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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"?

  • 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
  • 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 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." – Peter Olson Dec 15 '15 at 6:48

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