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Sentence Correction: Pronouns on GMAT





Here is a set of free short videos for stepwise preparation of Pronouns on GMAT. For a more detailed treatment of the topic, you may want to opt for our GMAT online course or our GMAT test series of 15 mock tests.


Collective, Countables, Uncountable Nouns



As already mentioned, subject verb agreement is one of the most basic and frequently tested concepts in GMAT sentence correction. Thus, you will have to master this concept, quite thoroughly, to tackle the GMAT. One important element to bear in mind is that there are certain types of nouns that always maintain the same number, regardless of the context. Here, we will cover the nature of collective, countable, and uncountable nouns, on the GMAT.

Collective Nouns are Always Singular


Collective nouns are used to refer to a group of singular nouns, as a collective entity. Thus, collective nouns are always singular. Please take a close look at the following example to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 – The government has failed to perform.
In example 1, the singular verb “has” refers to the noun “government”, because a government is a singular collective of individuals and organizations.

Example 2 – The team is doing well.
Once again, in example2, a singular noun, “is”, is used. Although a team consists of multiple people, the team itself is considered singular.

Similarly, nouns such as class, group, orchestra, crowd, jury, army, faculty, mob, herd, etc. are all singular entities that are comprised of multiple individuals and will be referred to with singular verbs.

Countable Nouns are Plural Uncountable Nouns are Singular


Countable nouns are generally plural and uncountable nouns are singular. Let us illustrate this concept, through the following examples:

Example 3 – Hair has grown.
As a singular entity, “hair” is always uncountable, as the word refers to a substance. The word “hair” can be countable but only when it refers to individual strands of hair, rather than hair as a whole.

Example 4 – Few coins are old.
By contrast, in this sentence, “coins” is referred to by the plural verb “are” because “coins” is a countable noun and, therefore, plural.

Example 5 – Some money is needed.
“Money” is an uncountable noun, whenever it is used to refer to an abstract concept, just as is the case with the noun “wealth”. This may seem confusing, but please remember that when we refer to money with a number, we are referring to a specific amount of currency denominations.

Additionally, you should also keep in mind that the word “few” is used for countable nouns and “little” is used for countable nouns, while “some” can be used for both.

Keeping these subtle distinctions in mind will help you in your GMAT sentence correction by enabling you to identify answer choices wherein the incorrect verb form has been used.


Indefinite Pronouns are Singular



On the GMAT, there are a number of stringent rules that govern the use of indefinite pronouns, which are those that do not refer to any particular thing, person, or place. Here, we will cover the use of indefinite pronouns, in detail.

Indefinite Pronouns are Singular


When attempting GMAT sentence correction questions, keep in mind that, barring some highly specific circumstances, indefinite pronouns are always singular. Please go through the following example to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 - Someone is coming.
In this sentence, “someone” is a pronoun that the sentence does not explicitly provide a noun to. Thus, it is an indefinite pronoun, meaning that it is singular and the singular verb “is” must be used.

Here are a few additional examples that you can go through to gain further clarity.

Example 2 - Nobody has come.

Example 3 - Everybody in the class is intelligent.
For reasons similar to “someone” in example 1, the pronouns “nobody” and “everybody” are also indefinite pronouns. Thus, both of these pronouns are singular and the singular verbs "has" and "is" have been used to refer to them.

There are a number of other pronouns that are also used to refer to that which is unknown and are, thus, indefinite and singular. Some of these pronouns include pronouns anybody, somebody, anything, whatever, wherever, whomever, something, no one, nothing, etc.


Many, Any, None, All, Some



Here, we shall cover a particular case, wherein determining the appropriate verb form can be quite tricky; the use of “many, any, none, all, and some”. Be sure to pay close attention to this concept, as subject verb agreement is one of the most often tested concepts on the GMAT, and although it is one of the most basic concepts of English grammar, it can be easily misunderstood.

Many, Any, None, All, Some


Many, any, none, all, some, the order of these pronouns is entirely dependent on the order of the nouns that they refer to. If one of these pronouns refers to a singular noun, then it will be singular as well, and if it refers to a plural noun, then it will be plural. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 – Some chocolates were distributed.
The subject in this sentence is the plural noun “chocolates”; thus, the pronoun that refers to it, “some” is also considered to be plural and the plural verb “were distributed” is used to refer to it.

Example 2 – Some money was distributed.
As the noun “money” is an uncountable noun, such as the noun “wealth”, it is always considered singular. Therefore, when the pronoun “some” is used to refer to the noun “money”, in Example 2, it is considered singular and the plural verb “was distributed” is used to refer to it.

Example 3 – Are any workers coming?
In this sentence, the pronoun “any” is referring to he noun “workers”; as workers are people, they are, of course, countable. Thus, the noun “workers” is plural noun and the pronoun that refers to it, “any” will be plural as well, meaning the plural verb “are” will be used to refer to it.

Example 4 – Is any worker coming?
Unlike in example 3, this sentence uses the pronoun “any” to refer to the singular noun “worker”; thus, it is singular as well and the singular verb “is” is used to refer to it.

From these examples, you should be able to see how these five pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on which noun they refer to.


Either-Or and "Neither-Nor"



Here, we will cover how to determine whether the such phrases, “either-or” and “neither-nor” are plural or singular, on the GMAT. Doing so will be vital for tackling the GMAT sentence correction questions. Pay close attention to this section, as subject verb agreement is one of the most basic grammatical concepts that you will be tested on, and a thorough understanding of such specialized phrases is a must.

Either-Or and Neither-Nor


The phrases “either or” and “neither nor” always take the form of the subject of the sentence that they are used in. If one of these phrases is used in a sentence that has multiple subjects, it will take the form of the subject that it is closest to. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept better.

Example 1 – Neither Jack, nor his friends are going to the party.
In example 1, there are two subjects, the singular noun “Jack” and the plural noun “friends”. As “neither nor” is closest to the noun “friends”, it takes on the plural form and, must be referred to with the plural verb “are” because the verb refers to the closest subject after “neither-nor”.

Example 2 – Neither his friends, nor Jack is going to the party.
In example 2, we have reversed the structure of example 1 to provide an additional perspective on this concept. . In this sentence, the singular noun “Jack” is closest to “neither-nor”; thus, it takes on the singular form and must be referred to with the plural verb “is”.Although there are multiple subjects taking an action, in this sentence, ), the verb “is” is only referring to the singular noun “Jack”. The plural noun “friends” is linked to “Jack”, through “neither-nor”.

When applied to the phrase “either or”, this concept remains virtually identical. Additionally, please keep in mind that in a sentence, the word “nor” can never be used without the word “neither”. The word “neither” can be used alone in a sentence but the word “nor” cannot. By applying this simple concept, you should be able to improve your answering speed on questions that involve these phrases.


An Exception in the Usage of "Each"



There are a number of broad rules that govern the nature of subject verb agreement, when it comes to certain specific words and phrases. However, in many cases, there are certain exceptions to these rules. Here, we shall cover an important exception to the general rule regarding the usage of the word “each” on the GMAT. Given the importance and recurrence of subject verb agreement in the GMAT sentence correction section, understanding such exceptions is very important to your performance.

The Exception


As a rule, when the word “each” is used, in a sentence, a singular verb must be used. To understand this simple concept, better, please read the following example carefully.

Example 1 – Each student in this class is intelligent.
In example 1, the singular verb “is” has been used, despite the fact that it is supposed to refer to multiple students within the class. The reason behind this usage is that when the word “each” is used, the sentence refers to each student, individually. Thus, the singular verb will be used.

Now, we come to the exception. If “each” happens to be preceded by a plural noun, a plural verb must be used. Let us illustrate this concept, through the following example.

Example 2 – They each are intelligent.
In example 2, , the subject “they” has come before the word “each”. Therefore, as the pronoun “they” is plural, the plural verb “are” must be used. Example 2 differs from Example 1, in that the subject comes before the word “each” rather than after; in Example 1, the subject was the noun “student” and came after the word “each”; so, the singular verb “is” was used.

As the first usage is considerably more common, in both written and spoken English, it is considered the rule, and the second usage is considered the exception.

On a somewhat related note, there is another important aspect to the use of “each”, on the GMAT, that we should cover here. On the GMAT, the use of the word “each” is preferred over that of the word “every” because the word “every” has a much stronger connotation than the word “each” does. Remember, the GMAT favors a moderate, business-like connotation; therefore, words that have very strong connotations, either positive or negative, should be avoided.


Avoiding Pronoun Ambiguity



When dealing with sentence correction questions on the GMAT, simply understanding the grammatical rules at play is not enough. It is equally important to consider the meaning of the sentence, as well. Remember, on the GMAT, a correct sentence correction answer must also preserve the intended meaning of the sentence. One of the most common elements that tends to obscure the meaning of sentences, from candidates, is ambiguity, wherein, a particular word or phrase can be interpreted in multiple ways. Here, we will cover pronoun ambiguity, a type of ambiguity that is very commonly found in GMAT sentence correction questions.

Pronoun Ambiguity


At its most basic, the term pronoun ambiguity refers to a situation where it is not clear which noun a particular pronoun refers to. Correct sentences on the GMAT will avoid pronoun ambiguity, meaning that in these sentences, every pronoun will always have a clear referent noun. Please go through the following examples, to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 - Rose plays squash with Mary so that she can build stamina.
In example 1, it is not clear whether the pronoun “she” is referring to the noun “Mary” or the noun “Rose”. Thus, there are two possible, distinct meanings that this sentence can convey; either that Rose plays squash with Mary for the purpose of improving her own stamina, or that Rose plays squash with Mary to improve her own stamina. Thus, this sentence is incorrect, as it suffers from pronoun ambiguity.

Now let us take a look a version of this sentence that does not suffer from pronoun ambiguity, to understand how to construct such a sentence, properly.

Example 2 - Rose plays squash with Mary so that Rose can build stamina.
Example 2 has been formed by correcting the pronoun ambiguity. This has been done by removing the pronoun, entirely, to make it clear that the sentence means Rose plays squash with Mary for the purpose of building her own (Rose's) stamina.

We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that the GMAT favors clarity of meaning, as well as grammatical correctness; an answer choice that leaves the meaning of the sentence unclear cannot be correct.


Exceptions to Pronoun Ambiguity



As mentioned above, in order to be considered correct on the GMAT, a sentence must avoid pronoun ambiguity. It must be clear, exactly, which noun each pronoun in the sentence 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. That having been said, it is also important that you make sure that the sentence’s meaning is actually affected by the ambiguity, before you decide that it is incorrect. Here, we will cover how to properly determine whether a sentence suffers from pronoun ambiguity.

Determining Pronoun Ambiguity


The key thing to keep in mind here is that pronoun ambiguity is a result of a sentence’s failure to convey its intended meaning, not adherence or lack thereof to grammatical rules. Please go through the following example to understand this concept, fully.

Example 1 - Rose plays squash with Mary so that she can build stamina.
Looking at example 1, carefully, we can see that it is very obviously a case of pronoun ambiguity. In this sentence, the pronoun “she” can refer to either the noun “Rose” or the noun “Mary”. In both cases, the sentence would be grammatically correct, but its meaning would change. One version of the sentence would mean that Rose plays squash for the purpose of improving her own stamina, while the other version would mean that Rose plays squash for the purpose of improving Mary's stamina.

Now that we have established what the rule on pronoun ambiguity looks like, let us take a look at another example to understand the exception.

Example 2 - There are five students and five chairs in the classroom; they are made of plastic.
While it may seem that that example 2 also suffers from pronoun ambiguity, as the pronoun "they" can refer to either the noun "students" or the noun "chairs", this is not the case. Although, grammatically speaking, the pronoun “they” can refer to either “students” or “chairs”, from a logical standpoint, the sentence will only make sense if "they" refers to the noun "chairs".Example 2 differs from example 1, in that it only has one logical meaning - 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.


"Who" Versus "Whom"



In GMAT sentence correction, questions that rely on the difference between the words “who” and “whom” are fairly common. Here, we will cover the difference between the usage of these terms. Pay close attention, as this difference is rather subtle, but very important.

The Distinction Between "Who" and "Whom"


Although the difference between these two terms trips many GMAT candidates up, due to the lack of attention paid to it in everyday English, it is actually fairly straightforward. Both words have, essentially, the same meaning. However, “who” is the subject form of the word and “whom” is the object form. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 - Who/Whom is Tyler going to meet?
To determine whether “who” or “whom” is the correct word to use, we must determine what role the word is going to play in the sentence. If the word is going to play the role of the subject, then "who" is correct, and if the word is going to play the role of the object, then "whom" is correct. By taking a close look at this sentence, it becomes obvious that the noun "Tyler" is the subject, as the sentence is asking for information about an action taken by Tyler; thus, the word "who" or "whom" will be the object. Therefore, in this sentence, the word "whom" is more appropriate and the correct sentence will be "Whom is Tyler going to meet?"

On the other hand, , if the words "who" or "whom" are to be used to as the subject of a sentence, then "who" is the appropriate option. For example:

Example 2 - Who is preparing the breakfast?
In example 2, the word “who” is the correct option. As “who” is inquiring about the performer of an action, it is referring to the subject of the sentence.

Another important aspect of this distinction to keep in mind is that if the voice of the sentence is changed, the other word must be used, as switching from passive to active voice, as vice-versa, reverses the subject and object. Please go through the following example, in order to better understand this aspect of the concept:

Example 3 - The breakfast is being prepared by whom?
Here, the noun "breakfast" is now the subject, as the sentence has been converted to the passive voice. Thus, "breakfast" is now the subject that is taking the action "being prepared" and “whom” is now the object.


"Possessive Pronoun" can be used with "Possessive Noun"



As a rule, a pronoun must always refer to a noun, on the GMAT, or its usage is incorrect. However, in the case of possessive pronouns, a possessive noun can be used as a referent. You must keep this important exception, which we will now discuss in detail, to the typical usage of pronouns in mind, while attempting GMAT sentence correction questions.

The Exception


In general, possessive nouns cannot be referred to with pronouns. However, as mentioned above, possessive pronouns can be used to refer to possessive nouns. Please go through the following example, closely, to understand this concept.

Example 1 - Jack's car is in such bad shape that his friends don't borrow it.
At first glance, it may appear that the pronoun “his”, used in this sentence, does not have a referent. The sentence only includes the possessive noun "Jack's car", Thus, the sentence is incorrect, as “his” cannot refer to an inanimate object. However, this understanding is a bit incomplete; what you must understand here is that possessive nouns such as "his" can indeed refer to possessive nouns such as "Jack's", so the sentence is correct.

Example 2, and the accompanying explanation, should provide some further clarity.

Example 2 - Jack's car is in such a bad shape that he must get it repaired at once.
Here, the pronoun “he” is not in the possessive form. Rather, the pronoun is is the subject of the sentence, meaning that the sentence is saying that "he" must get "Jack's car" repaired at once. This sentence is incorrect, as the subject "he" would need the noun "Jack". The subject or object form of a pronoun does not agree with possessive nouns.

Example 3 - Jack's car is in such bad shape that Jack needs to get it repaired at once.
Unlike example 2, example 3 is perfectly correct. Here, the noun "Jack" is the subject of the sentence, rather than the pronoun "he".

Despite not appearing in most GMAT materials, this concept is very important; understanding it will allow you to solve a number of complex sentence correction questions.


Where Versus When



Here, we will cover the correct use of the words “where” and “when” on the GMAT. “Where” and “when” are two of the words that that you must pay especially close attention to, while working on GMAT sentence correction, as their correct idiomatic use of such words can shift subtly but significantly, depending on the exact context. Such idioms are often used to set up highly complex questions that will require you to approach them carefully and have a firm understanding of how exactly the words are to be used.

The distinction between these two words is fairly straightforward. The word “where” is used to refer to a person or thing’s location in space, while the word “when” is used to refer to a person or thing’s location in time. To put it another way, “where” refers to “place” and “when” refers to time. Please go through the following example, carefully, to understand this concept better.

Example 1 - Where is the event?
Meaning - At what place is the event?

Example 2 - When is the event?
Meaning - At what point in time is the event?

In the first sentence, through the use of the word “where”, the question of what place the event will be at is raised. In the second sentence, the use of the word “when” raises an inquiry into what point in time the event will take place at. By keeping this simple distinction in mind, you will be able to identifyobviously incorrect answer choices more easily and improve your efficiency on the GMAT sentence correction.


Which, Who, Whose, Where



To take on GMAT sentence correction questions, particularly modifier based ones, it is important to understand the exact pattern in which certain words refer to subjects and objects, within sentences. Here, we will cover how the words which, who, whose, and where should be used on the GMAT.

Usage of Which, Who, whose, and Where


In usage, these terms are actually identical. When preceded by a comma, these terms all refer to the noun just before the comma. To understand this concept fully, please read the following examples:

Example 1 - France would play against Brazil, which is a stronger team, in the finals.
Here, since the word “which” comes directly after a comma, it refers to the noun “Brazil” which comes directly before the same comma.

Now, we will go through a few other examples to understand the use of these terms in different contexts.

Example 2 - Jack would play against John, who is a stronger contender, in the finals.
In Example 2, there are two nouns that the word “who” could refer to, Jack and John. However, it is perfectly clear that "who" refers to the noun John because "John" directly precedes the comma that "which" follows. The noun “Jack” cannot be the referent to the word “who”, as it is too far away. In this context it is important to understand what meaning the sentences is trying to convey. The core meaning of the sentence is that “Jack”, the subject, will play against "John" in the finals; the phrase "who is a stronger contender" modifies "John", as "John" directly precedes it.

Example 3 - Jack would play against John, whose record is 90% wins, in the finals.
In example 3, the word "whose" refers to the noun "John" and conveys the meaning that the record belongs to John. Similar to example 2, in this sentence the noun “Jack” is not the referent of the word “whose”. The core meaning of this sentence is that "Jack", the subject, will play against "John" in the finals. The phrase "whose record is 90% wins" modifies "John", as "John" directly precedes it.

Example 4 - The finals are in DC, where Jack made his debut.
In example 4, the word “where” is used because the noun in question is a location. Thus, there is no confusion as to which noun is being referred to, as “where” can only be used to refer to locations. Nevertheless, even when dealing with a sentence that includes “where”, remember the rule; “where” will always refer to the noun that directly preceeds the comma.


Can "Whose" be Used for Things or Objects



If you have been preparing for the GMAT, you might have come across a certain myth that the word "whose" can only be used to refer to people and not inanimate objects. While tackling GMAT sentence correction questions, you must keep in mind that this is not true. In certain contexts, the word “whose” can be used to refer to objects and things, and we will now examine these contexts to better understand the use of “whose” on the GMAT.

First of all, please understand that if the word “whose” is used as an interrogative pronoun and ultimately refers to a person, it can be followed by a thing. Below, you will find two examples of the word "whose" being used as an interrogative pronoun. Please go through them, closely, to understand this concept better.

Direct example: Whose mother is inquiring?

Indirect example: Whose bike is creating the noise?

In these examples, the word “whose” is used as an interrogative pronoun, meaning that it asks the question, “To who does this belong?” While it may, initially, seem that in the first example the word "whose" refers to a person, and in the second example it refers to an object, the reality is that in both cases "whose" actually refers to a second entity.. In the first example, the word "whose" actually refers to the mother's child and in the second example, the word "whose" refers to the bike's owner, who will be a person, not the bike itself. Thus, we can see that when the word "whose" is used as an interrogative pronoun, it will always refer to a person, even if it is followed by a thing because "whose" will always be used to refer to a person who is related to an object through possession, not the thing itself.

Of course, interrogative pronouns are not the only use of “whose”. The word “whose” can also be used as a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns are those that are used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun, and when “whose” is used in this manner it can be followed by a person or a thing and refer to either one. Here are two examples of “whose” being used as a relative pronoun.

Example 1 - The lady whose child is crying needs hot water.

Example 2 - The bike whose silencer is dysfunctional is creating the noise.
Both example 1 and example 2 are grammatically correct. In example 1, we see how “whose” is used to refer to a person, “the lady”, and in example 2 we can see how “whose” is used to refer to a thing, “the bike”.


"Which" Versus "That"



While preparing for the GMAT, many candidates struggle to comprehend the difference in use between the words “which” and “that”. Confusion between these two terms can be a major hurdle in tackling GMAT sentence correction questions, as many questions employ this highly subtle difference. The difficulty in comprehending the difference is compounded by the fact that these two words are often used interchangeably, in casual conversation. Thus, here we will cover exactly how “which” and “that” are supposed to be used on the GMAT, respectively, in detail.

Let us begin by examining the use of “which”.

Which


When you see the word “which” used on the GMAT, it will most likely be preceded by a comma and will be used to provide additional information on a noun. As has been mentioned elsewhere on this page, whenever extra information is presented in a sentence on the GMAT, it must be between two commas and its removal should not affect the core meaning of the sentence. Put simply, if the information presented through the word “which” is removed, the sentence should still be complete, grammatically correct, and convey its core meaning. Please go through the following example to understand this concept better.

Example 1: France would play against Brazil, which is a stronger team, in the finals.
In example 1, we can clearly see that the core meaning of the sentence is that France will play Brazil in the finals, and the phrase "which is the stronger team" is extra information. We can also see that removing this information does not affect the core meaning of the sentence. Therefore, example 1 is correct sentence.

The two key takeaways that you must understand from this explanation are that, on the GMAT, "which" will typically follow a comma and the phrase containing the word "which" will convey extra information and it should be able to be removed, without affecting the sentence's core meaning. Keep these takeaways in mind, as they are the primary points of difference between how “which” and “that” are used on the GMAT.

That


In contrast to “which”, the word “that” does not typically follow a comma and is used to give information that is critical for the correct meaning of the sentence. Please read the following example and explanation for further clarity.

Example 2: The team, which scores more goals, will be the winner.
If we remove the phrase "which scored the most goals", the sentence becomes "The team will be the winner.' Thus, the core meaning of the sentence will be lost and we "that" should be used here, rather than "which". The correct sentence is:

The team that scores more goals will be the winner.


A Rare Case when "That" Is Preceded by "Comma"



In the above video, we noted that the word “that” is almost never preceded by a comma, on the GMAT. However, there is one set of circumstances wherein it is. Here, we will cover exactly what that circumstance is, in detail, to enable you to navigate sentence correction questions that hinge on this use of “that”.

When the word “that” is preceded by a comma, it is used to link clauses. However, the related phrase does not modify the sentence in the same way that it would if a word such as "which" or "who" were used. Unlike in those cases, when “that” is preceded by a comma, it never refers to the noun immediately before the comma; it refers to the noun or noun phrase that precedes the previous comma. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 - While flying at night, bats use echolocation, a special sonar system used by toothed whales as well as dolphins, that involves the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space.
In this example, multiple commas are used in the sentence before the word “that”, which follows a comma that in turn follows the noun "dolphins". As we have explained above, "that" will not refer to the noun that is immediately before the comma, "dolphins", it will refer to the noun that follows the previous comma, "echolocation". To understand this concept, fully, you must use the meaning of the sentence as a guide. First, understand that the core meaning of the sentence is that bats use echolocation that involves the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space while flying at night. Additionally, the sentence provides extra information that modifies the noun "echolocation", to explain that it is a special sonar system used by toothed whales as well as dolphins. Clearly, “that” cannot refer to “dolphins” because if it did so, the sentence’s meaning would be that dolphins involve the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space, which is completely nonsensical and incorrect. Thus, we see that the sentence can only be correct if the word "that" refers to "echolocation".


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