Law of Minor Agreement

The Law of Minor Agreement in Grammar: A Quick Guide for Copy Editors

As a copy editor, it’s crucial to have a keen eye for the subtle nuances of grammar. One common rule you may come across is the Law of Minor Agreement, also known as the Rule of Proximity.

Simply put, the Law of Minor Agreement states that nouns and pronouns should agree in number when they are in close proximity to each other, regardless of what other nearby words may suggest.

For example, in the sentence “The team scored their first goal, and they were ecstatic,” the plural pronoun “they” correctly agrees with the plural subject “team” in the first clause. However, in the second clause, the pronoun “they” could also be interpreted as referring to the players, rather than the team as a whole. To avoid this confusion, the sentence could be revised as “The team scored their first goal and was ecstatic.”

Similarly, in a sentence like “The Smith family went on vacation, and they had a great time,” the pronoun “they” could refer to either the family or the individual members. To clarify, the sentence could be revised to say “The Smiths went on vacation and had a great time.”

Of course, as with many grammar rules, there are exceptions and nuances to consider. The Law of Minor Agreement does not apply if the collective noun is being used as a single entity, as in “The orchestra played its final concert of the season.”

Additionally, it`s worth noting that some style guides may have slightly different guidelines for handling nouns and pronouns in close proximity. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook recommends using the singular pronoun for companies, organizations, and teams, while the Chicago Manual of Style allows for either singular or plural pronouns depending on the context.

As a copy editor, your job is to ensure that the text is clear and free of errors, so it’s important to be knowledgeable and flexible with grammar rules like the Law of Minor Agreement. By paying attention to noun-pronoun agreement in close proximity, you can help your writing shine and maintain clarity throughout.

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