Sunday, September 23, 2012

SAT Question: Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement


Ben e-mailed me about today's SAT Question of the Day:
Hi Snarky! In today's SAT question, the sentence makes sense to me just the way it is. But that's not the right answer. Can you explain it? Thanks!
Sure, Ben! Here's the question:
Part or all of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.  
Enrico Caruso sang opera in Italy before traveling to the United States, then he gave his first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in November 1903.

A) then
B) when
C) and which
D) in that
E) where
This sentence is made up of two clauses separated by a comma. Before the comma, we have an independent clause that could stand on its own as a sentence. Enrico Caruso sang opera in Italy before traveling to the United States.

After the comma, we have a dependent clause that has both a noun and a verb but could not stand on its own as a sentence. [Note, however, that if you eliminate the word 'then', the sentence becomes an independent clause.]

There are two ways to connect an independent clause to a dependent clause. Both ways require a comma right after the independent clause. (Remember, commas separate words, phrases or clauses.)

Immediately after the comma, we could use a subordinate conjunction, which is a word or short phrase that joins clauses. (There are over two dozen possibilities, including if, for, after, as, before, because, while, since, until and even though.)

Alternatively, right after the comma we could use a relative pronoun. A relative pronoun must agree with the antecedent, which is the noun that comes immediately before the comma.

In this sentence, the antecedent is 'the United States,' so immediately after the comma, we need a relative pronoun that can refer to 'the United States.' The best choice is 'where' because it refers to places.

Correction:
  • Enrico Caruso sang opera in Italy before traveling to the United States, where he gave his first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in November 1903.

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