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SAT grammar question:

There are (more than) 300 million English speakers (in) India, most of (them) acquired English (as) a second language. (No error)

The parentheses designate areas where the grammar of the sentence may be incorrect. You have to select the area which is in error (or select "No error" if there is no error in the sentence).

(Them) is the error in the sentence.

Can someone explain why (them) is incorrect?

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    @Mazura It should be most of whom — otherwise it is a comma-splice error caused by incorrectly attempting to join together two independent clauses with a mere comma and no conjunction.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 22:02
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    @tchrist That makes sense. I really wanted that comma to be a semicolon.
    – Nick2253
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 22:06
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    @Edwin Since the parentheses mark the only possible places to be changed, it must be assumed that everything else in the sentence—including punctuation—is 100% correct. (Them) is the only parenthesised thing that is not correct (whether grammatically or otherwise) if the sentence is taken as being otherwise correct, so I do think it's an all right question. The sentence could also be made correct by adding a full stop after speakers and capitalising the following in, but that too would require changing a disallowed part of the sentence. Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 0:25
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    The American SAT is intended for High School juniors or seniors, so normally for someone in the 16-18 range, not a 10-year-old.
    – Hellion
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 1:21
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    All the above commenters, please visit English Language Learners :) -- But seriously, what @tchrist said.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 6:05

2 Answers 2

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It should be most of whom, not most of *them.

Otherwise it is a comma-splice error caused by incorrectly attempting to join together two independent clauses with a mere comma and no conjunction.

These are all correctly formed:

  1. There are more than 300 million English speakers in India. Most of them acquired English as a second language.

  2. There are more than 300 million English speakers in India; most of them acquired English as a second language.

  3. There are more than 300 million English speakers in India, but most of them acquired English as a second language.

  4. There are more than 300 million English speakers in India, most of whom acquired English as a second language.

Without a semicolon, it cannot be them; with a semicolon, it cannot be whom.

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    So you can use 'them' if there was a semi colon? Without so many parentheses I may have caught that; I read it as two clauses automatically. I don't expect people to use colons correctly (and it wasn't one of the options) and I'm not even sure if I just did...
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 22:55
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    @Mazura There are no colons in the original, nor should there be. Without a semicolon, it cannot be them; with a semicolon, it cannot be whom. And yes, I actually do expect people to use colons and semicolons correctly: it’s part of literacy, part of standard written English.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 22:57
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    @Mazura Also, mixing can and was sounds off, some sort of tense mismatch in your conditionals. These combinations work much better: (1) You can use “them” if there is a semicolon. (2) You could use “them” if there were a semicolon. (3) You could have used “them” if there had been a semicolon.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 14:23
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The sentence can be recast with both "them" and the comma still utilized:

There are (more than) 300 million English speakers (in) India, most of (them) having acquired English (as) a second language.

Surely, I do not pretend this would have been a choice available in the real test, still I think it makes an useful point in terms of alternative phrasing.

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  • That’s a (perfect) gerund clause, which is not tensed. Infinitive clauses also work in that slot for the same reason. It’s easier with a perfect infinitive than a simple one: “There will be more than 500 million English speakers in India by 2030, most to have acquired English as a second language.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 14:28
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    @tchrist That infinitive sentence sounds ungrammatical to me. Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 1:32

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