Exceptions to Pronoun Ambiguity on GMAT

Pronoun ambiguity is often an over-applied concept by GMAT aspirants. Watch this short video to understand the exceptions to pronoun ambiguity for GMAT sentence correction questions.

Exceptions to Pronoun Ambiguity on GMAT

In order to be considered correct on the GMAT, a sentence must avoid pronoun ambiguity; this means that it should be clear which noun each pronoun refers to. While pronoun ambiguity might not affect the grammatical correctness of a sentence, it does affect the meaning that it conveys; thus, you must carefully consider pronoun ambiguity to eliminate incorrect GMAT sentence correction answer choices. However, when checking for pronoun ambiguity, you must be sure that the meaning of the sentence is actually affected by the ambiguity. In this short article, we will cover how to identify exceptions to the rule of pronoun ambiguity.

Be Sure About Pronoun Ambiguity

Remember, the crux of pronoun ambiguity is not the sentence's adherence to the rules of grammar but rather how well it conveys the intended meaning of the sentence. Let us illustrate this concept through the following example:

Example 1 - Rose plays squash with Mary so that she can build stamina.
If you read Example 1, carefully, you will see that it is a clear instance of pronoun ambiguity, in the use of the pronoun "she". In this sentence, the pronoun "she" could refer to either the noun "Rose" or the noun "Mary" and the sentence would still be grammatically correct but its meaning would change. To elaborate, this sentence could either mean that Rose plays squash for the purpose of improving her own stamina or that Rose plays squash for the purpose of improving Mary's stamina.

Now let us take a look at another example, to understand the exception to this rule:

Example 2 - There are five students and five chairs in the classroom; they are made of plastic.
At first glance, it would appear that Example 2 also suffers from pronoun ambiguity, as the pronoun "they" can refer to either the noun "students" or the noun "chairs". However, while the pronoun "they" can refer to either of the nouns, grammatically speaking, from a logical standpoint, the sentence will only make sense if "they" refers to the noun "chairs". Unlike Example 1, Example 2 only has one logical meaning, that there are five students and five chairs in the classroom and the chairs are made of plastic; if the pronoun "they" is considered to refer to the noun "students", the sentence would make no logical sense, as students are human beings and cannot be made of plastic. Therefore, this sentence cannot be said to have pronoun ambiguity, as its meaning makes it clear which noun the pronoun is meant to refer to.

Many GMAT resources state that every pronoun must have only one antecedent, although that is not the case; a pronoun can have multiple antecedents, but in terms of meaning, it must have only one. While solving the GMAT sentence correction questions, take pronoun ambiguity with a pinch of salt.

This article has deliberately been kept brief; for a more elaborate explanation, please refer to Experts' Global's Stage One Sentence Correction videos.

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