Ambiguous Pronouns on the GMAT

February 28, 2011
Bret Ruber

One of the GMAT’s ‘favorite’ error types to test in the sentence correction portion of the exam is pronoun errors.  When you encounter a pronoun in these problems, you need to check for two errors.  First, you must check to see if the pronoun used matches its antecedent (quick review: the antecedent is the word a pronoun replaces).  For example, a singular object must be replaced with the pronoun “it.”  This check is rather straightforward and simply requires you to identify the antecedent of the pronoun. 

The second pronoun error type that occurs on the GMAT involves ambiguous pronouns, and these errors can be a bit trickier to spot than the first error type.  An ambiguous pronoun occurs in two situations.

The first is a problem in which the pronoun does not refer back to an antecedent.  For example, consider the sentence, “Jim went outside, but he could not find it there.”  You should notice that this sentence contains two pronouns.  The pronoun “he” refers to Jim and is used correctly, but the pronoun “it” does not have an antecedent.  Therefore, the pronoun “it” would be considered incorrect in this sentence.  To fix this sentence you need to replace the word “it” with an actual noun, such as “the ball.”

The second is a problem that, instead of lacking an antecedent, contains a pronoun that could refer to more than one noun.  For example, in the sentence, “Jim and Bill both enjoy playing basketball, but he is better at it,” the pronoun “he” could refer to either Jim or to Bill.  To fix the error, you need to make it clear whether Jim or Bill is better by replacing “he” with name of the better player.  The correct sentence would be, “Jim and Bill both enjoy playing basketball, but Bill is better at it.”

Bret Ruber Bret has been teaching for Kaplan since 2005, and has helped over 1000 students with their GMAT preparation. He spent three years teaching in Manhattan, where he served as an Elite Teacher and a full-time instructor, before moving to London, where he is now the GMAT Master Teacher for Kaplan’s London Center. As the GMAT Master Teacher, Bret trains, observes and mentors teachers, in addition to continuing his own teaching and tutoring, and has taught courses across Europe, including Italy, Ireland, and Germany. Bret contributes to Kaplan’s GMAT curriculum on an on-going basis, and was also a contributor to Kaplan's 2010 GMAT course.

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