Pronouns and Ambiguous Referents
- March 17, 2017
- Posted by: gmatdudes
- Category: Uncategorized
There are several important rules to consider when reviewing pronoun issues in a sentence correction problem. Many of the rules require us to consider the relationship between a pronoun and its referent.
What is a pronoun and what is a referent?
A word that replaces a noun is called a pronoun. The word that is replaced is called the referent.
Example: Tom loves pizza so much that he could eat it every day.
He is a pronoun that refers to Tom. It is a pronoun that refers to pizza. That means Tom and pizza are called referents.
No ambiguous referents
The referent of a pronoun cannot be ambiguous. This means that the referent cannot be unclear.
Example: Tom kicked John after he hit him.
Who hit who? At first it seems like perhaps John hit Tom, and for that reason, Tom reacted by kicking John. However, perhaps Tom is more evil than that. Perhaps Tom hit John, and then kicked John as well, for good measure. Since the context doesn’t allow us to determine the proper referent, the sentence is ambiguous and thus incorrect.
As long as the referent is 100% clear, the sentence is not ambiguous
A sentence with two nouns that fit grammatically as the referent doesn’t necessarily make the sentence ambiguous. As long as the context makes the choice of referent obvious, it is acceptable.
Example: Leaving the house in a hurry and not seeing the bike, Tom tripped over it.
What does it refer to? Both house and bike would fit grammatically. Does that make the sentence ambiguous? No, it does not. You cannot trip over a house. Since house would be a nonsensical referent, it is 100% clear that the pronoun it is referring to bike. Therefore, this sentence is not ambiguous and is acceptable.
Pronouns are so common that we can easily skim over them without proper consideration. Remember, it is important to identify the referent when considering pronouns. If the pronoun is not clear, the sentence is wrong.