In the previous post on indefinite pronouns, I discussed issues related to Subject-Verb Agreement. This post explores issues of logic, as regards these unusual words. First, four GMAT Sentence Correction practice sentences.
1) Every US state has two senators, but the amount of representatives that all states have depends on their population.
(A) the amount of representatives that all states have depends on their
(B) the number of representatives who all states have depend on their
(C) the number of representatives that each state has depend on their
(D) the amount of representatives who each state has depends on its
(E) the number of representatives that each state has depends on its
2) In a typical relay race, the baton is passed from one runner to the next on the same team, and each team wants its last runner to finish before any other team’s can do so.
(A) each team wants its last runner to finish before any other team’s can do so
(B) every team wants their last runner to finish before each other team’s last runner can do so
(C) all teams want their last runners to finish before the last runners of every team can finish
(D) every team wants its last runner to finish before the last runners of all teams can finish
(E) each team wants their last runner to finish before the last runner of any other team can finish
3) The twenty-four biochemical labs in the state all compete for shares of the same government allotment, and so all strive to present their case for funding more successfully than each other.
(A) all strive to present their case for funding more successfully than each other
(B) all strive more successfully to present their own case for funding than the others
(C) each strives to present their case for funding more successfully than one other
(D) each strives to present its case for funding more successfully than the others
(E) each strives successfully to present its case for funding than another
4) The company is fortunate to have excellent relationships among its employees: they each have a relationship of respect for all the others.
(A) they each have a relationship of respect for all the others
(B) they have respect for one another
(C) each one has respect for one another
(D) they each have a relationship of respect for each other
(E) they and the others respect each other
Indefinite pronouns and modifiers
Once again, here’s a list of the indefinite pronouns in English: some, someone, somebody, something; any, anyone, anybody, anything; either; none, no one, nobody, nothing; neither; each; both; all; everyone, everybody, everything. Here’s a list of the indefinite modifiers: some; any; either; no; neither; all; both; each; every. The previous post explored how these play out in Subject-Verb Agreement. This post will explore various issues of Logical Predication that are related to these words and the tricky word “other.”
Problem #1: One vs. others
In some situations, especially comparisons or competitions, we may want to talk about the relationship of one person or element to the group. For example, in a class, perhaps a single student wants to get the highest grade in the class, or perhaps every student in the class shares that same aspiration. In this latter case, how do we say
That might pass in colloquial conversation, but that would not be acceptable on the GMAT. Notice: the aspiration is unique, particular, and exclusive to each student — that is, an individual student doesn’t think “I want someone to do the best“, but rather, “I want to be the best!” As I will discuss below further, the logic of situation demands an individual treatment rather than lumping them altogether – “each student” rather than “all of the students.” This leads to
or, even more concise,
Notice, though, how logically important the word “other” is here. For example, consider:
Whether we are discussing each student or just one student, we cannot make a comparison to “all the students”. Student X cannot do better than all the students, because Student X is a student and, of course, Student X cannot do better than herself. (For related reasons, there’s no such thing as a 100th percentile!) In these relatively short sentences, it’s probably reasonably obvious that we need the word “other”, but in a longer sentence, with several modifying clauses intervening, the subject and the object might be far enough away that that connection is not obvious. The GMAT loves to omit the word “other” in incorrect answer choices after some monstrously long modifying clause. Beware!
Problem #2: “each other” and “one another”
These two phrases are a way to talk about 1-on-1 relationships within a group. The first thing to appreciate is that these two are entirely interchangeable: “each other” and “one another” mean the same thing. It may be that “one another” is slightly more formal, but that will not make a difference in a GMAT SC question.
For both of these, the subject has to be plural. We cannot talk about “each student” doing something to “one another” — that makes no sense. For this idiom, it must be the whole group, all the students, who do something “to each other” or “with one another”. (The actual preposition used would depend on the appropriate idiom for the verb of the sentence.)
We use this idiom, “each other” or “one another”, when, in a group, there is some relation or connection or action that is true between each pair of two people in the group. If I say …
6) All the students like each other.
… this means we could pick, from the pool of students, any random pair, in that pair, each person would like the other. That would be true for all possible pairs one could pick from the total pool.
These two structures, “each other” or “one another”, would only be used in the rare situation in which something were equally and mutually true for every possible pair in a group. That’s a rare situation. Notice, neither of these structures could be used in a situation in which each person in the group is competing with all the rest and wants to be victorious over the others.
Problem #3: One vs. many
In some cases, we can state a fact about the members of group referring either to the whole group or to the individual members, and either way is perfectly fine.
Sometimes, though, the nature of the situation involves something that each individual does separately. One “give away” can be the appearance of a personal possessive pronoun — if “his”, her”, “its”, or “their” shows up in the sentence, there’s a good bet that this is something which each member of the group does alone. If that is true, we cannot use the plural subject: we most use one of the singular forms, such as “every” or “each”.
Consider Magoosh questions. After a user submits an answer to a question, the following page contains a video explanation for the question. We have found this video explanation, right after the question, helps students understand their mistakes and learn quickly. Magoosh has more than 800 practice GMAT questions, and this thing, the video explanation right after it, is true for every single question. How do we say that? It’s problematic to use a plural subject.
This is not correct logically — it doesn’t clarify that each question has its own unique video explanation. To clarify this, we need to use a singular subject:
A note on gender
The astute reader will recognize that in example sentences #8, I choose an inanimate object as the subject, so that the singular pronoun would be the neutral “its”. What if we have the incorrect sentence …..
… and we want to correct it? Clearly, this suffers from the same logical error as #8a above, so the subject must be changed to the singular. The problem is — in all likelihood, we have a mix of male students and female students, so which pronoun do we use for the students?
Very traditionally, folks would universally use the masculine pronoun for the single case of mixed gender groups:
Feminists justifiably objected to this universal practice, and the current accepted standard is unclear. Some people still remain devoted to the traditional standard. I choose to do what other people do: alternate, using sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine pronouns.
(I must admit: I like using the feminine pronoun in particular cases, say, for a doctor or scientist or political leader, because it challenges some folks’ gender assumptions.) Some people try to avoid the issue by using the plural pronoun in the singular case: but I find this grammatically atrocious, but some authorities accept it:
This is an area of controversy, and the GMAT does not touch controversial grammar issues with a ten-foot-pole. Whenever multiple options are acceptable, the GMAT will never make student choose among them. You will not have to worry about the gender of the pronoun in an indefinite case on the GMAT.
The GMAT loves indefinite pronouns & modifiers, because of all the issues, grammatical and logical, that they raise. If you had any insights reading this article, you may want to give the questions at the top a second look before reading the solutions below. If you would like to add anything, of if you have a question about what I’ve said, please leave a comment in the comment sections below.
Explanations for the practice problems
1) Split #1: “amount” vs. “number.” Representatives are countable. Therefore, we need to say “number”, not “amount”. Choices (A) & (D) are incorrect.
Split #2a: singular vs. plural indefinite subject. In this post, we discuss that the singular subject is need if something is unique to each individual. Here, the number of representatives is different for each state, so we need to use the singular “each”, not the plural “all”. Choices (A) & (B) are incorrect.
Split #2b: since the subject is singular, the pronoun at the end must be singular as well. Choice (C) uses the plural pronoun “their” for the singular “each state”, so it is incorrect.
Because of these splits, choice (E) is the only possible answer.
2) Split #1: to compare one of a group to the whole group, we need the word “other”. The answer choices omitting “other” make the logical mistake discuss in this post; these choices, (C) & (D), are incorrect.
Split #2: “each team” and “every team” are singular, so we need the singular pronoun “its”, not the plural pronoun “their”. Choices (B) & (E) make this mistake and are incorrect.
Split #3: repeated words in comparisons. The first part talk about one team’s “last runner”, so we can compare this to another team’s last runner, or we can just compare it to “another team’s”. The possessive alone is sufficient to denote the second term of the comparison.
Split #4: repeating a predicate. When the same action is repeated in a sentence, we can repeat the same verb “… before any other team’s can finish” or we can use the generic substitute “… before any other team’s can do so.” Either is correct.
Because of these splits, choice (A) is the only possible answer.
3) Split #1: to have a comparison with the word “than”, we need a comparative in the sentence. Choice (E) uses no comparative, so it is wrong.
Split #2: Think about the competition. If I am in one lab, I want my lab to be more successful than whom?
(A) “each other” – no, this is not the “each other”/”one another” case.
(B) & (D) “the others” – maybe
(C) “one other team” – no, a lab want to beat all others, not just one other
Choices (A) & (C) are incorrect.
Split #3: Pronoun-antecedent agreement in the underlined section.
(A) “all … their” — both plural = correct
(B) “all … their” — both plural = correct
(C) “each … their” — singular/ plural = incorrect
(D) “each … its” — both singular = correct
Choice (C) are incorrect.
Split #4: as discussed in this post, think about the logic of the situation. Each lab wants something unique: they want their own lab, and no other lab, to be the most successful. In this sense, each lab wants a different outcome, so we can lump them all together in a plural subject. The plural “all” is logically incorrect: we need the singular “each”. Choices (A) & (B) are incorrect.
Because of these splits, choice (D) is the only possible answer.
4) Split #1a: as discussed in this post, this is a situation in which there is the same relationship, respect, between any possible pair of people in the group. This is a situation that calls for the structure “each other” or “one another”. Choice (A) doesn’t use this, and what it uses is very wordy and awkward, so it is incorrect.
Split #1b: these structure, “each other” and “one another”, demand a plural subject. Choice (C) make the mistake of using a singular subject, so this are incorrect.
Split #2: Choice (D) is redundant and awkward: the double use of “each” is too awkward to be correct.
That leaves us with (B) & (E). In (E), there’s a strange logical problem. The subject is “they and the others” —- who are these others? The pronoun “they” refers to all the employees, so there is no one left to constitute “the others”. Choice (E) is incorrect.
Choice (B) is the only possible answer.
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