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    Sentence Correction
  Introduction
  I: Fundamentals
  II: Three-Step Method to the Sentence Correction Questions
III: Eight Types of Errors in the Sentence Correction Section  
A. Subject-Verb Agreement
B. Modifiers
C. Parallelism
D. Pronoun Agreement
E. Verb Time Sequences
F. Comparisons
G. Idioms
  IV: Sample Questions
  V: Advanced Work

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D. Pronoun Agreement
 


Pronouns stand in for nouns in a sentence. Pronouns follow the same agreement rules as nouns, so when using a pronoun, it is important to be clear about what noun it is replacing. The first step in tackling a pronoun question is to locate and identify any pronouns in the sentence.

Subject
I
he/she
we
they
who
it, one, you (same in either case)
Subject
me
him/her
us
them
whom
it, one, you (same in either case)

Pronoun Agreement
Overview of this section:

1. Pronoun Subject vs Pronoun Object
2. Who vs Whom
3. Singular and Plural Pronouns
4. Possessive Pronoun Agreement
5. Objects of to be verbs
6. Relative Pronouns
7. Impersonal Pronouns

 
 


1. Pronoun Subject vs Pronoun Object

Once you've found a pronoun in a Sentence Correction question, check whether it's acting as the SUBJECT or the OBJECT of the sentence or phrase. Is following sentence correct or incorrect?

How could she blame you and he for the accident?

The first step is to identify the pronoun(s). There are three in this sentence: "she," "you," and "he":

Next, try to define whether each pronoun is acting as a subject or object. Here, "she" is the subject, and the pronouns "you" and "he" are acting as the objects of the sentence:

How do we know this? Because "she" is doing the action (blaming) and "you" and "he" are receiving it (getting blamed). However, "he" does not seem to be in the correct form. Refer to the chart above, or to the proper answer to the question "Who did she blame?", which is "him" not "he." ("Who did she blame? She blamed him.")

Both pronouns acting as objects must be in the objective case; as indicated in the graphic above, "him" is objective — while "he," used in the first sentence, is subjective, and therefore incorrect.

Incorrect: How could she blame you and he for the accident?
Correct: How could she blame you and him for the accident?


Let's look at another example:

Incorrect: Her was better suited for the job.
Correct: She was better suited for the job.

Here, the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, as "the job" is clearly not the subject, and there are no other nouns in the sentence. Because the pronoun stands in for "the woman" (some woman), the pronoun should be the subject form of the her/she pronoun as indicated by the chart: meaning, "she".

Now let's look at a commonly mangled case:

John and me drank a bottle of wine.

Because it's confused so often in spoken language, it can be difficult to tell when the pronoun in the phrase "someone else and me/I" is used incorrectly. But it's actually quite easy to remember when to use "me", and when to use "I": cross out everything in the "someone else and me/I" phrase except the pronoun – and then read it aloud. How does it sound? If it sounds fine, the pronoun is correct; if it sounds really weird, the pronoun is incorrect. In the example above:

"Me drank a bottle of wine" sounds like caveman-speak, so the proper pronoun is clearly "I".

Incorrect: John and me drank a bottle of wine.
Correct: John and I drank a bottle of wine.

Let's try it again on the following sentence:
The dinner was eaten by John and I.

Perform the test:
The dinner was eaten by John and I. ?
or
The dinner was eaten by John and me. ?

The second sentence is grammatically correct ("I/me" is acting as the object), so the proper pronoun is "me." This test works for many instances of misused pronouns, but to be safe, you should memorize the subject/object pronoun chart – just in case you can't figure out which version is right after you do the test.

Incorrect: The dinner was eaten by John and I .
Correct: The dinner was eaten by John and me.

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2. Who vs Whom

If the pronoun is acting as a subject, use who. If it is acting as an object, use whom.

I don't know whom Kate married.

Why is "whom" correct? Because Kate is the subject of this sentence – not the person she married. To simplify who/whom questions, try rearranging the sentence into a question, and then answer it. Let's try it:

Question: Who/m did Kate marry?
Answer: Kate married him.

You wouldn't say "Kate married he," right? Since the pronoun used in the answer is "him," an object pronoun, the pronoun in the original sentence should also be an object pronoun: whom.

Here's another one to try:

Who took out the trash?

Because the sentence is already a question, you can't run the test as we did above. But not to worry: all you need to do is answer the question:

He took out the trash.

You wouldn't say "him took out the trash," so the pronoun in the original sentence must match the form of the pronoun "he," which is a subject pronoun: who is correct.

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3. Singular and Plural Pronouns

Pronouns also act like nouns in the realm of verb agreement. For some pronoun questions, you also need to check if the pronoun and its verb agree in number.

All of the following pronouns are singular:

anyone
either
neither
what

anything
everyone
no one
whatever

each
everything
nothing
whoever



These are plural:

both
many

several
others

few

Here's an example:

Incorrect: Everyone on the project have to come to the meeting.
Correct: Everyone on the project has to come to the meeting.

Referring to the chart above, you'll see that the pronoun "everyone" is singular. Its verb must therefore be singular as well: "has" is correct, not "have".

Incorrect: Neither his bodyguards nor he were there. ["Was" is correct!]
Correct: Neither he nor his bodyguards were there.

As covered in an earlier section of this chapter, the constructions "either... or" and "neither.. .nor" always take the verb form that matches the noun that is closer to the verb. Thus, "were" is incorrect in the first sentence because "he," a singular pronoun, is closer to the verb than "bodyguards," a plural noun; but "were" is correct in the second sentence because the order of the subjects is reversed, so that the plural noun "bodyguards" is closer to the verb.

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4. Possessive Pronoun Agreement

When you come across possessive pronouns such as your, their, his, and hers, check to see whether they agree with other pronouns in the sentence. Most possessive pronouns are used messily in spoken language, so be careful to take special note when you see two pronouns in a sentence.

Incorrect: Some of you will have to bring their own beer.
Correct: Some of you will have to bring your own beer.

In this sentence, the possessive pronoun towards the end of the sentence should match the pronoun following "Some of". Because the first pronoun is "you", the possessive pronoun must be your, not their. "Their" would only be correct if the sentence began "Some of them will have to bring…"

Incorrect: If anyone comes over, take their name.
Correct: If anyone comes over, take his or her name.

The subject is anyone, which is singular, and which therefore requires a singular pronoun such as "his" or "her". This error has become common because of the demand for political correctness; instead of saying "his or her", people will often just say "their." Either "his" or "her" alone is technically correct, but writing "his or her," as in this example, is also acceptable.

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5. "Objects" of to be verbs are in the subject form


Very simple: watch for pronouns following "to be" verbs such "It should have been," "It is," "It could have been," "It was", and make sure they are in subject form. This is another error common in speech; but it's easy to identify, and easy to fix.

Incorrect: It must have been her who called.
Correct: It must have been she who called.

"It must have been" is a "to be" verb, so the pronoun must be in subject form: "she," not "her".

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6. Relative Pronouns

Which, that and who are relative pronouns. A relative pronoun must refer to the word immediately preceding it. If the meaning of the sentence is unclear, the pronoun is in the wrong position. Which introduces non-essential clauses; that introduces essential clauses. Who refers to individuals; that refers to a group of persons, class, type, or species.

Incorrect: John was met at the door by a strange man, which he, being afraid, opened slowly.

Did John open "the man?" Probably not. This sentence is definitely confusing, but its meaning can be clarified by adjusting the placement of the nouns in the sentence.

Correct: John was met by a strange man at the door, which he opened slowly out of fear.

It's now clear what John is opening, and why.

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7. Impersonal Pronouns

On the GMAT, the pronouns "one" and "you," which are included in a class of pronouns called "impersonal pronouns," are often improperly matched with their respective possessive pronouns. You might have heard that using "you" is less proper than using "one," but on the GMAT, all that matters is that the pronouns agree – there's no word-choice preference one way or the other. Look at these examples:

Incorrect: One should have their teeth checked every six months.
Correct: One should have one's teeth checked every six months.
Correct: One should have his or her teeth checked every six months.
Correct: You should have your teeth checked every six months.
Incorrect: One should take your responsibilities seriously.
Correct: One should take one's responsibilities seriously.
Correct: One should take his or her responsibilities seriously.
Correct: You should take your responsibilities seriously.

As long as "one" isn't paired with "your," or "you" with "one's," the sentence is probably correct.

A summary of how to recognize pronoun errors.
Look for:
Subject or object pronouns
Who or whom
Pronoun agreement
Relative pronouns

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Continue to E. Verb Time Sequences