He’d just shrug and tell them [pronoun references]


New Member
(Of a boss running a body shop, whose employees sometimes fail to live up to his high expectations):

But their boss had mended his unforgiving ways. Bad paint jobs still happened sometimes but slip ups were no longer treated as capital offenses.

He'd just shrug and tell them that nobody is perfect.

Regarding the "he'd just shrug" sentence, do you feel the ambiguous pronouns ("he", "them") are likely to cause confusion? (Imagine the above follows a section detailing the boss' relationship with his much-abused staff so that "he" and "they" have been clearly established prior.)

I understand that in theory these pronoun references are ambiguous but in practice would they strike anybody's ear as odd?

  • the_other_barry

    New Member
    Hmm. I tend to agree but it is a little odd, no?, considering that the previous sentence is written in the impersonal. Then suddenly we begin referring to "he" and "them"...

    So are you saying you don't find it ambiguous because of the wider context, i.e. we've just been reading all about this boss and his relationship with his workers at his bodyshop.

    p.s. Example was made up for the question at hand.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    You’d have to work hard to see anything ambiguous in that text.

    What else could the pronouns refer to? Your confusion is quite puzzling for a native speaker. It isn't necessary to repeat the noun or rephrase unless using a pronoun would cause confusion.

    John looked at Jake. He was frowning. Who is "he"?
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