“All the women protested the prices since they were outlandishly high.”

Only the most perverse of readers would misread this writer’s intention.

Fortunately, I am one of those perverse readers.

To me, the plural pronoun “they” could refer to “the women” OR “the prices.” Since “the prices” is physically closer to “they” than “the women,” I should assume “they” refers to “the prices.” And that’s what my student meant.

But just for a moment, I have to entertain the possibility that it’s the women who are outlandishly high.

Can’t you see them? Stoned to the gills, and protesting prices elaborately, loudly, and perhaps not very coherently. (At least that’s my memory of self=expression-while-outlandishly-high.)

If they weren’t high, they would just fork over the cash. But no: they’re in the mood to protest.

Pronoun reference can be confusing, particularly in situations like this sentence, where two antecedents are possible. My student could have written a simple sentence rather than a complex one: “All the women protested the outlandishly-high prices.” A writer intent on clarity would have done that.

I tell my students that it’s the job of a copy editor to get confused if the sentence will permit it. Today, and the day I wrote down this relatively innocent little sentence, that’s what I did.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““All the women protested the prices since they were outlandishly high.”

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