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# Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)

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Joined: 29 Oct 2017
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Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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02 Nov 2017, 09:21
Hello GmatClub,

I'm still trying to wrap my head around pronouns, in particularly "it" and "which". It's mentioned that the golden rule is that pronouns must unequivocally refer to their antecedent. So I have two questions, backed up by two OG examples, on how my thinking went wrong. For these examples, we'll just show the correct answer in order to directly address the problem.

Question 1: When pronouns unequivocally refer to their antecedent, is it by meaning or by elimination

OG Review 2015, Question 767:
The results of the company's cost-cutting measures are evident in its profits, which increased 5 percent during the first 3 months of this year after it fell over the last two years.
Answer C: which have increased 5 percent during the first 3 months of this year after falling

It is clear, by meaning, that "which" refers to "profits". I know that "which" can't refer to modifiers, company in this case. However, "results" and "cost-cutting measures" are still there for "which" to refer to. So my logic is that, subject-verb agreement means "which" can refer to "results", "cost-cutting measures" or "profits", but it makes most sense to refer to "profits" so it has to refer to "profits". Would this be correct?

Question 2: Same question but with it

OG Review 2015, Question 779:
Marconi's conception of the radio was as a substitute for the telephone, a tool for private conversation; instead, it is precisely the opposite, a tool for communicating with large, public audience.
Answer C: Marconi conceived of the radio as a tool for private conversation that could substitute for the telephone; instead, it has become

Here, the answer comment specifically says this: An active verb makes the first clause more concise; it in the second clause clearly refers to the radio

It seems to me that the answer even acknowledges that it will refer to its antecedent by meaning because clearly, "radio" and "telephone" are both singular which can take the place of "it" by subject-verb agreement. But by meaning, then "it" refers to "radio". Is there a rule that says "it" can't refer to nouns in what I believe is called the adjectival clause?

Sincerely Yours,
Donny
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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02 Nov 2017, 16:23
1
donnylee wrote:
Hello GmatClub,

I'm still trying to wrap my head around pronouns, in particularly "it" and "which". It's mentioned that the golden rule is that pronouns must unequivocally refer to their antecedent. So I have two questions, backed up by two OG examples, on how my thinking went wrong. For these examples, we'll just show the correct answer in order to directly address the problem.

Question 1: When pronouns unequivocally refer to their antecedent, is it by meaning or by elimination

OG Review 2015, Question 767:
The results of the company's cost-cutting measures are evident in its profits, which increased 5 percent during the first 3 months of this year after it fell over the last two years.
Answer C: which have increased 5 percent during the first 3 months of this year after falling

It is clear, by meaning, that "which" refers to "profits". I know that "which" can't refer to modifiers, company in this case. However, "results" and "cost-cutting measures" are still there for "which" to refer to. So my logic is that, subject-verb agreement means "which" can refer to "results", "cost-cutting measures" or "profits", but it makes most sense to refer to "profits" so it has to refer to "profits". Would this be correct?

Question 2: Same question but with it

OG Review 2015, Question 779:
Marconi's conception of the radio was as a substitute for the telephone, a tool for private conversation; instead, it is precisely the opposite, a tool for communicating with large, public audience.
Answer C: Marconi conceived of the radio as a tool for private conversation that could substitute for the telephone; instead, it has become

Here, the answer comment specifically says this: An active verb makes the first clause more concise; it in the second clause clearly refers to the radio

It seems to me that the answer even acknowledges that it will refer to its antecedent by meaning because clearly, "radio" and "telephone" are both singular which can take the place of "it" by subject-verb agreement. But by meaning, then "it" refers to "radio". Is there a rule that says "it" can't refer to nouns in what I believe is called the adjectival clause?

Sincerely Yours,
Donny

Dear donnylee,

I'm happy to respond. These are intelligent and thoughtful questions.

First of all, I will say, these two situation are what we call in English "apples and oranges"--that is, two completely different and unrelated things.

The pronoun "which" is a relative pronoun that always begins a noun-modifying clause. Any noun-modifying clause is subject to the Modifier Touch Rule. Thus, in your first example sentence, "which" refers to "profits" precisely because they touch--that is, they are adjacent. Of course, this relationship is also apparent from logic---in a well-designed sentence, grammar and logic point in the same direction!

The pronoun "it" is a personal pronoun, so it can appear in a variety of places in a sentence. Many factors influence the pronoun-antecedent relationship for personal pronouns.
1) certainly, proximity and unambiguity are relevant factors
2) an underappreciated factor is parallelism. If a noun is a subject of one clause, and a pronoun is the subject of a parallel clause, then there's a powerful logical link between them, and that link certainly can clarify the pronoun-antecedent relationship. That's precisely what is happening in your second example sentence.
3) the rhetorical prominence of a word also has an effect--if a word is a powerful focus of all parts of the sentence, then that heightens is visibility as an antecedent of a pronoun in the sentence.

There's absolutely no rule about whether an antecedent can or cannot be part of an adjectival clause or any other kind of phrase or clause.

Does all this make sense?
Mike
_________________

Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

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Joined: 29 Oct 2017
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02 Nov 2017, 17:56
Hi Mike,

Gosh, I'm surprised to see you reply. Quick note, by the way, your Magoosh blog is of tremendous help.

Your points 1 to 3 on "it" usage enforced your idea of grammer and logic pointing in the same direction. I got that. I would still like to clear two things on "which". My understanding is facilitated by your Modifier Touch Rule, including its exception. Mind if I seek expansions on two examples (call them A and B) in your blog.

In the last decades of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a massive book on orchestration, which is still read by composition students today.

Clearly, "on orchestration" is the vital modifier. So "which " refers to book . Understood.

A: But is this possible:
In the last decades of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a massive book on orchestration, which at that time had more string instruments than brass ones.

A: Interpretation: "which " refers to orchestration as it touches it. Not allowed, okay but clumsy, or good?

Also, you also mentioned "A pronoun cannot have a clause as an antecedent". This really blew my mind because if it were true, I've been mistakenly using things like "which" and "that" as shortcuts to refer to phrases.

B: You said:
Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, which enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time

So I understood that "which " can't refer to gold resisting the corrosive action of air and water. I got the part of encapsulating using noun. My question, was there ever a way for a word, probably a pronoun, to refer to clauses?

B: Is this possible:
Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, and that enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time

B: Interpretation:
that = gold resisting the corrosive action of air and water

I read your "many uses of that" and my conclusion is that "that" is used as a demonstrative pronoun like how you mentioned "the pronoun “that” is used as a stand-in for a much longer phrase in a comparison"

Is this conclusion correct: "which" MUST always refer to a noun. "that" is more liberal in that it can refer to a "noun" or "phrase"

Sincerely Yours,
Donny
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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03 Nov 2017, 12:41
Dear donnylee,
My friend, I'm happy to respond.

This sentence is correct:
In the last decades of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a massive book on orchestration, which is still read by composition students today.
You are correct that "which" refers to "book."
In the last decades of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a massive book on orchestration, which at that time had more string instruments than brass ones.
The modification is fine, but the diction is questionable. In particular, "orchestration . . . had" is a phrasing that sounds off. Rather than "had," I might recommend the verb "employed" or "utilized."

My example sentence
Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, which enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time.
This is a mistake sentence, an example of the mistake of using "which" to refer to the action of a clause. Your sentence:
Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, and that enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time.
This repeats the same mistake with a different pronoun.
NO pronoun of any kind can EVER refer to a clause, not under any circumstances: for any pronoun to refer to the action of a verb is 100% wrong 100% of the time. Instead, we can create our own noun to encapsulate the action and use a pronoun to refer to that noun.
Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, a strength that enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time.
The word "strength" encapsulates the action of resisting the corrosive action of air and water. That's not the most elegant, well-written sentence, but it is grammatically correct. See:
GMAT Sentence Correction Tip: Create a Word

Does all this make sense?
Mike
_________________

Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Intern
Joined: 27 Oct 2017
Posts: 8
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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04 Nov 2017, 02:02
Hey there,
I know that both of them can be used in other constructions. The problem usually appears when they are used as relative pronouns to show adjective or relative clauses. If you can't understand the difference between "which" and "it", you can try sentence correction online, maybe, it's your chance to make things done correctly. Also, don't forget, that a clause is a group of words having a subject and a verb. Good luck to you!
Intern
Joined: 06 Nov 2017
Posts: 8
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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06 Nov 2017, 06:00
1
Regular sexual orientation pronouns are words begat to fill a hole in English: the absence of third individual solitary pronouns to allude to either guys or females, or to the two guys and females, and all the more as of late, to allude to transgender or sex nonconforming people also. These new words were likewise called unbiased, dicey, or epicene, pronouns, and at times they're alluded to today as nonbinary pronouns. These pronouns fill a need, however none has been generally received, consequently they are the words that fizzled. What has succeeded is particular they, which emerged normally in English several years back, and is utilized both by speakers and scholars worried that their pronouns be comprehensive, and furthermore by numerous who don't give the make a difference much idea by any stretch of the imagination.
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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06 Nov 2017, 09:18
Regular sexual orientation pronouns are words begat to fill a hole in English: the absence of third individual solitary pronouns to allude to either guys or females, or to the two guys and females, and all the more as of late, to allude to transgender or sex nonconforming people also. These new words were likewise called unbiased, dicey, or epicene, pronouns, and at times they're alluded to today as nonbinary pronouns. These pronouns fill a need, however none has been generally received, consequently they are the words that fizzled. What has succeeded is particular they, which emerged normally in English several years back, and is utilized both by speakers and scholars worried that their pronouns be comprehensive, and furthermore by numerous who don't give the make a difference much idea by any stretch of the imagination.

Thank you for speaking to this issue. While it's vitally important to keep in mind the needs of transsexual and intersexual people, and while in the future, the HR departments of business may need make moves to accommodate those folks, in the very narrow world of the GMAT, the world is binary, cisgendered, and heteronormative. All classes on the GMAT have only boys and girls.

For all the non-native speakers who frequent this forum, I want to make clear that, while in the future it may be important to learn these new non-binary pronouns in some context, on the GMAT, everything will be simply "he" or "she," "him" or "her." Just as all arguments are not just 3-4 sentences long, just as what has to be read is not limited to 500 or so words, just as knowledge of grammar extends beyond the confines of a single sentence, so the rules around gender on the GMAT are very simple and avoid all the complicated subtleties of the real world.

Mike
_________________

Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Intern
Joined: 29 Oct 2017
Posts: 9
Re: Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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15 Nov 2017, 10:04
Hi mikemcgarry,

I was doing my regular SC practice and I found in the OG a very good example that is in contrast to your orchestration example.

OG 18 Verbal Review #288

Sixty-five million years ago, according to some scientists, an asteroid bigger than Mount Everest slammed into North America, which, causing plant and animal extinctions, marks the end of the geologic era known as the Cretaceous Period.
(D) an event that caused plant and animal extinctions, which marks (I chose this. WRONG)
(E) an event that caused the plant and animal extinctions that mark (CORRECT)

Snippet of answer's comment: the sentence needs an appositive form to restate the content of the main clause (an event), followed by a two-part chain of relative clauses (that caused ... that mark ...)

My thought process:
- Following our discussion on the exceptions for which, I thought (D) fits it perfectly. The "caused ... extinctions" takes priority following the relative pronoun that. And in line with exceptions for which, which can still be used to modify event
- logic checked, marks the end ... is optional. SV agreement checked, an event and marks. Proximity checked, just 6 words away from event.

But it seems that the answer comment is trying to tell me a new concept altogether, one which I interpret as a use of two "that"s to state two essential clauses.

Some enlightenment from you is appreciated.

Sincerely Yours,
Donny
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485
Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which)  [#permalink]

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20 Nov 2017, 14:06
donnylee wrote:
Hi mikemcgarry,

I was doing my regular SC practice and I found in the OG a very good example that is in contrast to your orchestration example.

OG 18 Verbal Review #288

Sixty-five million years ago, according to some scientists, an asteroid bigger than Mount Everest slammed into North America, which, causing plant and animal extinctions, marks the end of the geologic era known as the Cretaceous Period.
(D) an event that caused plant and animal extinctions, which marks (I chose this. WRONG)
(E) an event that caused the plant and animal extinctions that mark (CORRECT)

Snippet of answer's comment: the sentence needs an appositive form to restate the content of the main clause (an event), followed by a two-part chain of relative clauses (that caused ... that mark ...)

My thought process:
- Following our discussion on the exceptions for which, I thought (D) fits it perfectly. The "caused ... extinctions" takes priority following the relative pronoun that. And in line with exceptions for which, which can still be used to modify event
- logic checked, marks the end ... is optional. SV agreement checked, an event and marks. Proximity checked, just 6 words away from event.

But it seems that the answer comment is trying to tell me a new concept altogether, one which I interpret as a use of two "that"s to state two essential clauses.

Some enlightenment from you is appreciated.

Sincerely Yours,
Donny

Dear donnylee,

I'm happy to respond.

The appositive is "event," referring to the action of the previous clause. This is a correct structure, in both (D) & (E). The "which" that begins choices (A) & (B) is wrong, because it refers to an action.

Let's look at (D):
Sixty-five million years ago, according to some scientists, an asteroid bigger than Mount Everest slammed into North America, an event that caused plant and animal extinctions, which marks the end of the geologic era known as the Cretaceous Period.
The second clause, the clause beginning with "which" in (D) and "that" in (E)--to what does this clause refer? What is the target noun?
The first clause, "that caused plant and animal extinctions" modifies "events." If the second clause also modified "events," then these two clause would have to be in parallel. Here's correct parallel construction between the two clauses.
. . . an event that caused plant and animal extinctions and that marks end of the geologic era known as the Cretaceous Period.
This would be the correct structure if the intended target were the word "event." Because these two clauses are clearly NOT in parallel in any of the answer choices, it's very clear that the target must be a different noun. The only candidate, the noun that the second clause touches, is the noun "extinctions." This is a plural noun, so (D) has a SVA error.

That's why (E) is correct.

Does all this make sense?
Mike
_________________

Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Still trying to fully understand pronouns (it, which) &nbs [#permalink] 20 Nov 2017, 14:06
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