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Lucas Fink

Pronouns in SAT Writing Multiple Choice

SAT writing questions are all about knowing what can go wrong. If you see a verb underlined, for example, you should know to double check the tense. If you see a pronoun underlined, there are a few things you should be on the lookout for. For the most part, they have to do with finding the antecedent. (I know, I know… grammar isn’t exactly thrilling, but you don’t have to groan like that. I can hear you from over here.)

The antecedent is what the pronoun refers to. In most cases, you’re going to need some concrete noun earlier (or soon to come) in the writing that the pronoun is short for. “I” and “me” are unique and don’t usually have antecedents, since we rarely say our own names. Unless you’re Steve Holt or George Remus, that is.

But the others—he, him, his, she, her, they, them, their, it…—generally need to have a clear and logical antecedent, and that means you’ll have to check for a few things in SAT writing.


The case of the pronoun

Is the pronoun supposed to act as a subject or an object? The SAT loves to test this via the “and I” problem, so make sure you follow that link. But there’s another problem that shows up in the same vein: using object pronouns after prepositions (e.g. of, by, for…). If the Avengers got together and baked a cake using a Betty Crocker mix, then the dessert was the “creation of them and a box of cake mix”, not “the creation of they and a box of cake mix.”

That can be surprisingly tricky to spot, so make sure you look for any prepositions before pronouns, then check to be sure it’s in the object form.

Did you just spot that pronoun error in the previous sentence, by the way? It was a good example of a problem with…


…the number of the pronoun

In that sentence above, “prepositions” is plural, but “it’s” is not. It should read “check to make sure if they’re in the object form.”

So if you see, for example, “a new type of medication” in a sentence on your SAT, make sure the pronoun following is “it,” not “they,” since the important noun isn’t “types.” It’s just one “type.”


Who, that, which

“I didn’t notice the man which you were pointing at” is incorrect. For people, we need to use either who or that to make this type of sentence. Which is for objects, ideas, and other inanimate things. Likewise, times should use when and places should use where. Those are less commonly seen on the SAT than who questions, but they’re worth remembering.


Clearness of the antecedent

If you have more than one possible antecedent for a pronoun, then you have a problem. If I told you “I bought a bottle of wine and a baguette, but my dog ate it,” we’re torn as to whether or not that dog has to be rushed to a pet hospital. Make sure that every pronoun refers to a clear noun and makes logical sense.

Without a doubt, you’ll see pronoun problems on your SAT. Every time you come across a “they” or a “who,” make sure it makes sense in context.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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