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Using Possessive Pronouns in GMAT Sentence Correction

GMAT Possessive PronounPossessive pronouns aren’t one of the biggest issues tested on the GMAT, but they do appear sometimes, and understanding them can not only potentially boost your Verbal score but can also make you a better writer, which will help in your AWA and your business school application process.

Just like other pronouns, possessive pronouns must have a clear antecedent, and must agree with that antecedent in gender and in number. There are a few tricky rules that come into play with possessive pronouns that you don’t see elsewhere, however.

1.No apostrophes needed

Turning a singular noun into a possessive noun usually involves the use of an apostrophe.  For example, you might say “my neighbor’s car.”  “Neighbor” is the noun, and to make it clear that the car belongs to your neighbor, you add an apostrophe and an “s”.  If we replace “neighbor’s” with “his,” though, we don’t need an apostrophe to indicate possession.  People often become particularly confused by the possessive form of one specific pronoun: it. The rule is that “it” is followed by an apostrophe and an “s” only to indicate the contraction of “it is.” The possessive form of the pronoun is “its.”

2. Possessive pronouns are generally used as adjectives

A possessive pronoun is used to describe a noun, as in the examples seen above. The location of the adjective in the sentence can determine its form in some cases: one would speak of “his car,” but a descriptive sentence would say that “the car is his.” The same rule is true for “their” and “theirs,” “your” and “yours,” and “our” and “ours.” The possessive pronoun “my” changes form more dramatically; “my car” becomes “the car is mine.”

3. Relative pronouns can also be possessive

Relative pronouns that we often use in the nominative case (who, whoever) or in the objective case (whom, whomever) also have a possessive case: “whose” and “whoever’s.” “Whoever’s” is an exception to the “no apostrophes” rule, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it as it is rarely tested on the GMAT.

Example

One suggestion to cut costs at the zoo is to limit the number of shrimp fed to the flamingos; however, some staff members are concerned that visitors may not be as excited to see the flamingos if their feathers aren’t such a bright pink.

A. that visitors may not be as excited to see the flamingos if their feathers aren’t such a bright pink

B. that visitors may not be as excited to see one once their feathers aren’t such a bright pink

C. that visitors may not be as excited to see the flamingos if the birds’ feathers aren’t such a bright pink

D. which visitors may not be as excited to see the flamingos if the birds’ feathers aren’t such a bright pink

E. which visitors may not be as excited to see one once the birds’ feathers aren’t such a bright pink

The possessive pronoun “their” is used in the original sentence; however, this pronoun has no clear antecedent, since there are two plural nouns in the sentence. Although common sense tells us that “their” refers back to the flamingos, grammatically speaking, “their” could also refer to the visitors. To be correct, this sentence must clarify the possessors of the feathers. That allows us to rule out both A and B, since those choices have “their.” “That” is correct here, not “which,” so we can rule out D and E.  The remaining choice, C, correctly uses “that” and also replaces “their” with “the birds’,” which clarifies the sentence’s meaning. While this choice is longer than some of the others, it is the only one to fix the possessive pronoun error without creating a new error.

In general, possessive pronouns should be handled more or less the same way as the nominative and objective pronouns: make sure that there is a clear antecedent in the sentence and that the pronoun agrees with that antecedent. Apostrophe placement and pronoun forms are rarely tested on the GMAT, so a quick review of those issues should be enough to ensure that you’ll be prepared for them if they appear on the test.

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