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Many Westerners are startled at the images of America and the West in contemporary Japanese advertising. Their accidental encounter by an American tourist or businessperson on a visit to Japan often evokes surprise, confusion, and misunderstanding.

I'm not sure about what "Their" in this sentence refers to. I think there are three candidates for this:

  1. images

    1 is like treating images like a person, so I don't feel this is the right interpretation.

  2. Many Westerners

  3. American tourist or businessperson

    2 and 3 are ok in the sense that they can be a proper subject of the verb "encounter", but I'm not sure why this is followed by a "by ...". Isn't this like: "His dancing by him"?

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    Using their to reference something associated with "something else" does not imply treating "something else" like a person in English. In your cited example, it's the images that can have the "quality" of "being accidentally encountered". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 8 at 19:37
  • 'images' is the referent. THis is probably more appropriate for English Language Learners – Mitch Feb 8 at 19:38
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    FumbleFingers is right, and Mitch gives correctly the referent of “their”. I want to add, however, that the extract is a classic case of how not to use pronouns. Though “images” is the only referent that gives a sensible meaning, nothing grammatically prevents the reference from being to “Westerners”. At best the use of “their” will make some readers/listeners uneasy and could confuse others. One aim of good and consideration should be to avoid phrasing which force someone to go back over the sentence a second time. – Tuffy Feb 8 at 23:00
  • Thanks for the answer, everyone. – Hayashi Yoshiaki Feb 9 at 2:31
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica If that is right, for example, "My punch from a cat was painful" is also a correct sentence? "My punch" sounds like I punched something, but what I want to say in this sentence is that "I was punched from a cat, and that punch was painful" – Hayashi Yoshiaki Feb 9 at 2:43

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