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I have been preparing for the SAT, and this question has been confusing me a lot lately.

Some scissors (A) are designed for left-handed use, although most (B) of them (C) sold in stores (D) are not specialized.

When I initially read this sentence, I thought that B was incorrect (of them). I thought that it should have been "of those."

To my surprise, however, there is no error in this sentence.

Why is "of them" correct and when would it be appropriate to use "of those"?

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    Why wouldn't "of them" be correct? Them is a generic term for a plural number of objects. "Of those" would have been equally valid.
    – Lynn
    Dec 15 '15 at 0:20
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    I suppose either "them" or "those" is correct, as far as that goes. Neither is right, because the interpreter of the sentence has to wait, unnecessarily, until the end of the sentence to discover the referent of "them" or "those". As phrased, the referent could be scissors or left-handed scissors. The composer of the sentence could've easily obviated that interpretive burden by using "scissors" instead of "of them" or "of those". The gracelessness of the phrasing is further emphasized by the superfluous "sold in stores" (what else?), although that phrase might be okay in some contexts.
    – JEL
    Dec 15 '15 at 7:20
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    I would use the ones, and not either them or those. Aug 25 '19 at 18:17
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    @JanusBahsJacquest they can be deictic. For example, one person says: Have you seen my keys? and they respond with They are in your apartment, or I left them in your apartment. Or, “I need my keys. May I have them now?” replacing them with these or those in “May I ... now?” does not fit.
    – aesking
    Aug 25 '19 at 22:56
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    In “I need my keys. May I have >>these<< or >>those<< ( a deitic ) now? These/those isn’t referential enough that it may or may not be the antecedent to the previous clause, “them” makes this more certain. them is usually a referential pronoun to a certain noun and hence “my keys”, while “these” or “those” are deitical and requires a certain context - these/those may be referring to an object that is out of sight and would need a certain context to understand (that is my understanding of deixis). them servers a purpose to make it more clearer as to whatever is being referred to.
    – aesking
    Aug 25 '19 at 23:12
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I agree with you: it should be those, because the participial phrase that follows it (sold in stores) is of the defining type, and defining phrases are normally not combined with personal pronouns. They can be combined with personal pronouns, but I suspect unusual circumstances are required for that; at least in this case it sounds off to me.

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Using "those" would actually convey the meaning, those scissors designed for left-handed use.

Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most of those [=those scissors designed for left-handed use] sold in stores are not specialized.

Sounds like a load of nonsense, uh?

And so, one way to make the sentence logical is to substitute "them" for "those."

Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most of them [=most of the scissors] sold in stores are not specialized.

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    I don't see any reason why them would resolve the syntactic ambiguity here. As far as I can tell, the ambiguity is resolved purely through pragmatics, since it's easy to construct a sentence with the same structure that would be parsed differently than how this answer indicates it would: "Some people claim that they've never done anything wrong, but I suspect almost all of them are liars." Dec 15 '15 at 6:48
  • This is incorrect. Those does not refer to left-handed scissors, and them is just completely ungrammatical. Aug 25 '19 at 18:26
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    @JanusBahsJacquest why is them to refer to scissors incorrect? Using them is common to refer to multiple inanimate objects as per Merriam-Webster; definition 1a.
    – aesking
    Aug 25 '19 at 22:48
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    @aesking Because of the following reduced relative clause; nothing to do with animacy or number. “Them sold in stores are not specialised” is ungrammatical. Sep 5 '19 at 22:34
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In addition to Lynn’s comment, Merriam-Webster says under definition of 1a) of the pronoun they:

those ones —used as third person pronoun serving as [the plural of he, she, or it] or referring to a group of two or more individuals not all of the same sex


Side note: someone in the comments mentions “As phrased, the referent could be scissors or left-handed scissors”.

It is true that you can use “them/those” as a referent for either scissors and left-handed scissors and it may seem like it could be both at initial glance, I thought so too.

But really [them/those] and if you ignored the debate whether them or those is more acceptable to refer to an inanimate object, whatever pronoun (lets call this pronoun X); pronoun X in this sentence must be referring to scissors and not “left-handed scissors” or the OP’s sentence would be a contradiction:

! Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most [ of them scissors designed for left-handed use ] sold in stores are not specialized

! Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most [ of those scissors designed for left-handed use ] sold in stores are not specialized

Both sentences contradict that “some scissors are designed for left-handed use” “although most of [them/those] are not specialized. You can agree the below would be more semantically agreeable:

[correct] Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most [ of those scissors ] sold in stores are not specialized

[correct] Some scissors are designed for left-handed use, although most [ of them scissors ] sold in stores are not specialized

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