1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    His or his?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by CMastah, Nov 19, 2014.

    So let's say I have a sentence like:

    He wasn't sure however whether his lord was upset over his failure or if it was because he felt personally insulted.

    So in the case of the underlined bit, who will it refer to? I've had this issue come up several times and it's driving me crazy. In the case of the second underlined word, I've changed it to make it less problematic by:

    He wasn't sure however whether his lord was upset over his failure or if it was because master Bob felt personally insulted.

    (this is just an example, I don't have a lord/master called bob :p) In the case of the second underlined word, is this fix legit or does it not work?

    If the first underlined word doesn't refer to the lord (it's supposed to), then how do I fix it to make it work?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you can full bore Victorian and say:

    He wasn't sure, however, whether his lord was upset over his lordship's failure or if it were because master Bob felt personally insulted.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The pronoun refers to the last noun that fits. In your sentence follow the color code: "He wasn't sure however whether his lord was upset over his failure or if it was because he felt personally insulted."
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd write "his own failure".

    Because right now, the first "his" reads like it referring to the first "he" to me, and not the lord.
     
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  5. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    How about:

    However, he wasn't sure whether his Lord was upset over his own failure or if it was because the lord felt personally insulted.

    Or have I totally mixed up the second he for the wrong person?
     
  6. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Heheh, just to clarify, it's the lord's fault :p

    (@Wreybies , the problem is I come across other situations, like 'his friend...bob' instead of lord)
     
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  7. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    @GingerCoffee , wait, is lord in blue? Little hard to tell, if so, then that's the meaning I was after. I've come across a few of these situations due to the two MCs being 1 girl with her female mentor and 1 guy with his male lords and mentors and such (hence, I end up with two females in one sentence and two males in another, which I'm concerned will be confusing to the reader).
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if there is some rule that makes this unambiguous if you know the rule, it's effectively ambiguous. I think it needs a rewrite.

    Josh stopped, hand on the doorknob, and paused a moment to puzzle over the situation. Was Lord Blah upset over his own failure? Or did he feel insulted?

    Josh stopped, hand on the doorknob, and paused a moment to puzzle over the situation. Was Lord Blah upset over Josh's failure? Or did he feel insulted?
     
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  9. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Context determines how I interpret it.

    If the lord is the one upset, then I assume "he felt personally insulted" refers to the lord because feeling insulted is a reason to be upset.

    If I know from prior sentences that the POV character is the one who failed, then I assume "his failure" refers to the POV character's failure.

    And now for a shameless plug for first person present. Here is how you could avoid the problem entirely:

    "But is he just upset over my failure, or does he feel personally insulted?"
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You can't just go by, 'well it seems like it means this'. There is a grammatical rule: the pronoun refers to the immediate antecedent noun.

    The only time to vary from this is in dialogue because the average Joe may not know this rule and will frequently error in this matter in conversation.
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Ensure your pronouns have an antecedent noun that is both before and near each pronoun.
    What you have is problem 3.
     
  12. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    The issue here is that the POV character failed BUT the failure is meaningfully the lord's failing (his ward gets killed while in the care of someone close, but the lord takes it as his own failure).
     
  13. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    I think I may have to adapt these sentences. If I'm having to search to see if it means what I think it does, I'd hate to try and see it from the reader's point of view.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, your example is taken out of context, of course. But I would second @ChickenFreak 's suggestion. Pronouns can be incredibly confusing to the reader unless it's crystal-clear who they refer to. Whenever possible, I'd use names or some other form of identification. Such as 'the older man,' 'his boss,' 'the king,' 'his brother' ...etc.

    It takes work to make these sentences sound effortless, but it's worth the effort. You don't want your reader going cross-eyed trying to follow your story.
     

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