1.3 SAT Writing - Pronouns

Pronouns: You will find that pronouns (usage, reference, and agreement) are a key element for catching on to patterns.  Let's take a closer look at each.

Pronoun Usage

Pronoun Usage:It is vital for you to learn the difference between pronouns that function as nominatives (subjects) and pronouns that function as objects in a sentence.  Though this is a lengthy topic, I will demonstrate this idea with typical examples found on the SAT.  Let's take a look at a simple example using linking verbs.  Consider the following idea: It is me who delivers the paper. It seems completely legitimate to use the pronoun "me" in the sentence since we often use informal grammar when speaking.  This informal ear may cost you points on the SAT.  The correct pronoun is actually "I."  Familiarize yourself with common linking verbs such as "was," "were," "is," "are," and "am."  Knowing these linking verbs may help you spot misuses of pronoun since the test maker will use tricky questions like this.  Also, know that the pronoun "I" is in the nominative case and the pronoun that matches this in the objective case is "me."  It will be helpful if you chart the nominative/objective difference for all personal pronouns.  Another area of concern with pronoun usage that typically appears is pronoun usage with prepositional phrases.  For example, take the following sentence:  The teacher gave the prize to her and I.  Often, most people do not distinguish between case, simply assuming that all situations whereby a person puts himself into the sentence must be marked by the pronoun "I."  This is certainly not the case.  Instead of the pronoun "I" the correct pronoun "me" should be used since it functions as and object of preposition.  The key word here is "object."  Take another example:  The police officer gave him and I a ticket.  In this sentence, the "him and I" function as indirect objects.  Notice the key word is "object."  Since this is the case, the correct pronouns should read "him and me."  The test maker will often use sentences that sound right to the informal ear.  Do not be fooled by this ruse.  Know how the pronoun functions in the sentence to determine the case.  If it's an object, use an objective pronoun; if it's a subject, use a nominative pronoun. 

Pronoun Antecedent Agreeement

Pronoun Antecedent Agreement:  For the most part, the test makers pick on one area of error among most students- the dreaded singular indefinite pronouns.  The test maker is a bully in this regard since most people, even those of scholarly distinction, typically misuse these pronouns.  Be on the lookout for singular indefinite pronouns such as "anyone," "someone," "no one," "somebody," "anybody," "everyone," "everybody," etc.  These pronouns are deceiving since they sound plural, but choosing answers based on what sounds right is a dangerous practice.  Take the following sentence:  Did everybody bring their book?  It sounds natural to use a plural personal pronoun such as "their" to rename the antecedent "everybody."  However, the correct pronoun is singular, so the pronouns "his" or "her" is necessary.  If "everybody" refers to a group with both genders, then the pronoun combo of "his or her" is more suitable.  Be mindful of singular indefinite pronouns since they appear frequently. 

Reference Errors

Reference Errors:  The SAT test maker, as I have noticed, is aware of how many students have caught on to pronoun errors, so in response I have found that they are resorting to the use of more and more reference errors since these are perhaps the most subtle to mark as incorrect.  Reference errors break down into three types: general, indefinite, and ambiguous.  Since general and indefinite errors are similar in nature, I will group them together for the sake of brevity.  Take the following example:  Noticing the error on his electric bill, the young student knew that they made a mistake. 

Consider the first part of the sentence "Noticing the error on his electric bill."  The author of this faulty sentence assumes that mentioning the "electric bill," makes the "they" in his sentence clear.  However, looking closer, we observe that the author does not use an antecedent, leaving the "they" floating as a rootless element that is not grounded in a REAL noun.  We may safely infer that the "they" is connected to those who wrote he electric bill, so a simple correction is to replace "they" with perhaps "The Electric Company."  Watch out for rootless pronouns such as "they," "this," "it," and "that."  The test makers also use another form of reference error called an ambiguous pronoun.  The error occurs when the reader cannot clearly trace a pronoun back to an antecedent.  In fact, when the reader does try to trace the pronoun back to an antecedent, he finds himself baffled by the possibility of two choices.  Take the following example: When the pilot turned around to talk with the mechanic, he told him some bad news.  In the following sentence, we have two possible culprits to fit the bill for the pronoun "he."  The antecedent could either be the "pilot" or the "mechanic," but we have no way of knowing who is actually giving the bad news.  We assume that since the pilot is mentioned first the pronoun renames him, but this understanding is not correct.  A simple way to fix the problem is to substitute the pronoun "he" with a clear antecedent. 


Person: Be particularly mindful of second person pronoun shifts.  What happens here is simple:  Often students will begin a sentence in the third person, perhaps using pronouns such as "he," "she," and "one."  Then, during the latter part of the sentence, some SAT writers will incorrectly shift gears into second person.  Just like a car, you will grind the gears if you do this.  Take this example: When one joins the army, you have to be physically and mentally prepared.  Notice that the subordinate clause begins with the use of "one" and then shifts to the second person pronoun "you."  Be mindful of this since uses of the second person pronoun are typically incorrect. 

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