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I'm having trouble accepting as legitimate this sentence:

"In her new book, Jane Doe's sister Sally struggles with poverty."

(This was offered as correct in a tutoring guide to SAT Writing Section.)

Isn't the subject Sally, and therefore "In her new book..." is a modifier not correctly applicable?

  • There's nothing wrong here with "her" referring to the author, if she was mentioned in the preceding sentence. Pronouns don't have to refer to something in the same sentence. – Peter Shor Sep 3 '13 at 12:32
  • As others imply, it's correct, but unclear - at least when taken our of context, because we do not know who "her" refers to. – TrevorD Sep 3 '13 at 13:05
  • If we are interviewing Annie B. "The author Annie B. is in the studio. In her new book, Jane Doe's sister Sally struggles with poverty." then it is clear that the new book is not by Sally. So out of context the sentence is ambiguous in my opinion – mplungjan Sep 3 '13 at 13:17
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English allows a pronoun to appear before its antecedent. This is called cataphora.

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It’s grammatical, but I read her as referring to the author of the book, who is not necessarily Sally. The context no doubt makes it clear what is meant.

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Mary Writer often deals with themes of inequality. In her new book, Jane Doe's sister Sally struggles with poverty.

This seems to me to be a perfectly acceptable placement of a pronoun and its referent. Of course, there could be circumstances where this will not work.

Mary Writer often deals with themes of inequality. An early work was widely praised for its sensitive treatment of the systemic racism endured by young black women, such as Oprah Winfrey. In her new book, Jane Doe's sister Sally struggles with poverty.

  • To clarify, what if the sentence I gave as an example is meant to replace the following: "Jane Doe wrote a new book. In the book, her sister Sally struggles with poverty." (And since this example is being used in tutoring, no other context is given. So, I don't see how the combined sentence can be considered equivalent in meaning to the two original sentences.) – Jon Sep 3 '13 at 13:20
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Here in this sentence, In her new book, Jane Doe's sister Sally struggles with poverty."

Her new book refers to Jane Doe's book. The meaning is In Jane Doe's book, her sister Sally struggles with poverty.

Hope this helps.

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