It can be a deadly loss in your SAT grammar section when a pronoun does not have an antecedent to refer to. This particular kind of error is hard to discern because it is abundant and allowed in America’s daily communication. Teachers and parents are making the same mistakes all the time. No doubt students make it too.
(1) You heard mom and dad talk like this:
Mom: Did you call the hotel to make a reservation?
Dad: Yes, I just did. They didn’t answer. I will call them again later.
He sounds alright. But, who does “they” refer to? It seems that “they” refer to the hotel, which is a singular noun and must be referred by a singular pronoun. In this case the pronoun “they” and “them” do not have a correct antecedent.
(2) You also read the teacher commenting your final project:
You are a really talented artist. I am sure you will find more use of it in your life.
She also sounds great. But what does “it” refer to? Sounds like it is your art talent, but the precedent sentence never mentioned your talent. It only mentions “talented artist”. Here, the pronoun “it” does not have an antecedent.
No-antecedent mistakes are abundant in speaking because the right antecedent is generally easy to be assumed. This kind of mistakes does not confuse us daily. Since they’ve made along with us well, I suspect that they will become part of the English convention one day. But, before it happens, you have to remember that they are still wrong at least for the sake of SAT.
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However, there is one more form of no-antecedent that is totally wrong. And even a most liberal mind in terms English grammar like mine won’t be able to take it as part of the grammar. The presence of it in the language is always utterly confusing. Here is a couple of examples:
(a) High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, which is harder to reverse.
This is from a practice SAT test. The pronoun “which” leads a clause, but what it defines is an absence. Neither “molecule components” nor “uv rays” is not something considered to be reversed. The only thing that can be the reversed is the fact referred by the entire main sentence. Therefore it must be corrected into the following:
High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, creating a problem harder to reverse.
(b) Jefferson…exploited government power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land that would double size of the United States.
This example comes from a high school ELA class, and is considered a student writing piece of high marks. The pronoun “that” also leads a definitive clause, but the subject it defines has a problem. "That" must define “land” preceding it, but a "land" cannot double size of the country. It is the purchase of the “land” that doubled the size of the country. So this must be revised into the following:
Jefferson…exploited executive power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land, an government action that would double the size of the United States.
In both examples, the pronouns that lead the clauses refer to something, although related to, not exactly designated in the preceding sentence. We have to introduce an antecedent noun to refer to the information, thus make the sentence cohesive.
This is most deadly form of no-antecedent because it not only sounds ok but also sounds good to most of us in most of the time. Many often even the proficient and most sophisticated language users make such mistakes. They are hard to diagnose. Stay alerted when you see a definitive clause led by a pronoun underlined in your SAT.