Ambiguous and Vague Pronouns
Starting to hate pronouns? Don’t worry, this concept is
much more intuitive than the last one.
Ambiguous pronouns lack a clear antecedent, while
vague pronouns lack an antecedent altogether. Remember that antecedent
refers to the noun or pronoun that a pronoun refers to (ante meaning
“before” in Latin).
In the following sentence, the pronoun is bolded:
Fred visited Bob after his graduation.
Let’s play “Find the Antecedent.” Whose graduation are
we talking about? Fred’s or Bob’s? They’re both men, so it’s impossible
to tell. This kind of mistake can slide right by a careful
test-taker, so be on the lookout. Replace his with
either Fred’s or Bob’s, and you’ve
solved the problem:
Fred visited Bob after Fred’s graduation.
Fred visited Bob after Bob’s graduation.
Do not assume that logic trumps grammar on the SAT. Look
at the following sentence:
Zelda gave her daughter a bike
that she rode constantly from that moment on.
This seems less ambiguous because we tend to interpret
the sentence according to our experience and expectations: mother
gives daughter a bicycle; daughter is totally psyched; daughter
thus rides bike nonstop. She refers to her
daughter; choose E, No error, and keep going.
That’s all well and good, except that you just chose a
distractor! It is possible that Zelda gave her daughter a bike and
that Zelda, not her daughter, rode that bike constantly from that
moment on. Maybe Zelda’s a mean mom. Maybe the daughter hated the
bicycle and Zelda rekindled her childhood love of cycling. The point
is, we’ve got an ambiguous pronoun, and that’s an error.
people are taught that since her daughter is closest
to she, her daughter is she’s
antecedent. Word order helps determine antecedent. But the SAT has
its own take on this, and that’s all that matters for our purposes.
Now, what’s wrong with the following sentence?
They say that the SAT considers
vague pronouns to be a grammatical mistake.
On its own, the they in this sentence
has no antecedent at all. There are many ways to rewrite this sentence,
but here’s one option:
The author of this book says
that the SAT considers vague pronouns to be a grammatical mistake.
Now you have a clear statement. Note, however, that if
the original sentence had been embedded in a paragraph, it would
be clear who They refers to:
I’ve talked to three English
teachers. They say that the SAT considers vague pronouns to be a
grammatical mistake. I’m glad I asked them about it.
Context is everything. In this context, They has
a clear antecedent: three English teachers.