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In the previous English lesson on pronoun vagueness, we discussed how vague gendered and non-gendered pronouns can make it difficult or even impossible to understand who or what a writer is referring to. Another type of pronoun vagueness can occur with pronouns that refer back to concepts or ideas. Consider the following examples, which have different versions of the same problem:

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services. It makes the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services. This makes the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services, which makes the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

In all three of these examples, the bolded pronoun refers broadly to ideas in the previous sentence. We don’t know which elements of the previous sentence the writer wishes to emphasize with it, this, or which.

There are several ways fix this type of vagueness. We’re going to look at the three examples individually for the purpose of clarity. However, the “correct” version of each example is interchangeable with the others. You could, for instance, replace the incorrect “it” sentence with the corrected version of the “this” sentence.

Fixing “It” Vagueness

“It” is a singular pronoun. This type of pronoun must be used to refer to something specific. “It” cannot be used to refer to multiple ideas. To fix the first example, we must eliminate the excessively vague “it.” The easiest fix is to combine the two sentences into one:

The English Island’s combination of experienced teachers, flexible hours, and wide variety of services makes it one of the best tutoring companies in Atlanta.

Now the English Island’s list of positive attributes leads directly into the writer’s conclusion about the company. While the sentence still has an “it,” that “it” refers directly to “the English Island.”

Fixing “This” Vagueness”

To fix the “this” example, we need to provide a bit more information that clarifies what “this” is standing in for: 

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services. This combination of factors makes the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

Now we know for certain that “this” refers to all of the positive qualities mentioned in the preceding sentence. We can also swap “this” for “these,” making the reference both definitive and concise:

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services. These factors make the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

Fixing “Which” Vagueness

To make “which” less vague, we simply need to add a noun that more accurately encompasses the elements that “which” is referring to:

The English Island employs experienced teachers, has flexible hours, and offers a wide variety of services, qualities which make the English Island one of the best tutoring services in Atlanta.

Adding “qualities” makes it clear that “which” refers equally to the “experienced teachers, flexible hours, and wide variety of services.” Note that we’ve changed the singular verb “makes” to the plural “make.” In this type of sentence, the noun has priority over the pronoun in matters of subject-verb agreement.

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