The Inside Write Stuff: When pronouns might refer back to several nouns – watch out!

(1) Our company could deposit the effluent in a storage tank. This would be one way to solve the environmental problem.

(2) Depositing the effluent in storage tanks would be one way to solve the environmental problem.

(3) To deposit the effluent in storage tanks would be one way to solve the environmental problem

When a pronoun – such as this, that, or it – refers to the preceding sentence, the relationship is often vague. In variation (1), what’s unclear is what “this” refers back to; alternatively stated, what is the noun that should follow “this”: for example, “This method …” or “This tank …”?

Variation 2 adds clarity because it combines the sentences and uses a gerund. Variation 3 selects an infinitive to similar effect.

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