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Burgers and Ambiguous Pronoun Usage

Burgers and Ambiguous Pronoun Usage

By Miss Marm

Why do we care about grammar? Not because we're tight-lipped, red-pen-wielding, fun-policing bananaheads (although we totally are). And not because grammar posts give us a lame excuse to post stock photos of male models (well, kind of because of that).

We care about grammar because when people break the rules, confusion results. Just as good manners are about making other people feel comfortable, good grammar is about making readers feel oriented.

And it's annoying to feel disoriented just when you're trying to crush your friend, as this Sparkler discovered:

Recently, a few friends and myself were playing a board game that has this sentence in the manual,

"A player may not attack any opponents capital until he has scored victory points equal to half the total number of victory points needed to win"

Now, while I am not concerned too much if this sentence is correct, I am curious as too your interpretation.

Does it mean:

1. A player may not attack someone's capital until HE HIMSELF has scored half of the victory points?
or
2. A player may not attack someone's capital until ONE PERSON has scored half of the victory points?

Sparkler, you DO care about "if this sentence is correct." Because in my view, it's NOT correct, and that's why you're confused.

Before we go on, let's talk about antecedents. "Ante" means "before" in Latin. Antecedents are the noun or pronoun to which a pronoun refers. In this case, the rulebook writers are forcing us to guess whether the antecedent of "he" is "player" or "opponent." It's possible these writers are old-school grammarians who believe that word order determines antecedent, and that in their minds, because "he" is only two words away from "opponent" (in contrast, seven words separate "he" from "player"), "he" refers to the player.

However, I believe that 1) order doesn't always determine antecedent, and 2) even if it did, there's no reason to create confusion by using a pronoun like "he" in place of a specific phrase like "that player" or "the opponent." I further believe that the writers of this instruction manual weren't making a grammatical choice, but were writing sloppily because they wanted to finish the rulebook and go get a burger.

Until you write to Hasbro and demand a pronoun clarification, we'll never know what the rule-makers intended, or what kind of toppings they like on their burgers (I like a whole bottle of ketchup, and nothing else).

Are you a red-pen-wielding bananahead?

Topics: grammar, pronouns, the rules, board games, ambiguous pronouns, antecedents
 

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