Mark Owen: Well, the E.O.D. guy thinks he means prep the house to blow. So there we are in the middle of this. And he’s like, “OK, roger that, prep it to blow.” So he’s running around the first floor of the house, setting his charges, getting ready to blow up the house. And somebody looks over at him is like, “Dude, dude, what are you doing?” He’s like, “Ah, I’m prepping it to blow.” He’s like, “Not the house, the helicopter.” Well, he hadn’t got the word that there was a helicopter even down.
Do antecedents matter? If you had been a Navy SEAL still in that house, they certainly would have mattered to you — and your survivors.
Be careful about using a pronoun to refer to a whole sentence, a phrase or an idea, as I did in the second graf of this post: But what does English have to do with it? In this case, I think it’s clear that it refers to the situation described in the preceding sentence. But such may not always be the case, especially if there’s a noun — i.e., potential antecedent — nearby. What does (noun) have to do with it? is something of an idiom, as in the Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” (A British variation: What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?)
Remember that pronouns need to agree in number with their antecedents. For example, in a recent piece by student:
Once inside, any guest would be hard pressed to say that they weren’t actually in a pocket-sized French cafe.
They has no plural antecedent. Presumably any guest is the antecedent, but that’s singular. Two possible fixes:
Any guest would be hard pressed to say that he wasn’t actually in a pocket-sized French cafe.
But that sentence courts accusations of sexism. You could say he or she, but that sounds clumsy. Often easiest fix is to pluralize:
Guests would be hard pressed to say that they weren’t actually in a pocket-sized French cafe.
Finally, remember that antecedent means ante + cedent — that is, coming before the pronoun. Some publications can be a little sloppy on that point. In fact, down the street at The New York Times, the construction it is used so often it seems practically knee-jerk, especially in anecdotal ledes:
As he compiled images for his book, the photographer Arthur Grace found countless pictures that he didn’t remember taking.
This one is wasy to fix:
As the photographer Arthur Grace compiled images for his book, he found countless pictures that he didn’t remember taking.
(While) Compiling images for his book, the photographer Arthur Grace found countless pictures that he didn’t remember taking.
A variation on the theme:
Putting her Jimmy Choo years behind her, Tamara Mellon has plans, no doubt involving fashion.
In this case the pronoun her is a possessive, referring to Mellon, who isn’t introduced until later in the sentence. Better:
As Tamara Mellon puts her Jimmy Choo years behind her, she has plans, no doubt involving fashion.
In summary, remember these three simple rules for using a pronoun:
Put the antecedent before the pronoun.
Make sure they agree.
And above all, make the antecedent clear.