One child does not = THEY.

My crusade to wipe out pronoun/antecedent disagreement continues.  Meanwhile, the tough new Alabama immigration law is creating difficulties in unexpected areas, including education. Here is a sentence from an article about the provision of this law that requires schools to check the citizenship status of students:

Craven in a press conference emphasized that no child will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation, and the names of those families will not be shared with anyone.

The primary problem in this sentence is pronoun/antecedent disagreement.  The word CHILD is singular, but the Birmingham News reporter chooses the plural pronoun THEY to refer back to CHILD.  That won't work.  I suggest changing CHILD to CHILDREN to avoid having to decide if the child should be referred to as HE  or SHE.

Second, the reading is much smoother if the phrase IN A PRESS CONFERENCE comes after EMPHASIZED instead of in front of it.

Third, THOSE FAMILIES doesn't really fit it.  You are talking about their children, so the term really should be THEIR FAMILIES.

Fourth, Craven emphasized two things in the press conference, but the lack of parallel structure in the sentence makes it sound as if he emphasized only the first point in the press conference.  A second THAT is needed to link the two things he emphasized. Here is how I think this sentence should be written:

Craven  emphasized in a press conference that no children will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation and that the names of their families will not be shared with anyone.

Four paragraphs later, pronouns get tangled up again. Consider these two sentences:

School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when they enroll in public school for the first time.  If none is available, they will be asked for additional documentation and to sign a declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 Oh my! There are several problems here, too.  First, as written, it sounds as if the parents, not the child, are enrolling in school for the first time. THEY sounds as if it refers back to the PARENTS AND GUARDIANS. The word THEY cannot refer back to CHILD, and we know it is one child because it talks about THE CHILD'S (singular) BIRTH CERTIFICATE.

Second, by the time the reader gets to THEY WILL BE ASKED, it's totally unclear who THEY refers to, so the pronoun does not work.

Third, the second sentence is not parallel in structure.  FOR DOCUMENTATION is not in the same format as TO SIGN, and these two items should be parallel in format because they are both things the parents will be asked to provide if the birth certificate is not available. I would reword the sentence this way:

 School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when the child enrolls in public school for the first time. If none is available, the parents or guardians will be asked to provide additional documentation and a signed declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 

Notice that I simply replaced the pronouns in the second example with the words they refer to (CHILD and PARENTS OR GUARDIANS).  Sometimes this is the best way to keep things clear.  COOK'S RULE: Use a pronoun only when its antecedent is perfectly clear.

 


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply