There are TV programmes produced by the Ministry of Education for high school students, and (1) they \ students can attend (2) these lectures remotely without traveling to schools.

Assuming you are a native English speaker:

1) Do you feel that it will be better to use students instead of they, because they can refer to programmes.

2) Is it clear that "these lectures" refer to TV programmes ?

  • 2
    Briefly, the answers are 1-NO, 2-YES. But you might do better sidestepping the issue completely, and cut down on unnecessary verbiage by rephrasing to ...for high school students, who can attend these lectures without traveling to schools (note that the word remotely is totally unnecessary tautology here, which comes across as a bit clumsy). – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '19 at 17:36
  • As @FumbleFingers is stating, it is clear that the antecedent of 1) they is students because students immediately precedes they. It is less obvious for 2), because it relies on the reader understanding that an educational programme can be considered a lecture. Humans should have no trouble understanding this, but it would be a more difficult task for AI. – DrMoishe Pippik Mar 18 '19 at 22:22

As FumbleFingers and DSMoishe Pippik have indicated, there is certainly some ambiguity in the sentence ... it's just a question of how much.

In my opinion, both options are at least a little ambiguous, and as FumbleFingers said, would be best resolved by wording the sentence in a significantly different way.

So, to summarize:

  1. 'They' does not relate to students clearly enough to be a good choice.

    • Replacing 'they' with 'students' results in the word 'students' being used twice in close proximity. From a purely stylistic perspective, that's best avoided (it's not grammatically wrong, it just sounds clumsy).
  2. Using 'lectures' to refer to something previously described as 'TV programmes' is also potentially confusing.

So, a better sentence could be something like this:

Television lectures are produced by the Ministry of Education for high school students, who can avoid the need to travel to school by watching them.

  • 2
    I agree that a total rewrite would be the best way to remove ambiguity. Because avoiding the need for travel seems to be central to sentence's message, I propose: "High school students can avoid the need to travel by watching television lectures produced for them by The Ministry of Education." – Jesse Mar 22 '19 at 19:23
  • @jesse Works for me! – fred2 Mar 22 '19 at 19:47

Personally, I find the ambiguity of "they" to be more due to "Ministry of Education" than "TV programmes". While "Ministry of Education" is semantically singular, it refers to multiple people, so it would not be odd, especially in BrE (which the spelling "programme" implies you are speaking) to refer to it with a plural pronoun. A careful reading would allow one to conclude that the students attending lectures makes more sense than people in the Ministry of Education doing so, but clarity means not making your readers work hard at figuring out what you're saying.

A further problem is saying "attend these lectures" to refer to "TV programmes". One attends lectures, but one does not attend TV program[me]s, so using that verb is jarring, and works against the reader recognizing that "these lectures" refers to "TV programmes".

Your use of passive voice contributes to the problem, as it puts "Ministry of Education" next to "high school students". Switching to active voice would allow you to move "Ministry of Education" away from "high school students" and combine the two parts of the sentences, avoiding the duplication of "students".

Also, at least in AmE, "school" is generally treated as an abstract noun, and thus doesn't take a grammatical number. Even when different students are going to different school, we say "Students are going to school", not "Students are going to schools", unless there's a specific reason to talk about different schools.

There may be some purpose in the larger context, but looking at just this sentence, I don't see much purpose that "There are" at the beginning is serving.

Putting all of this together:

The Ministry of Education has produced TV programmes that high school students can watch remotely instead of traveling to school.

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