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Pronoun Reference, Part II

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Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this episode we're going to go a little more in depth with pronoun reference. It's a really big topic so it does call for a second episode. Let's start out by recapping what we covered in the first episode. To start a pronoun stands in the place of nouns, so a pronoun can be a word like it, they, he, she, et cetera and when you have a pronoun then there are three basic rules that apply. First of all the pronoun must refer to a noun. So when you see a pronoun like it or they or he, go look for the noun in the sentence.
Second, the pronoun must agree with the noun so if you have a plural pronoun like they make sure you're referring it to a plural noun like the people or something like that and third rule it must be clear which noun a pronoun is referring to so if you have a pronoun like she it has to be clear whether you're referring to one woman in particular. It shouldn't be the case you can't tell which of two women you are talking about and this three rules come up all though the writing section and in addition to these rules that we're recapping we have some new rules to cover right now.
Those are, know these singular words: every, any, either, neither, one and none and with compound subjects that use "or" or "nor" make the pronoun agree with the second subject and lastly don't interchange you with one. Let's look at those three new rules and some detail now. So the first rule here about pronouns is that there are certain words that may not seem singular but they are and those are every, any, either, neither, one and none and because they're singular they need to be used with singular pronouns like it or he depending on context. You can't use them with plural pronouns because they're not plural words. This will make the most sense in the context of some examples so let's see.
First up one of my relatives lost all their money in the stock market crash of 1929. So here we have a singular word one and incidentally we're not going to pay attention to 'of my relatives' because it is a prepositional phrase. You may remember from the episodes on subject verb agreement that prepositional phrases we don't pay attention to. Anyway one is singular so we have to talk about a relative who lost all of his money if we know if it's a guy her money if we know it's a woman or his or her if you don't know but you could also incidentally say his 'cause his can be used as generic. Anyway one is singular, his is singular problem fixed.
Now the next example is a little more confusing. Here we have another singular word 'none,' it's one of the words that I mentioned previously and we have to say that none of my classmates which we ignore 'cause it's a prepositional phrase. Finish their homework on time. Now we all talk like this but this is absolutely wrong. None is a singular word and their is a plural pronoun so believe it or not we have to write a singular pronoun like his. None of my classmates finished his homework on time may sound completely bizarre but I swear to you it's right and on the SAT that's what you're going to need to consider a right answer not that. So strange as that may sound it's right.
Last example, each of the exotic creatures I saw had evolved unexpected methods for fending off their predators. Here the singular word is each incidentally we're going to ignore this 'cause it's a prepositional phrase and we get each had evolved these methods for fending off its predators just like each is singular we need to use it's which is a singular. So that's the first rule. The second rule is how to use "or" or "nor" when you have compound subjects that use "or" or "nor" which means two subjects connected by or or two subjects connected by nor then you need to make the pronoun that you use later in the sentence agree with the second subject. Yet again let's see that with examples.
First up, I predict that either Jefferson High or City High will have security at their graduation ceremony. First of all we have to recognize that there is a compound subject and that's Jefferson High or City High so two subjects Jefferson High and City High connected with or and then the rule is we have to use a pronoun that's consistent with the second subject. The second subject is City High, that's one school so it's singular and we can't talk about their graduation ceremony 'cause their is plural we have to say its just like City High is singular its is singular. So that's the correct sentence now.
Next up, the biggest problem on the trip was that neither Clarissa nor Aviva brought their cell phone along. Now we have to again notice there's a compound subject and that's Clarissa nor Aviva it's two subjects connected by in this case nor and the rule is we need to use a pronoun that's consistent with the second subject Aviva so we wouldn't say that Aviva brought their cell phone we'd say Aviva brought her cell phone and so now these two work together. So that's the second rule and here is the third. "You" and "one" can both be used to mean people in general. You might think on the SAT you definitely can't use the word you but it's actually okay but the catch is, a single question a single sentence on the SAT should not flip flop between these two.
So a question can use you, a question can use one, but it can't use both and just do whatever it feels like in the moment. So let's see a couple of examples that violate this rule. Once one learns how to ride a bike, you never forget how. Now there are two ways to fix it. We could use you here to be consistent with this or use one here to be consistent with this but we just need to be consistent. Once one learns how to ride a bike, one never forgets how, and just to be clear it's not the case that you're going to have to actually write this on the SAT you'll just have to find an answer choice that fixes the problem in this kind of way.
Next example, one should always be on your best behavior, since you never know who might be watching, again we can make all the you's into ones' or all the ones' into you's as long as we are consistent. So for instance we could turn this one into you. Now we're consistent. You should always be on your best behavior since you never know who you might be watching. So now that we have covered those three rules let's see them applied in a sample SAT problem.
So here we are with an example of an SAT problem you'd see in the improving sentences part of the test just to recap what you're going to do is find the answer choice that would best fit in the underlined portion. A is always the same it's already here the underlined part and these are slightly different versions for you to consider. Now let's start by reading the whole thing and seeing if the original is unflawed that happens one fifth of the time it's just as common as any other answer choice.
Gavin began showering women with gifts in hope that one of the girls or another would turn their attention to him, but none of the gifts had its intended effect. So this is actually wrong and let me show you why. You should notice that there is a compound subject one girl or that's the or or the nor another and that means that we're going to have to find a pronoun consistent with the second subject. So another, the second subject is singular so we can't talk about their attention we have to talk about her attention. The nice thing is that we've discovered that one error and we can go though the answer choices and eliminate probably not just one but several right off the bat. So another needs her, would turn their attention. This is the same so it is automatically out. Would turn her attention okay that's still in. C would give him their, no their is wrong so C is out. Would turn their attention, no their is not her D is out. Would turn her attention okay still in. So down to B and E right away, that's pretty efficient.
Now let's see what is going on in the rest of the sentence that will explain why B is right and E is wrong or E is right and B is wrong. But none of the gifts had its intended effect. But none of the gifts had their intended effect. Okay well what's nice is you can pretty easily pick out the difference. We have the word its and the word their and the fact that they're different draws our attention to that distinction and we have to see which of those makes sense. Luckily we have the word none and none is singular. None of the gifts we ignore the gifts 'cause of the prepositional phrase and we have none and its. None is one of those singular words, its is a singular pronoun so that's consistent.
Let's just look at E and see what's going on there. None of the gifts that's singular, had their intended effect. No their is plural, none is singular those two don't go together. So we have B and that's the answer. With that out of the way let's recap the three rules we've covered in this episode.
So here are the three additional rules we covered with respect to pronouns. First of all you need to know certain singular words like every, any, either, neither, one and none and know that when you see them they need to correspond to a singular pronoun like he or it and not a plural pronoun. Second when you have compound subjects which are subjects using or or nor you also need to make sure your pronoun agrees with the second subject. So for instance a lot of times the second subject will be singular you need to make sure you use a singular pronoun like he, she, it later in the sentence. And lastly you can use you or you can use one but don't interchange them in the same SAT problem and that's part two of pronouns.