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What is the best way to avoid confusion of pronouns?

For example, see the following sentence:

When Anne’s grandmother died she lit an extra candle for her on her birthday.

Here it is very difficult to decide that on whose birthday the candle was lighted.

I found the following substitute for this sentence but its syntax is very different from the former sentence:

Anne lit an extra candle on her birthday in the memory of her grandmother.

But, I need a sentence whose arrangement is similar to the first sentence.

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  • Don't make the mistake to try to transport all the necessary information in one single sentence. A sentence like yours is hardly presented without any context. The clarification can easily be transported in it. "Anne loved her grandparents and always celebrated her birthdays with them. When Anne's grandmother died she lit an extra candle for her on her birthday." The first sentence delivers the information, about whose birthdays we are talking. Secondly, without context the ambiguity already starts with she. If one believes in a life after death, it could be the granny who lit the candle. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 8:19
  • So the first sentence is completely ambiguous. What about the second sentence? I don’t think it needs any context. – Divya Prakash Sinha Feb 21 '20 at 8:24
  • You're right. The difference to the first one is that her exclusively refers to Anne. There is no chance that it could refer to the grandmother. In the first sentence the grandmother is the acting person of the when-clause. Because of that, she can be referred to by her in the main clause. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 8:28
  • What about "Anne lit an extra candle for her grandmother, when she died."? The after-life-ambiguity is still there, but the other one has gone. And the structure of the sentence is actually the same. The when-clause and the main one have just changed their places. I'm not sure if "when that (one) died" would be possible and wouldn't be disrespectful, but it would remove all ambiguity. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 8:35
  • I've just had a discussion about this topic on ELU. There is no best way to avoid confustion. There only is the usual way for clarification namely the addition of a defining appositive 'Anne phoned her mother before she (Anne's mother) went on holiday.' By the way, they noticed that your sentence contains a temporal confusion because died and lit is the same time. It should rather be had died and lit. Finally, I consider the sentence 'When her grandmother had died Anne lit an extra candle for her on her birthday.' to be the best solution. Common sense overcomes the rest of ambiguity. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 12:46
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You can add the referent nouns back in.

When Anne’s grandmother died she lit an extra candle for her on her birthday.

When Anne's grandmother died she lit an extra candle for her grandmother on her grandmother's birthday.

or

When Anne's grandmother died she lit an extra candle for her grandmother on her own birthday.

We don't need to clarify the first "she" because it can only refer to Anne, given that grandma is dead, but you could also replace it with "Anne."

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