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Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'

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Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 05 Nov 2016, 23:42
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Pronouns are one of those underappreciated concepts on the GMAT. If you are not careful with them or do not understand their nuances, they will trip you. ‘it/they’ are those pronouns that you must be especially careful of.

How can one be more careful of these traps you ask?

One simple way to accomplish this is to substitute what ‘it’ stands for back into the sentence and see whether the sentence makes sense.

Rule #1 – try to plug back what the pronoun stands for in the sentence.

For example:
This year’s crop yield is much higher than it was last year.

What does ‘it’ refer to in the sentence? We see that ‘it’ refers to ‘this year’s crop yield’.

Now plug it back into the sentence:

This year’s crop yield is much higher than this year’s crop yield was last year.

Obviously, this sentence is absurd.

Notice that ‘this year’s’ – a possessive form – functions as an adjective.

This leads us rule #2 that must be followed while dealing with ‘it/they’ on the GMAT.

Rule #2 – ‘it/they’ refers to noun along with all its Modifiers.

Let us look at this correct sentence from GMATPrep:

Although improved efficiency in converting harvested trees into wood products may reduce harvest rates, it will stimulate demand by increasing supply and lowering prices, thereby boosting consumption.

What does ‘it’ refer to in the sentence?

‘it’ here refers to ‘improved efficiency in converting harvested trees into wood products’ hence this sentence is correct on the GMAT.

Notice that ‘efficiency’ has two modifiers – ‘improved’ and ‘in converting harvested trees into wood products’. However, it is still a singular hence we use the correct pronoun ‘it’.

Rule #3 – ‘it/they’ refers to the same copy of the noun.

Let me illustrate this with an example from GMAT.

Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in their production history.

What is the intended meaning of the sentence?

The meaning is that today’s small cars are more fuel-efficient than previous small cars.

What do ‘they/their’ in the above sentence refer to?

Here ‘they’ has to refer to ‘small cars’. Hence, as per rule #3 it must refer to the same copy of ‘small cars’. This option nonsensically suggests that the very same small cars of today were less efficient during their production history.

How do you correct this?

Obviously, we need to refer to a different copy of small cars for the sentence to make sense. One way to achieve this is to use ‘that/those’ instead of ‘it/they/their’.

Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in production history.

Putting it all together

With these rules in mind, let us try to solve the following problem from GMATPrep:

Some anthropologists regard the early hominids' manner of walking as being less efficient than in modern human beings.
A. as being less efficient than in
B. as less efficient than it is in
C. as less efficient than that of
D. to be less efficient than that of
E. to have been less efficient than it is in

How do I approach this problem?

I scan down the vertical list of options and I immediately spot a split between ‘it’ and ‘that’. Now, I realize that the GMAT is testing me on the usage of same copy vs different copy on this question.

Also, I remember that ‘it’ refers to the noun in its entirety – i.e. the noun plus all its modifiers.

Hence, ‘it’ in options B and E refers to ‘early hominid’s manner of walking’.

Hmmm, this does not seem to make a lot of sense.

Let me try to plug this back into the sentence and see (Rule #1) – “Early hominid’s manner of walking as less efficient that early hominid’s manner of walking is in modern human beings”. This is clearly incorrect. Eliminate B and E.


In option A, I see the word ‘being’. I know that GMAT does not like the usage of ‘being’.
But I won’t knock it off directly. Instead let me ask myself: Does the sentence retain its meaning if ‘being’ is removed?

Yes, it does.

So, ‘being’ is redundant. (Also, note that the sentence does not make much sense. You cannot have early hominid’s manner of walking in modern human beings).

I am left with C and D.

I notice the word ‘regard’. I see that there are two splits in the idiom in the answer choices. ‘regard X to be Y’ and ‘regard X as Y’.

There is absolutely no other difference between these two answer options. So, I scan my memory and remember that I have memorized the correct form of the idiom ‘regard X as Y’. (I have memorized only the correct form of the idiom, not the incorrect forms – this helps you avoid getting confused).

Hence, C is the correct answer.
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Originally posted by CrackVerbalGMAT on 02 Nov 2016, 00:40.
Last edited by CrackVerbalGMAT on 05 Nov 2016, 23:42, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 02 Nov 2016, 19:51
CrackVerbalGMAT wrote:
Pronouns are one of those underappreciated concepts on the GMAT. If you are not careful with them or do not understand their nuances, they will trip you. ‘it/they’ are those pronouns that you must be especially careful of.

How can one be more careful of these traps you ask?

One simple way to accomplish this is to substitute what ‘it’ stands for back into the sentence and see whether the sentence makes sense.

Rule #1 – try to plug back what the pronoun stands for in the sentence.

For example:
This year’s crop yield is much higher than it was last year.

What does ‘it’ refer to in the sentence? We see that ‘it’ refers to ‘this year’s crop yield’.

Now plug it back into the sentence:

This year’s crop yield is much higher than this year’s crop yield was last year.

Obviously, this sentence is absurd.

Notice that ‘this year’s’ – a possessive form – functions as an adjective.

This leads us rule #2 that must be followed while dealing with ‘it/they’ on the GMAT.

Rule #2 – ‘it/they’ refers to noun along with all its adjectives.

Let us look at this correct sentence from GMATPrep:

Although improved efficiency in converting harvested trees into wood products may reduce harvest rates, it will stimulate demand by increasing supply and lowering prices, thereby boosting consumption.

What does ‘it’ refer to in the sentence?

‘it’ here refers to ‘improved efficiency in converting harvested trees into wood products’ hence this sentence is correct on the GMAT.

Notice that ‘efficiency’ has two modifiers – ‘improved’ and ‘in converting harvested trees into wood products’. However, it is still a singular hence we use the correct pronoun ‘it’.

Rule #3 – ‘it/they’ refers to the same copy of the noun.

Let me illustrate this with an example from GMAT.

Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in their production history.

What is the intended meaning of the sentence?

The meaning is that today’s small cars are more fuel-efficient than previous small cars.

What do ‘they/their’ in the above sentence refer to?

Here ‘they’ has to refer to ‘small cars’. Hence, as per rule #3 it must refer to the same copy of ‘small cars’. This option nonsensically suggests that the very same small cars of today were less efficient during their production history.

How do you correct this?

Obviously, we need to refer to a different copy of small cars for the sentence to make sense. One way to achieve this is to use ‘that/those’ instead of ‘it/they/their’.

Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in production history.

Putting it all together

With these rules in mind, let us try to solve the following problem from GMATPrep:

Some anthropologists regard the early hominids' manner of walking as being less efficient than in modern human beings.
A. as being less efficient than in
B. as less efficient than it is in
C. as less efficient than that of
D. to be less efficient than that of
E. to have been less efficient than it is in

How do I approach this problem?

I scan down the vertical list of options and I immediately spot a split between ‘it’ and ‘that’. Now, I realize that the GMAT is testing me on the usage of same copy vs different copy on this question.

Also, I remember that ‘it’ refers to the noun in its entirety – i.e. the noun plus all its modifiers.

Hence, ‘it’ in options B and E refers to ‘early hominid’s manner of walking’.

Hmmm, this does not seem to make a lot of sense.

Let me try to plug this back into the sentence and see (Rule #1) – “Early hominid’s manner of walking as less efficient that early hominid’s manner of walking is in modern human beings”. This is clearly incorrect. Eliminate B and E.


In option A, I see the word ‘being’. I know that GMAT does not like the usage of ‘being’.
But I won’t knock it off directly. Instead let me ask myself: Does the sentence retain its meaning if ‘being’ is removed?

Yes, it does.

So, ‘being’ is redundant. (Also, note that the sentence does not make much sense. You cannot have early hominid’s manner of walking in modern human beings).

I am left with D and C.

I notice the word ‘regard’. I see that there are two splits in the idiom in the answer choices. ‘regard X to be Y’ and ‘regard X as Y’.

There is absolutely no other difference between these two answer options. So, I scan my memory and remember that I have memorized the correct form of the idiom ‘regard X as Y’. (I have memorized only the correct form of the idiom, not the incorrect forms – this helps you avoid getting confused).

Hence, C is the correct answer.



Very well explained, but please try to correct the explanation of the approach. Highlighted the same above.
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Re: Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 05 Nov 2016, 23:43
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Thanks Argo!! I have made the changes
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Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 25 Dec 2016, 22:59
Dear expert,

Thank you for a great post. I have one concern the rule #3, in which you said the pronoun "it" refer to the same noun in its own meaning.

Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in production history.

In this example, although there is no other modifier attached to "small cars", we understand that here is "today's small cars". Hence, "they" incorrectly refers to "today's small cars".

But I see the same usage in the OG, which I think is totally fine. And these usages definitely follow rule #1 and rule #2. Experts, please shed light on this matter regarding the validity of rule #3.

Ex:
A1- the number of children injured while sledding was much higher last winter than it was 10 years ago
A2- The average age of automobiles registered in the country is lower now than it was 20 years ago
A3- Motorists in a certain country frequently complain that traffic congestion is much worse now than it was 20 years ago


But I then come up with another question.
- if we put A2 this way, is it correct: The average age of automobiles registered in the country now is lower than it was 20 years ago. This new structure has the same meaning but does not follow rule #2?
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Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 26 Dec 2016, 08:03
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don't apply SC rules to CR questions.

You can also look at the example given this way to make things more clear -
"small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were ..."

"that are more fuel efficient than they were ..." is an essential modifier to small cars. (It is in this context that I meant same copy; sorry for the confusion)

So, 'they' does not seem to have a proper antecedent.

but otherwise, your examples seem fine as the pronoun refers to the general idea/thing.

here is an example from GMATPrep to illustrate the same -
"During the last interglacial period, the climate on the Earth was warmer than it is today, ..."
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Re: Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 27 Dec 2016, 11:24
CrackVerbalGMAT wrote:
don't apply SC rules to CR questions.

You can also look at the example given this way to make things more clear -
"small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were ..."

"that are more fuel efficient than they were ..." is an essential modifier to small cars. (It is in this context that I meant same copy; sorry for the confusion)

So, 'they' does not seem to have a proper antecedent.

but otherwise, your examples seem fine as the pronoun refers to the general idea/thing.

here is an example from GMATPrep to illustrate the same -
"During the last interglacial period, the climate on the Earth was warmer than it is today, ..."


Thank you for your reply

1. I don't know why you said that I was applying SC rules to CR. Is this topic of SC? I thought you were talking about SC and even your example is an SC one. There's nothing to do with CR here.

2. Thank you for the idea regarding the general idea/thing. I now realize that all of my example are about general idea/statistic number, which bears a consistent meaning in both side of the comparison. But in the case of "small cars", we intentionally mean two different things: the today's ones with better technology vs the old one.

3. To look at the sentence in a different way is also an interesting idea. You rock.
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Re: Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'  [#permalink]

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New post 16 Feb 2019, 20:38
This is a great post!

Trying to bump it up.

Posted from my mobile device
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Re: Pronouns - Usage of 'it/they'   [#permalink] 16 Feb 2019, 20:38
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