ACT English : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Question #1 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

One of the most popular programs of all those featured on the Internet (1) is a video clip show.  The format of the show is simple, each (2) week the host, a short but attractive New York native named John Jackson introduces (3) a set of three video clips from all over the Internet.  These clips shows (4) people hurting themselves in accidents, getting into crazy situations, interacting stupidly with animals, and et cetera. (5) Jackson introduces each clip comically and often comments on the action with animations where (6) he makes fun of the people in the videos.  While the videos are often funny, there is definitely an element of schadenfreude involved in watching these clips.  Schadenfreude is a German word for "the pleasure one takes at seeing the suffering of others".  (7) Jacksons (8) show are (9) not far removed from popular TV programs like (10) The U.S. Laughs at You there is also a version of which (11) on the Internet.  It is an open question whether laughing at these videos is a harmless activity or it causes harm to us. (12)

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number.  If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

of which

when

in which

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

in which

Explanation:

"Where" should be used only for expressions denoting places, so the best and most gramattical replacement here would be "in which."

Example Question #2 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Many people watch football however (1) some do not. With (2) those who do not watch this sport (3) football is an incomprehensible pastime. Non football (4) fans cannot understand what is so exciting about watching two packs of grown men running away or toward each other, while (5) clinging for dear life to a piece of pigskin. It also makes from little to no sense (6) why those whom (7) play the sport gets (8) paid the exorbitant amounts that they do, even though he is (9) in effect doing the same thing that high school and college students do on a daily bases (10). But as the French would say, "Chacun à son goût" (11) though its (12) highly doubtful that most football fans (or even people who are not fans) would know what that means.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

(DELETE)

NO CHANGE

who

whose

Correct answer:

who

Explanation:

The pronoun here is being used as a subject for the verb "play," so "who" would be the appropriate choice.

Example Question #3 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from The Autobiography of John Adams (ed. 1856)

Not long after this, the three greatest measures of all were carried. Three committees were appointed, one for preparing a declaration of independence, another for reporting a plan of a treaty to be proposed to France, and a third to digest a system of articles of confederation to be proposed to the States. I was appointed on the committee of independence and on that for preparing the form of a treaty with France. On the committee of confederation Mr. Samuel Adams was appointed. The committee of independence were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Mr. Jefferson had been now about a year a member of Congress, but had attended his duty in the house a very small part of the time, and, when there, had never spoken in public. During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together. It will naturally be inquired how it happened that he was appointed on a committee of such importance. There were more reasons than one. Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen; he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia, in consequence of a very handsome public paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses, which had given him the character of a fine writer. Another reason was, that Mr. Richard Henry Lee was not beloved by the most of his colleagues from Virginia, and Mr. Jefferson was set up to rival and supplant him. This could be done only by the pen, for Mr. Jefferson could stand no competition with him or any one else in elocution and public debate.

Which is the best form of the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen, for he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia in consequence of a very handsome public paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses that had given him the character of a fine writer.

Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen; he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia in consequence of a very handsome public paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses and which had given him the character of a fine writer.

NO CHANGE

Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen for he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia in consequence of a very handsome public paper that he had written for the House of Burgesses that had given him the character of a fine writer.

Correct answer:

Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen; he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia in consequence of a very handsome public paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses and which had given him the character of a fine writer.

Explanation:

The most significant issue in this sentence is the paralleling of the two uses of "which" in the second independent clause.  They both modify the word "paper":

The paper...

(1) "which he had written for the House of Burgesses"

AND

(2) "which had given him the character of a fine writer."

To help clear up this sentence, the best option (among those provided) is the one that makes this parallel explicit by using the conjunction "and." This helps to prevent the reader from being confused about the antecedent for the second "which."

Example Question #4 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

"Whomever (1) wins the game will play in the Megabowl," (2) Paul shouted, and Derek wasnt (3) sure how to respond.  He dint (4) particularly care for football generally, (5) or for the Megabowl specifically but (6) he did not want to upset his best friend, whom (7) was obviously excessively (8) excited about the news.  He took a deep breath then (9) he said  "That's wonderful news (10) Paul.  Where is the game be (11) held?"  Paul grinned and replied, "In Antarctica!"  Derek blinked.  "Since when are they having football games in Antarctica" he (12) asked.  Paul simply smiled and said, "There had to be some good to come out of global warming, right?"

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

Who

NO CHANGE

Whoever

Who ever

Correct answer:

Whoever

Explanation:

The relative pronoun that begins this sentence is being used as the subject of this clause, and thus "Whoever" is the most appropriate choice. "Whomever" is the objective case.

Example Question #5 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from “Emerson’s Prose Works” in The Works of Orestes A. Brownson: Philosophy of Religion by Orestes Brownson (ed. 1883)

Mr. Emersons literary reputation is established and placed beyond the reach of criticism. No living writer surpasses him in his mastery of pure and classic English; nor do any equal him—neither in the exquisite delicacy and finish of his chiseled sentences, or in the metallic ring of his style. It is only as a thinker and teacher that we can venture any inquiry into his merits; and as such we cannot suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by his oracular manner, nor by the apparent originality either of his views or his expressions.

Mr. Emerson has had a swarm both of admirers but also of detractors. With many, he is a philosopher and sage, almost a god; while with others, he is regarded as an unintelligible mystic, babbling nonsense fitted to captivate beardless young men and silly maidens with pretty curls, all of who constituted years ago the great body of his hearers and worshipers. We rank us in neither class, though we regard he as no ordinary man. Indeed, we believe he to be one of the deepest thinkers as well as one of the first poets of our country. Indeed, by long acquaintance have him and us been in mutual contact—if only from a distance at times. We know him to be a polished gentleman, a genial companion, and a warmhearted friend, whose' kindness does not pass over individuals and waste itself in a vague philanthropy. So much, at least, we can say of the man, and this do we base not only upon former personal acquaintance and upon our former study of his writings.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "whose' kindness does not pass over individuals"?

Possible Answers:

whose kindness does not pass over individuals

NO CHANGE

whom kindness does not pass over individuals

who's kindness does not pass over individuals

Correct answer:

whose kindness does not pass over individuals

Explanation:

The relative pronoun is being used here in a possessive sense, describing the "kindness" mentioned in the clause and linking it to "friend" by noting that he has a kindness of a certain quality. The appropriate form for "who" in this case is "whose"—not "who's" or (the very strange) "whose'."

Example Question #6 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from “The Nose Tree” in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

Then the king made known to all his kingdom, that whomever would heal her of this dreadful disease should be richly rewarded. Many tried, but the princess got no relief. Now the old soldier dressed himself up very sprucely as a doctor, and said he could cure her. Therefore, he chopped up some of the apple, and, to punish her a little more, gave her a dose, saying he would call to-morrow and see her again. The morrow came, and, of course, instead of being better, the nose had been growing on all night as before; and the poor princess was in a dreadful fright. So the doctor then chopped up a very little of the pear and gave it to her. He said that he was sure that it would help, and he would call again the next day. Next day came, and the nose was to be sure a little smaller. However, it was bigger than when the doctor first began to meddle with it.

Then he thought to him, "I must frighten this cunning princess a little more before I am able to get what I want from her." Therefore, he gave her another dose of the apple and said he would call on the morrow. The morrow came, and the nose was ten times bad as before.

"My good lady," said the doctor, "Something works against my medicine and is to strong for it. However, I know by the force of my art that it is this, you have stolen goods about you. I am certain of it. If you do not give them back, I can do nothing for you."

The princess denied very stoutly that she had anything of the kind.

"Very well," said the doctor, "you may do as you please, but I am sure I am correct. You will die if you do not own it." Then he went to the king, and told him how the matter stood.

"Daughter," said he, "send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, that you stole from the right owners."

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all three and gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers. The moment he had them safe, he gave her a whole pear to eat, and the nose came right. And as for the doctor, he put on the cloak, wished the king and all his court a good day and was soon with his two brothers. They lived from that time happily at home in their palace, except when they took an airing to see the world in their coach with their three dapple-grey horses.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "Send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, that you stole from the right owners"?

Possible Answers:

send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, which you stole from the right owners

NO CHANGE

send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, that you had stolen from the right owners

send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, all of which you stole from the right owners

Correct answer:

send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, all of which you stole from the right owners

Explanation:

As written, the sentence is slightly confusing in its use of the relative pronoun "that." Although common sense might indicate that it refers to all of the items that are to be sent back, it is still possible to read this sentence as only applying the relative clause "that you stole from the right owners" to the horn. Replacing "that" with "all of which" helps to draw attention to the fact that the clause refers to all of the items.

Example Question #1 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

A candle faintly burned in the window, to which the black ladder had often been raised for the sliding away of all that was most precious in this world to a striving wife and a brood of hungry babies. Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, that of all the casualties of this existence upon earth, not one was dealt out with so unequal a hand as death. The inequality of birth was nothing to it. For example, the child of a king and the child of a weaver were born tonight in the same moment. What would be the disparity between the death of any human creature who was serviceable to, or beloved by, another, while this abandoned woman lived on!

From the outside of his home he gloomily passed to the inside with suspended breath and with a slow footstep. He went up to his door opened it and so into the room.

Quiet and peace was there. Rachael was there, sitting by the bed.

She turned her head, and the light of her face shone in upon the midnight of his mind. She sat by the bed watching and tending his wife. That is to say, he saw that someone lay there and knew too good that it must be she. However, Rachael’s hands had put a curtain up, so that she was screened from his eyes. Her disgraceful garments were removed, and some of Rachael’s were in the room. Everything was in it’s place and order as he had always kept it. The little fire was newly trimmed, and the hearth was freshly swept. It appeared to him that he saw all this in Rachael’s face. While looking at it, it was shut out from his view by the softened tears that filled his eyes; however, this was not before he had seen how earnestly she looked at him, and how her own eyes were filled too.

Which is the best form of the underlined selection "Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, that of all the casualties"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection that, of all the casualties

Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, of all the casualties

Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, which of all the casualties

Correct answer:

Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection that, of all the casualties

Explanation:

As written, the sentence does make sense by using the indirect phrase "that . . ." This explains exactly what Stephen thought without directly quoting it. However, you should not use a comma to separate this from the main portion of the clause. When you read the sentence, you can see that he thought, "That . . . not one (casualty) was dealt . . ." The "of" does open a subordinate prepositional phrase that can be set off in commas, so merely moving the comma to the position after "that" suffices to fix the sentence.

Example Question #8 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

As she applied herself to set the tea-things, Joe peeped down at me over his leg, as if he was mentally casting me and himself up and calculating what kind of pair we practically should make, under the grievous circumstances foreshadowed. After that, he sat feeling his right-side flaxen curls and whisker, and following Mrs. Joe about with his blue eyes, as his manner always was at squally times.

My sister had a trenchant way of cutting our bread and butter for us, that never varied. First, with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast against her bib, where it sometimes got a pin into it and sometimes a needle, which we afterwards got into our mouths. Then, she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were making a plaster.  She used both sides of the knife with a slapping dexterity and trimming and moulding the butter off round the crust. Then, she gave the knife a final smart wipe on the edge of the plaster and then sawed a very thick round off the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Joe got one and I the other.

On the present occasion, though I was hungry, I dared not eat my slice. I felt that I must have something in reserve for my dreadful acquaintance, and his ally the still more dreadful young man. I knew, “Mrs. Joe's housekeeping to be of the strictest kind,” and that my larcenous researches might find nothing available in the safe. Therefore, I resolved to put my hunk of bread and butter down the leg of my trousers.

To what does the underlined "that" refer?

Possible Answers:

way

sister

us

bread and butter

Correct answer:

way

Explanation:

The relative clause "that never varied" is placed far after its appropriate antecedent. Therefore, we need to infer its correct antecedent. The thing that never varies is her "way of cutting." Strictly speaking, it is the "way" that does not differ. ("Of cutting" modifies this in a helpful way, of course.)

Example Question #9 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

As they entered, they saw Dorian Gray who was seated at the piano his back to them, turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann's "Forest Scenes." "You must lend me these, Basil," he cried. "I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming." "That entirely depends on how you sit to-day, Dorian."

"Oh, I am tired of sitting, and I don't want a life-sized portrait of myself," answered the lad, swinging round on the music-stool in a willful, petulant manner. When he caught sight of Lord Henry, a faint blush colored his cheeks for a moment, and he started up. "I beg your pardon, Basil. I did’nt know you had any one with you."

"This is Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian, an old Oxford friend of mine. I have just been telling him what a capital sitter you were, and now you have spoiled everything."

"You have not spoiled my pleasure in meeting you, Mr. Gray," said Lord Henry, stepping forward and extended his hand. "My aunt has often spoken to me about you. You are one of her favorites, and, I am afraid, one of her victims also."

"I am in Lady Agatha's black books at present," answered Dorian with a funny look of penitence. "I promised to go to a club in Whitechapel with her last Tuesday, and I really forgot all about it. We were to have played a duet together: three duets, I believe. I don't know what she will say to me. I am far too frightened to call."

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "saw Dorian Gray who was seated"?

Possible Answers:

saw Dorian Gray who sat

saw Dorian Gray, who was seated

NO CHANGE

saw Dorian Gray, who had sat

Correct answer:

saw Dorian Gray, who was seated

Explanation:

Since the relative clause (beginning with "who") adds somewhat extraneous information, you need to separate it from its antecedent by using a comma. If the relative clause were a necessary component of the sentence, identifying the antecedent, you should not have a comma. For instance, "He smiled at the man who was seated by the window." Since "Dorian Gray" is a proper name, it adequately marks out the person. The relative clause adds extra descriptive information.

Example Question #10 : Relative Pronoun Usage 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 antecedent for the underlined "which"?

Possible Answers:

value

thing

peculiarities

be

Correct answer:

peculiarities

Explanation:

The antecedent of a relative pronoun is the noun that it modifies or further describes. In our sentence, the relative clause is somewhat removed from the immediate context of its antecedent. The question to ask yourself is: "What is giving value?" It is a matter of the peculiarities giving value to the thing for the purposes of revelation. To see this, we could rewrite this portion of the sentence as, "what should be the peculiarities which give a thing value for purposes of revelation."

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