Gramlee Blog

Incorrect use of pronoun leads to geographical blunder by Joe Biden

Say it ain’t so, Uncle Joe! There was a moment during the October 11 VP Debate where a comparison between Libya and Syria came up. A question was posed to Joe Biden.

Moderator: “So why doesn’t the same logic apply in Syria?”

Joe Biden: “It’s a different country. It is five times as large geographically.”

Any listener worth their English assumed Joe was referring to “Syria” when he said “it”. I did, and apparently I wasn’t alone. This blogger faced similar confusion and promptly wrote an excellent blog post about it.

Pronouns can be a tricky gamble. Just ask Paul Ryan. If you can avoid pronouns and reader confusion in the process, staunch English teachers will tell you to the always use a proper noun.

The rule with pronouns

When you have two nouns in the same sentence, the pronoun refers to the last noun used. When you have only one noun in a sentence, as in the Moderator’s question, the pronoun ALWAYS refers to the single noun used. In the case of the Moderator’s question, the only noun is Syria.

While Biden meant to refer to Libya, the English-educated political fact checkers should have caught Joe’s geographical blunder; Syria is not five times larger than Libya. It’s the other way around.