1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
Plural pronouns do not necessarily refer to the nearest plural noun, and singular pronouns do not necessarily refer to the nearest singular noun. If that were true, there would be no such thing as ambiguous pronoun reference. In the Official Guide alone there are dozens of SC items in which the correct answer choice includes a pronoun whose antecedent is not the nearest available noun. In addition to the item quoted above (SC 159), here are just six more:
97. Iguanas have been an important food source in Latin America since prehistoric times, and they are still prized as game animals by the campesinos....
The pronoun “they” refers to “iguanas,” not to the nearest plural noun “times.”
103. Students in the metropolitan school district are so lacking in math skills that it will be difficult to absorb them into a city economy....
The pronoun “them” refers to “students,” not to the nearest plural noun “skills.”
152. ...a microbe never before seen on Earth that might escape from the laboratory and kill vast numbers of humans who would have no natural defenses against it.
The pronoun “it” refers to “microbe,” not to the nearest singular noun “laboratory.”
153. A recording system was so secretly installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval Office that even Theodore C. Sorensen, the White House counsel, did not know it existed.
The pronoun “it” refers to “system,” not to the nearest singular noun “Office.”
180. Quasars are so distant that their light has taken billions of years to reach the Earth; consequently, we see them as they were during the formation of the universe.
The pronouns “them” and “they” refer to “quasars,” not to the nearest plural noun “years.”
251. The gyrfalcon, an Arctic bird of prey, has survived a close brush with extinction; its numbers are now five times greater than when....
The pronoun “its” refers to “gyrfalcon,” not to the nearest singular noun “extinction.”
The rule is not so simply stated as "a pronoun will refer to the nearest available noun." In fact, as all the above examples show, if a pronoun agrees in number with the subject of the preceding clause, then that subject will normally be the antecedent, even if there is another noun of the same number closer to the pronoun.