3 Key rules for pronouns in GMAT sentence correction

Pronouns are nouns that refer to other nouns, for example:

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They are used on the GMAT quite often and it is essential to understand how to use them during your GMAT prep for sentence correction questions.  Here are three key rules the MUST follow.

1) Antecedent must exist

There are some important rules to remember with GMAT pronouns.   The first and most important is that the antecedent (the noun that the pronoun is referring to), must always exist in the sentence. For example:

The university’s faculty had a meeting to discusses ways to increase its funding in the upcoming fiscal year.

While this is something we would have no problem understanding in the real world, this would be considered incorrect on the GMAT. This is because the antecedent, which should be the university, actually doesn’t exist. The sentence only mentions the university’s staff, not the university itself. That means, technically, the “it” is referring to the meeting, but that doesn’t make any sense.

2) Pronoun and antecedent must match in number

Another essential rule is that the antecedent and the pronoun must match in number. This means that if the antecedent is plural, then the pronoun must also be plural and vice versa. Often times, the GMAT test creators will put a lot of fluff between the pronoun and the antecedent to distract the reader. It is important in these situations to look at the core of the sentence to ensure that the two match in number.  For example:

 The child who spoke as gregariously they did loudly were quieted by the teacher’s stern voice.

This sentence, with its modifier, is trying to distract you from the fact that the child should have a singular pronoun.  This sentence also highlights another common error.  “They” should never refer to a singular antecedent. If you don’t know the gender, you should use “he or she” instead.

3) No ambiguities

Finally, there should also be no ambiguities.   If there is a plural pronoun, there should be only one plural antecedent before it, same goes for a singular pronoun. It is ok for there to be a single antecedent and a plural antecedent with plural and single pronouns, because you will know which matched to which. It would not be acceptable to have several singular antecedents followed by any singular pronouns, because this would make it ambiguous.  For example,

The road wound through the entire village and into the town square and it was rocky and difficult to drive on.

Even if you can reasonably guess which antecedent the pronoun corresponds to, clarity is always the best option. We don’t actually know if “it” refers to the road, the village or the town square.  When in doubt, replace the pronoun with the actual noun.

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