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Unit 11: Lesson 3

Writing: Grammar

Writing: Pronoun Clarity — Video Lesson

David shows you how to approach a Pronoun Clarity question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

Video transcript

- Okay, question 27 here is from this passage about Michelangelo's David. Let's start at the beginning of the paragraph to get the context. "In 1501, guild members began the project by commissioning a statue of David, a biblical hero who had defeated a giant named Goliath. The sculptor chosen was Michelangelo, a 26-year-old artist who already had a reputation for great talent. He was directed to use an enormous block of marble from the cathedral's workshop to create the statue. Nicknamed "the Giant", the block had many problems. It had been quarried more than 40 years earlier and had started to weather from exposure to the elements. Even worse, they had previously used it, chipping away material to rough out a basic shape, but giving up midtask." And our choices are: A, no change; B, other sculptors had previously used it; C, it was used by them before; and D, they used it previously to begin other sculptures. So we have three choices that use the word they or them, including the no change option, and then one that uses a noun to replace they. My question is what does they refer to? I do not know. It's kind of unclear from the sentence. It seems to refer to the Giant, that big block of marble. But what is they? The elements? That doesn't make sense. Pronouns not making sense in a sentence is a sure sign of a pronoun clarity question. There is usually only one of these on your official SAT. And what they ask you to do is connect a pronoun to a logical antecedent. Antecedents, remember, are the nouns that pronouns replace, right? Michelangelo crafted a statue. He crafted a statue. So we have two top tips to address questions like these. Top tip number one, find the antecedent. Pronoun clarity problems have one of two causes, they are either too many possible antecedents, or there are zero. In the sentence, Janet and Lulu fought over her stuffed animal. There are two possible antecedents. Her could conceivably describe both Janet and Lulu. So that's an example of too many possible antecedents. In the sentence, when Congress went on recess, their families rejoiced, we have the opposite problem. There are no possible antecedents for the word their. Congress is a singular noun. And the way to fix these issues is with top tip number two, get specific. If the pronoun is unclear, replace it with a specific noun. So it's not her stuffed animal. Now it's, Lulu's stuffed animal. It's not their families, it's the representatives' families. And look, you will not be asked to choose between two equally plausible nouns. Like you wouldn't have to choose between Janet and Lulu. Now, with this knowledge, let's go back to the passage and see what we can make of it. Take some time now if you want to pause the video and attempt this question on your own. Alright, let's do it. Step one, find the antecedent. We determined already that there wasn't one for they. And honestly, that solves the question right there. The answer is B. It's the only choice that gets specific, that doesn't use they or them. It resolves the pronoun clarity error by replacing the unclear pronoun with a logical noun. It was used by them before. Them who? They used it previously to begin other sculptures. Again, who are we talking about here? So once you've identified a pronoun clarity error, simply ask, how many antecedents are there? If there's two or more, you'll need to find the choice that specifies one of them. And if there's zero antecedents, you'll need to find the choice that introduces a logical noun.