ACT English : Pronoun-Antecedent Number Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

In the sentence there is an underlined portion. Choose the alternative you think is best. 

They're catchy tunes were the band's main appeal. 

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

Its

The

It's

Correct answer:

Its

Explanation:

"They're" is a contraction for "they are," not a pronoun, so it is incorrect. "It's" is a contraction for "it is," not a pronoun. "The" does not specify that the songs are by the band, which takes away from the meaning of the sentence (the band's appeal is mainly based on the catchy songs it writes and/or performs, rather than catchy songs in general). Thus, "its" must be the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

Now, if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the kingdom of the Turk. Therefore it was only necessarily for Alexander, first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After this victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure in Alexander’s power, for the reasons noted earlier. If his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there was no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves. However, it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Roman’s in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these latter states, of which the Romans always held an insecure possession; however, with the power and long continuance of the empire, the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. When fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered, no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia or at the difficulties that others have had to keep an acquisition. This is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror but, instead, by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the passage. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

to attach to themselves his own parts

to attach to themselves their own parts

to attach themselves to their own parts

to attach to themselves his own part

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

As written, there are no issues with the form of the sentence. The options offered as alternatives all change the (grammatical) number of the pronouns from singular to plural. The sentence speaks of "each one" attaching areas. Therefore, the correlated pronouns "himself" and "his" should remain in the singular.

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

does not see how the answer to them can decide offhand

do not see how the answer to them can decide offhand

does not see how the answer to they can decide offhand

Correct answer:

does not see how the answer to them can decide offhand

Explanation:

As written, the only issue with the sentence is the agreement between "it" and its referent. Notice that earlier in the sentence, the author speaks of the questions that were asked earlier. In the second independent clause (i.e. after the "and"), the author uses the pronoun "it" to refer back to these "questions." However, since "questions" is plural, the pronoun must be plural as well. Therefore, "them" is a better option. Note, however, that the option containing "they" is incorrect because the pronoun is the object of the preposition "to." "They" as the object of a preposition or verb must take the form "them."

Example Question #4 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love. What is a magic-lantern without light? You have but too kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall; and, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy, when, like mere children, we behold it, and are transported with the splendid phantoms. I have not been able to see Charlotte today. I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself. What was to be done? I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody today whom had been near her. Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return! Oh, the joy with which I welcomed him. I should certainly have caught him in my arms and kissed him, if I had not been ashamed.

It is said that the Bonona stone, when placed in the sun, attracts its rays and for a time appears luminous in the dark. So was it with me and this servant. The idea that Charlotte's eyes had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his very apparel, endeared it all inestimably to me so that, at that moment, I would not have parted from him for a thousand crowns. His presence made me so happy! Beware of laughing at me, Wilhelm. Can that be a delusion which makes us happy?

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "like mere children, we behold it"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

like mere children, we behold them

like mere children we behold it

like mere children we behold them

Correct answer:

like mere children, we behold them

Explanation:

You should leave the comma after "children," since the initial comma already has marked off "like mere children" as a relative clause. The pronoun "it" refers to "shadows," so it should be plural—"them"—not singular.

Example Question #5 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

What is the best form of the underlined selection, “It is a question that has been”?

 

Possible Answers:

It is a question that is

They are questions that have been

They are a question that have been

It is a question that has been

Correct answer:

They are questions that have been

Explanation:

In order to find the correct answer, two things must be noted. Looking at the previous two sentences, the referent for the pronoun is "questions." It must be plural—"they," not "it."  Likewise, note that the option "They are a question that have been" does not have agreement between "they" and "a question." The first is plural, while the second is singular.

Example Question #2 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Why Text Messaging Is a Good Thing by Chelci Spiegel

Because text messaging does not require voice it is far less obtrusive in public places. When I was standing in line at the grocery store one of the ladies were using their phone while waiting for their turn. I heard her entire life story her boy troubles, her work troubles her friend troubles and her money troubles. It was very distracting. With texting people can vent all their frustrations to someone privately. If I am trying to set a date for a barbeque, I can text my neighbor to work out details rather than let the entire she store know my weekend plans. Texting is a way to conduct private business in public places.  

What would make the underlined portion grammatically correct?

Possible Answers:

people can vent all there frustration

a person can vent all their frustration

people can vent all they're frustration

NO CHANGE

a person can vent all your frustration

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

"Their" is the possessive pronoun: "frustrations" belongs to "people," making it possessive.  "They're" means "they are," and "there" means a place.

Example Question #6 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Why Text Messaging Is a Good Thing by Chelci Spiegel

Because text messaging does not require voice it is far less obtrusive in public places. When I was standing in line at the grocery store one of the ladies was using their phone while waiting for their turn. I heard her entire life story her boy troubles, her work troubles her friend troubles and her money troubles. It was very distracting. With texting a person can vent all their frustration to someone privately. If I am trying to set a date for a barbeque, I can text my neighbor to work out details rather than let the entire she store know my weekend plans. Texting is a way to conduct private business in public places.  

What would make the underlined portion grammatically correct?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

at the grocery store, one of the ladies was using they're phones while waiting for there turns

at the grocery store, one of the ladies was using her phone while waiting for her turn

at the grocery store, one of the ladies was using their phones while waiting for her turn

at the grocery store, one of the ladies was using their phones while waiting for their turns

Correct answer:

at the grocery store, one of the ladies was using her phone while waiting for her turn

Explanation:

In the phrase, "at the grocery store one of the ladies was using their phone while waiting for their turn," the subject—or main noun—is "one," and that "one" happens to be a lady; therefore, when we use a pronoun to refer to this subject, we must use "her" instead of "their."

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "by itself are insufficient"?

Possible Answers:

by themselves is insufficient

NO CHANGE

by themselves are insufficient

by itself is insufficient

Correct answer:

by themselves are insufficient

Explanation:

There are two facts to consider here. First, the reflexive pronoun "itself" is singular while referring to the plural subject "facts." Therefore, it must be changed to "themselves." Now, you must be careful regarding the verb. To see the proper form of the verb, simplify the subordinate clause in which our phrase is found: "The . . . facts . . . are . . ." The subject is plural, meaning that you need the plural form "are," not "is."

Example Question #195 : Word Usage Errors

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Bob and Joe were so hungry that a whole pizza might not have satisfied his hunger.

Possible Answers:

its

he's

their

there

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

their

Explanation:

The pronoun has to match the subject. Since the subject is compound ("Bob and Joe"), the pronoun must be plural.

Example Question #196 : Word Usage Errors

"Lincoln as a Child" by Caleb Zimmerman (2013)

 Abraham Lincoln's forefathers were pioneers. People that left their homes to open up the wilderness and make the way clear for others to follow them. For one hundred and seventy years, ever since the first Lincoln came from England to Massachusetts in 1638, he had been moving slowly westward as new settlements were made in the forest. They faced solitude, privation, and all the dangers and hardships that beset those who take up their homes where only beasts and wild men have had homes before; but they continued to press steadily forward, though they lost fortune and sometimes even life itself in their westward progress.

Back in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, some of the Lincolns had been people of wealth and influence. In Kentucky, where the future President was born on February 12, 1809, his parents live in deep poverty. Their home was a small log cabin of the rudest kind, and nothing seemed more unlikely than that their child, coming into the world in such humble surroundings, was destined to be the greatest man of his time and true to his heritage, he also was to be a pioneer—not into new woods and unexplored fields like his ancestors, but a pioneer of a nobler and grander sort, directing the thoughts of people ever toward the right, and leading the American people, through difficulties and dangers and a mighty war, to peace and freedom.

Choose the answer that best corrects the bolded portion of the passage. If the bolded portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

Frederick Douglas

they

it

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

they

Explanation:

“Abraham Lincoln’s Forefathers” are the subject of the first paragraph, as evidenced by the plural subjects in sentences 1 and 3.

"NO CHANGE" is incorrect because the subject is plural – “forefathers” – not singular.

"It" is incorrect because the subject is personal, while “it” is an impersonal pronoun.

"Frederick Douglas" is incorrect because Frederic Douglas is not mentioned in the passage.

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