TOEFL Grammar Series: How Mastering Pronouns Will Help You On Every Section of the TOEFL [Video Post]

 
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How Mastering Pronouns Will Help On Every Section of the TOEFL

Grammar is a topic which is often overlooked on the TOEFL.  Because the TOEFL does not have an explicit grammar section, students tend to see it as a lower priority.  While there is no section that tests grammar exclusively as is the case on other standardized tests, most students will readily admit that it is still necessary to know the rules and to use good grammar when producing open-ended responses on exam day.  But is being knowledgeable about grammar topics helpful for the receptive skills, like the Listening and Reading Sections?  In a word: yes.  

One set of grammar rules that comes into play in a big way on all four sections of the exam is pronoun rules. Learn the most important pronoun rules, then find out how to apply them to the test.

Pronoun Guide: An Overview Of Six Types of Pronouns


When most students think of pronouns, personal pronouns immediately spring to mind.  This makes sense because they are the ones students recall through muscle memory developed when learning how to conjugate verbs.  However, personal pronouns are only a small subsection of pronouns.  In fact, not all pronouns truly fit the description of being a word that stands in place of a noun, the general definition that most grammar books boil it down to.  Pronouns can be divided into a number of categories, the biggest of which are indefinite and definite pronouns.  Within the category of definite pronouns, you will find even smaller subcategories, such as personal, possessive, reflexive, reciprocal, relative and demonstrative.

Unlike indefinite pronouns which do not point to something specific, definite pronouns go by this name because they reference something clearly called an antecedent.  Because indefinite pronouns are not linking back to something mentioned earlier, they are less likely to be on the TOEFL.  However, the rules for indefinite pronoun agreement can get a little tricky, which is why they commonly show up on the SAT as even native speakers struggle with them.  Because indefinite pronouns are not as heavily tested on the TOEFL, we will focus our attention on the types of definite pronouns.

Personal pronouns are the ones that typically stand in for a person or a group of people.

 They include I, you, he/she/it, we and they.  These pronouns need to agree with their antecedent in number, gender, and case.

In other words, you need to know how many people the noun being replaced represents and, depending on the situation, if those people are male or female. Case refers to how the word is used in the context of the sentence.  Is it the subject or object?  (This is why it is grammatically correct to write My friend and I traveled to Spain last summer but not My friend and me traveled to Spain last summer.  When deciding if you need I or me, you need to determine what case is being used in that sentence.)

Possessive pronouns indicate belonging.

 If you want to show that an object belongs to someone, instead of using 's, you can use the appropriate possessive pronoun.  The most complicated rule here for possessive pronouns is to remember that the word itself is noting belonging, so there is no need to add the apostrophe s.  Many students try to add the apostrophe to words that already end in s, like her's, but that is incorrect.  The one that confuses most people, even native speakers, is its/it's.  Remember, its is possessive already (it's is for the contraction it is).

Reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns


Both reflexive and intensive pronouns usually end in -self or -selves.  Reflexive is when the subject is also receiving the action: Don't feel bad for him.  He did it to himself. Intensive pronouns, also called emphatic pronouns, are used to stress who performed the action: I made it myself!

Relative


Relative pronouns are a unique group because they do not replace an antecedent.  Instead, they connect the noun to a word or phrase that modifies or gives additional information.  These words include who/whom/whose and which/that.  In order to determine which relative pronoun to use, you must consider both the case (subject, object, possessive), the necessity of the following information (known to grammar lovers everywhere as restrictive and non-restrictive clauses), and whether or not the initial noun being modified is person or a place/thing/idea.  


Demonstrative


Demonstrative pronouns help create cohesion.  They frequently point back to an antecedent in the previous sentence, which students do not always anticipate when working with them.  Demonstrative pronouns explain which one(or), pointing to a specific thing(s).  They are used frequently in conversation, but they can also be used in writing to create flow between sentences.  Demonstrative pronouns must agree in number (singular/plural) and distance.  Use this/these to show that something is close by whereas use that/those to make something seem further away or to the feeling of distance.

More of an audial/visual learner?  Watch the video I've created on this topic

 

Pronouns For Each Section of the TOEFL


Now that you know the most common pronoun rules that show up on the exam, you will want to know where each of these topics will most likely appear. This will give you a leg up, making it faster for you to draw upon this information.

Writing section


Whether you are writing for the TOEFL or for your university level class, using pronouns effectively is important for clear, concise communication.  Pronouns can create cohesion in your essay, making neat transitions between sentences and ideas through the use of demonstrative pronouns that begin sentences and alternating between relative clauses and adjectives to vary sentence structure.

Furthermore, using pronouns reduce unnecessary redundancies in your writing.  You do not need to mention the name of the same person over and over again.  Instead, after the first usage, replace the antecedent with the pronoun. 

Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing by knowing the pronoun rules.  Have you been that person debating whether or not you need to put an apostrophe in yours, theirs, or hers?  Now that you know the rules for pronouns, you won't be tricked by these silly grammar errors that constantly find their way into student produced essays.

Ready to put what you've learned about pronouns into practice in your own essay writing?  Grab 30 days of TOEFL independent essay prompts in a convenient 2-page download.

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Speaking section


One major pronoun problem that is particular to speaking is the use of personal pronouns.  Too often students will make mistakes with personal pronouns in spoken English when they would never have made that mistake in written English.  By understanding the importance of both gender and case when it comes to selecting the correct personal pronoun, you can cut down on errors made.  If you find you have accidentally switched over from he to she, use I mean to correct your mistake.  Do you hear native speakers use the wrong form of I/me all the time in informal speaking situations?  While that likely happens regularly in everyday life, do not replicate this when speaking your response on test day.  

Additionally, now that you know the purpose of intensive pronouns, you can incorporate them into your own responses.  English is a stress-timed language.  If you use an intensive pronoun, make sure that your speech pattern indicates that emphasis as well.

Listening section


On the listening section, the quality of your notes almost always has a direct correlation with the score you receive.  Based on your knowledge regarding pronouns, you will better be able to understand the strategy the professor is using for making a group more specific (like using relative pronouns in order to make something more specific, which may show up as a detail question), the use of demonstrative pronouns to connect one sentence to the next, or points of particular interest through the use of intensive pronouns to highlight something that is remarkable or surprising.

Reading section


The Reading section most directly tests your pronoun knowledge.  Referents questions make up one of the most common types of TOEFL reading question.  At some point for each passage that you've read, a definite pronoun will be undermined.  The question will then ask you what that pronoun refers back to.  In other words, you will be asked to identify the antecedent of a word in the passage.  Armed with the knowledge of pronoun rules, you will be able to make the correct selection each time.  

Though possible, it is unlikely that EST will ask you about a personal pronoun.  However, you may be asked what a possessive, relative, or demonstrative pronoun is pointing to.

Be sure to follow the rules listed above so that the answer you select makes sense with all of the rules for that type of pronoun.  For example, the relative pronoun who is used specifically for people, so I don't want to select an answer choice that features an inanimate object.

Pronoun referents questions are one of the best types of questions to focus on for the Reading section because once you think you've found the correct answer, you can check it.  When you think you've located the proper antecedent, put that word back in that sentence where the pronoun stood.

Remember, Pronoun Referent questions are just one type of commonly asked Reading question.  Get your free Reading Questions Tracker here to keep tabs on all types of questions as well as your progress.

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Key Takeaways


The TOEFL infuses grammar concepts throughout the exam.  By understanding how pronouns can be used to eliminate redundancy, to create cohesion, to modify nouns, to imply case or gender, to add emphasis, or to indicate literal or figurative relationships, you will be able to score points on questions that directly test pronoun knowledge, such as referents questions on the Reading section, as well as those that indirectly do so, like using pronouns to create flow in your own writing.

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