Pronoun Agreement

When you see various pronouns in the answer choices, you very likely have an agreement problem.

For example:

Like 1. their terrestrial plant cousins, kelp removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning it into sugar fuel through photosynthesis, and releases oxygen back into the air. 

A) NO CHANGE
B) they’re
C) its
D) it’s

Strategy:

  1. Always expand all contractions.  Turn “it’s” into “it is”, “they’re” into “they are”, etc.  This will make it very clear if the answer is correct or not.
  2. Find the noun that is being referred to.  Then, follow the rules below to replace it with the correct form.
Pronoun Rules

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in person, gender, and number.

A singular noun requires a singular pronoun to replace it.

Plural nouns need plural pronouns to stand in for them.

Use who and whom when referring to people; use that or which to refer to any other nouns.  Who should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence; whom is the object of a verb or preposition.  How can you tell when your pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition? 

Try substituting “he” or “she” and “him” or “her.” If “he” or “she” fits, you should use who. If “him” or “her” fits, you should use whom. Keep in mind that you may have to temporarily rearrange the sentence a bit while you test it.

The student who sits behind me asked for help with a problem that confused her. He sits behind me.

Collective nouns (groups referred to as one body, such as class, committee, army, etc.) depend on the context – when the group is all doing the same thing at the same time, it is singular.  

The audience roared its approval at the end of the show. 

When we address individuals or part of the group, it is plural.

Parts of the audience rudely checked their phones during the performance.

If you see a question with answer choices:

A) its
B) it’s
C) its’
D) their

Immediately rule out its’.  This will never be right.

You might also see a question with:

A) their
B) there
C) they’re
D) something else

Remember, “their” is a possessive pronoun, “there” is a place, and “they’re” should be expanded to “they are”.  Always expand all contractions.  The SAT likes to include homophones like these two examples, make sure you pay very close attention to them.

Misplaced Modifiers

A modifying word or phrase must be properly placed for what it is intended to modify.  The SAT will occasionally slip in a misplaced modifier.  For example:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.

Because “in my pajamas” immediately follows elephant, we initial think it modifies it.  However, we can safely assume the elephant was not wearing the author’s pajamas (or inside of them), so the sentence needs to be modified to make it clear who is wearing what.

One morning, I shot an elephant while wearing my pajamas.

Traps

As noted above, the SAT will try and confuse you with lots of nouns in a sentence.  You must be clear on who or what is being referred to, and singular or plural.
 
Collective nouns can be confusing – make sure you know if it is a single group or not.