The Problem of Not Using Pronouns



Have you ever seen The Lego Movie?


I haven’t, Lego fan though I am. But I still know the plot and that “Everything Is Awesome” song. It goes like this:


Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. Everything is awesome When you’re living out a dream.
Everything is better when we stick together. Side by side, you and I are gonna win forever. Let’s party forever. We’re the same. I’m like you. You’re like me. We are working in harmony.

And on it goes from there with the same intentionally lackluster (i.e., non-awesome) lyrics.


Also contradicting the lyrics is how, as the movie goes on to show, everything is not awesome. There’s an “evil tyrant” on the loose trying to have his wicked way with the Lego universe!


Yet it takes a lot to make main character Emmet understand that. Which might be why it makes me think about some writers' tendency to avoid pronouns.

It might seem natural,professional or – dare I say it? – even awesome to prefer nouns over pronouns at the beginning of your sentences. As an example, consider this summary of The Lego Movie:


The Lego universe is an awesome place. Except when the land is about to be taken over by Lord Business, a super-villain who just found a super-weapon called the Kragle. The Kragle has the ability to freeze the universe into place.
Then construction worker Emmet Joseph Brickowski falls through a hole at the site he works at, only to find himself physically attached to a special brick. This means Emmet is the chosen one, according to Wyldstyle, a female Lego figure who explains everything to the clueless and uncreative Emmet.
Despite Emmet’s intense superhero handicaps, he still manages to save the day with the help of Wyldstyle and other allies he collects along the way.

To all you Lego Movie fans, I apologize for the very condensed summary. For everyone else who doesn’t care, I apologize for the not-condensed-enough summary.


But to anyone who cares about putting their best writing foot forward, I know the above example isn’t the worst you’ve ever seen…


However, you can do a lot better than that.

The problem with the summary above is that it’s stilted. It might seem proper to forgo pronouns like he, she, his, her, they, them, and it. And maybe it is.


But “proper” doesn’t read well. It doesn’t sell well. It doesn’t do much of anything well other than be proper.


There are ways you can still be professional while also engaging. And one of those ways is by using pronouns when it’s obvious what nouns those pronouns are referring to. Like this:


The Lego universe is an awesome place. Except when it’s about to be taken over by Lord Business, a super-villain who just found a super-weapon. Called the Kragle, it has the ability to freeze the universe into place.
Then construction worker Emmet Joseph Brickowski falls through a hole at the site he works at, only to find himself physically attached to a special brick. This means he’s the chosen one, according to Wyldstyle, a female Lego figure who explains everything to the clueless and uncreative Emmet. Despite his intense superhero handicaps, he still manages to save the day with the help of Wyldstyle and other allies he collects along the way.

Admittedly, it’s still far from Shakespeare. But it also sounds more conversational with the added pronouns instead of like a how-to manual.


Speaking of which, here’s one final tip on the subject: Unless you’re writing a how-to manual or something intensely academic with very specific expectations…


Always strive to sound better than a how-to manual. Ipso facto – except for those specific exceptions – always strive to use pronouns when they work.

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