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Q. I’ve always thought that to avoid confusion a pronoun should rename the closest noun to it, but an author says “the pronoun it is most naturally taken to repeat the subject of the sentence.” The pronoun in question renamed a noun that immediately preceded it (not the subject). Is the author correct? Should it always refer to the subject rather than to the closest noun or pronoun?
A. “Always”? Of course not. Your author has in mind a sentence where it does not refer to the subject and we sense an awkward ambiguity: The money in the pool of blood reddened as it spread. But it’s just as easy to write a perfectly clear sentence where it does not refer to the subject—or for that matter to the nearest noun: Did you see the eclipse last night when it peaked? Both you and your author would do well to stop searching for a rule to govern all your sentences and simply rephrase if it isn’t crystal clear what it refers to.