Pronoun Sentence Correction Strategies
The best defense is a good offense.
Most people approach a Sentence Correction question by quickly reading not only the original sentence but also each of the 5 answer choices in the hopes that one of the answers stands out as the correct one. One of the problems with this method is that our brains are designed to recognize similarities rather than differences. Thus, reading five similarly worded sentences will generally only give the reader a sense of what is the same, as opposed to what is different between the answer choices, which makes it more difficult and time consuming to find grammatical errors. In addition to this problem is the fact that the test writers know most test takers are reading all of the sentences looking for the one that sounds right and often write sentences that “sound” wrong but are actually grammatically correct or they hide errors in a maze of modifying phrases hoping to confuse the test taker.
Instead of hoping to see a grammatical error as you read the answer choices, develop a technique that puts you on the offensive as opposed to the defensive. Actively engage your brain in the technique of finding particular errors. Doing this will not only help you to identify wrong answers more quickly, it will also keep you more awake and alert during the exam and will reduce overall testing fatigue.
This active engagement is a three part process. First, identify a word that generally triggers a certain type of error. Second, isolate the parts of the sentence that are important to determining the correct grammatical construction. Third look at what part of the sentence is underlined to determine how to fix the error. Using this method and focusing on only one error at a time will reduce your errors and your need to re-read sentences many times.
Take a look at the sentence:
“As the rabbits were emerging from the hole, looking for some tasty flowers to eat for breakfast, it caught sight of the tricky fox, which chased it into the neighbor’s field.”
Do you recognize something wrong? If you were just reading the sentence for the first time, you might not notice anything. But, if I asked you to read the sentence again and focus on the pronouns you might notice that the singular pronoun “it”
doesn’t agree with the plural noun “rabbits
”. The GMAT test writers often separate a noun and pronoun by one or more modifying phrases in an effort to hide error. The best way to be sure you don’t miss a pronoun error is to always be on the lookout for pronouns the first time you read the sentence.
Next, look at the sentence:
“As the rabbit exited the den the wolf became excited and it ran away.”
If you were on the lookout for pronouns you probably saw the “it” in the second part of the sentence. This sentence is an example of pronoun ambiguity. “It” agrees with either noun in number, but there is no way to know from the sentence alone whether the “it” is referring to the rabbit or the wolf. Thus, the pronoun in the second sentence is ambiguous and the sentence is grammatically incorrect.
Instead of defensively checking pronoun errors when you happen to notice them, take an offensive posture and start actively looking for pronouns in sentences. (Did you see the pronoun in the previous sentence? If you didn’t, read it again keeping an eye out for the pronouns.) Practice this technique by underlining or circling all the pronouns in magazine articles or advertisements as you read throughout the day.
The next step is to identify the part of the sentence that in key to the error. In the case of pronouns, key part of the sentence is any noun to which the pronoun could refer. In the sentence “John went to the store and he bought a candy bar.” The pronoun is “he” and it refers to the John because he is a pronoun that must refer to a person and John is the only person in the sentence.
But what about the sentence
“California Brown Bears live in groups in which members are generally under five years of age, proving they consist almost entirely of young adults.”?
The pronoun is “they”, but what is it referring to? One common response is to say that the pronoun must be referring to groups because it is impossible for bears to consist of young adults, but that isn’t the way grammar works. In the above sentence, without any further context, it is just as likely that the bears consist of young adults as it is that the groups consist of young adults, you can’t make the decision based on which one makes the most logical sense. Because it is impossible to determine to which noun the pronoun refers, this is an error of pronoun ambiguity and must be fixed. Now you have completed the first two steps in eliminating pronoun errors, you have identified a pronoun and determined that it improperly refers to its noun.
The third step is dependent on which part of the sentence is underlined, and what alternatives are made available in the answer choices. If the sentence looks like this:
“California Brown Bears live in groups in which members
are generally under five years of age, proving they consist almost entirely of young adults”
you have no choice but to change the nouns at the beginning of the sentence and eliminate the plural “bears.” At this point, you can skim through the answer choices and eliminate any answer choices that contain the word “bears”. A correct answer might read:
“The California Brown Bear lives in groups,” by changing the plural “bears” to the singular “bear” you have eliminated the pronoun problem.
However, if the sentence were presented like this:
“California Brown Bears live in groups in which members are generally under fi e years of age, proving they consist almost entirely of young adults
you would have to eliminate any answer choices that contain a plural pronoun because neither of plural nouns can be changed. A correct answer might read:
“proving such family groups consist almost entirely of young adults.”
Being active in your identification of pronouns, identifying the nouns to which they refer and basing your correction on the available answer choices is something that will improve your accuracy in sentence correction and thus will benefit your overall score.
Special offer! Save $250 on GMAT Ultimate Classroom, GMAT Small Group Instruction, or GMAT Liveonline when you use the promo code GCVERBAL250. Or, save $150 on GMAT Self-Prep when you use the code GCVERBAL150. Enroll at www.princetonreview.com