'they's with different meanings in a sentence

wushi

Member
Japanese
Hello.
Is it possible to use multiple 'they's with different meanings in a single sentence?

I'm not saying that exams should be abolished altogether.
They help students understand what they know and what they don't know.


The first they refers to exams.
The second and last they refer to students.
Is this confusing?
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hullo Wushi. No, not at all confusing in these circumstances.
    As long as you've clearly established what the two theys refer to, you're okay:)
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The context will usually make it clear what each 'they' was referring to, but if there's a risk of ambiguity, we would probably re-write the sentence, or say it in another way.

    It all seems clear in your context. Nobody is going to think that the second and third 'theys' refer to the exams.

    Cross-posted.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think good style requires you to avoid potential ambiguity of this kind.

    Here it would be easy to repeat 'Exams' at the start of the second sentence. In my mind that would be an improvement anyway.
     

    wushi

    Member
    Japanese
    Thank you very much, ewie, heypresto, and Thomas!
    I first thought such use of pronouns might be totally unacceptable.
    Now I understand it's OK IF what they refer to is clear.
    I'll repeat the noun if the context doesn't explain it.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree it’s fine as it is. But arguably the third “they” is not essential since that repetition is only for emphasis:

    They help students understand what they know and [what they] don't know.
     
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