles, I would have expected it to read something like who do not each adhere to their own ethical principles. – Jason Bassford Apr 20 '18 at 2:02
  • This is what I thought too - why bring them up at all if it's not a single standard? And how could one professional body police their members' individual ethics? Thank you for clarifying – Nabi Apr 20 '18 at 10:38

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