In Maureen Orth's "Vulgar Favours" she writes about serial killer Andrew Cunanan:

He didn't really care whether they actually believed him or not, as long as they went along with the conceit. And while many found this charade harmless fun, psychologist Elizabeth Oglesby, who came to know Andrew well, as her next-door neighbour and housesitter, didn't think it was funny at all

I'm wondering about that last sentence. Would it have been better to write this?

as his next-door neighbour and housesitter

The original sounds wrong, to my ears anyway.

  • 1
    The "He" as the first word refers to Andrew Cunanan. The "her" refers to Elizabeth Oglesby, who is presumably female. Andrew was her next-door neighbour and house-sitter. Why do you think it should be "his"? Presumably she wasn't his house-sitter: he was hers.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 27, 2018 at 8:57
  • I know what she meant, but on first reading I have to admit was confused and thought it was an error. I didn't think it sounded right.
    – Braybuddy
    May 27, 2018 at 10:00
  • It's poorly written -- "run-on" from several standpoints.
    – Hot Licks
    May 27, 2018 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


This is a mild example of what Steven Pinker calls a “garden path” sentence: one that sets up a certain expectation and then leads the reader in another direction.

We expect as (someone’s) next-door neighbour and housesitter to refer to Elizabeth, and thus the pronoun to be his. But that clause actually refers to Andrew.

  • The default referent here is the closest available noun group, 'Andrew'. In contrast, in "... Elizabeth Oglesby, who, as his next-door neighbour and housesitter, came to know Andrew well", 'Elizabeth Oglesby' is the default referent for 'his next-door neighbour ...'. May 27, 2018 at 9:39
  • Yes, that re-writing sounds much better, to my ears anyway. Thank you!
    – Braybuddy
    May 27, 2018 at 10:00

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