ACT English : Understanding Referents

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Question #1 : Understanding Referents

Adapted from The Apology by Plato (trans. Jowett)

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind and has given occasion also to many false statements against me. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find lacking in others. However, O men of Athens, the truth is that god only is wise. By his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing. He is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration. It is as though he said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” And so, I go about the world, obedient to the god, searching and making enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise. If he is not wise, then I show him that he is not wise. My occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own. Indeed I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing. Young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord. They like to hear my examinations of others and often imitate me, and then proceed to examine others. They quickly discover that there is plenty of people, who think that they know something but really know little or nothing. Then, those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves become angry with me. 

“This confounded Socrates,” they say, “this villainous misleader of youth!” And then, if somebody asks them, “What evil does he practice or teach?” they do not know and cannot tell. However, in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers: the teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, having no gods, and making wrong things appear to be right. 

They do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected (which is the truth). And as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, they have filled your ears with they’re loud and inveterate calumnies.

And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth. I have concealed nothing; I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me. Still, what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth? From this have arisen the crowds’ prejudice against me. This is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future enquiry.

Which of the following is the antecedent for the underlined "who"?

Possible Answers:

one

stranger

citizen or stranger

citizen

Correct answer:

one

Explanation:

There are really two subordinate clauses here, one beginning with "whether" and the other beginning with "who." Both of these clauses have the same antecedent, namely, "one." They are in parallel, so you might confuse yourself, thinking that the latter clause is connected to the contents of clause that directly precedes it in the sentence. Use the context to avoid making this mistake.

Example Question #2 : Understanding Referents

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.

Which of the following is equivalent to the underlined selection, "Then she ordered her maid to fetch all three"?

Possible Answers:

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all of the owners

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all of the people

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all of the items

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all of the items

Explanation:

The adjective "three" is being used substantively here. That means that it is being used like a noun. In the given sentence, it is the direct object of "to fetch." The maid is being ordered to fetch the three items mentioned above.

Example Question #3 : Understanding Referents

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.

To what does the underlined word "another" refer?

Possible Answers:

conclusion

them

view

fact

Correct answer:

view

Explanation:

The word "another" is being used here as a substantive adjective. That is, it is being used as though it were a noun. The parallel construction clearly indicates that "some (people)" take one view and some take another view. The key indicators are "some . . . some . . ." and "one . . . another."

Example Question #4 : Understanding Referents

Adapted from “The Fisherman and His Wife" in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

The next morning, when Dame Ilsabill had awoke, it was broad daylight, and she jogged her husband, the fisherman, with her elbow, and said, "Get up husband and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, “why should we wish to be king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said she.

"But, wife," said the fisherman, "how can you be king? The fish cannot make you a king."

“Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time, the sea looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges of foam as he cried out, “O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill will have her own will, and hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what would she have now," said the fish?

"Alas!" said the poor man, 'my wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish, “for she is king already."

Then, the fisherman had went home. As he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. When he went in, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head. On each side of she stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other.

To what does the underlined word "other" refer?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

crown

maiden

head

Correct answer:

maiden

Explanation:

The clause "each . . . other" is in apposition to "maidens." It provides a further description of them. The paired words "each" and "other" are substantive adjectives that describe the maidens. The clause could be rewritten: "Each [successive] maiden being a head taller than the other [i.e. previous] maiden."

Example Question #5 : Understanding Referents

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 do the underlined words "one" and "other" refer?

Possible Answers:

the plaster

the loaf

None of the other answers

the halves

Correct answer:

the halves

Explanation:

The two adjectives "one" and "other" are being used as a correlative pair of substantive adjectives. They function as nouns implicitly and refer back to a pair of things, taken together ("one and the other"). The only option for such a pairing are the halves of the loaf mentioned earlier in the sentence. Each person received a respective half.

Example Question #6 : Understanding Referents

Adapted from The Discourse on Method by René Descartes (1637; 1899, ed. Eliot)

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be acquired, I was ardently desirously for instruction in them. But as soon as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of which it is customarily to be admitted into the order of the learned, I completely changed my opinion. I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors and was convinced that I had not advanced in all my attempts at learning. At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered. And yet, I was studying in one of the most celebrated Schools in Europe. I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such were anywhere to be found. I had been taught all that others learned there. However, not contented with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read all the books that had fallen into my hands, studying those branches that are judged to be the most curious and rare. I knew the judgment that others had formed of me. I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, although there were among them some whom were already marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself. Furthermore, I concluded that there was no science in existence that was of such a nature as I had previously been given to believe.

To what does the underlined word "such" refer?

Possible Answers:

learned men

ignorance and unknowing

schools

ignorance

it

Correct answer:

learned men

Explanation:

The adjective "such" is being used substantively to refer to "such people." Read the sentence as, "I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such people were anywhere to be found."  These "people" are the learned men that he thought must be in the city.

Example Question #7 : Understanding Referents

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.

To what does the underlined “this” refer in the final sentence?

Possible Answers:

The public defaming of Lee by Jefferson

The overt hatred of Lee by his colleagues

The potential supplanting of Lee by Jefferson

Jefferson's excellent writing abilities

The rivalry between Lee and his colleagues

Correct answer:

The potential supplanting of Lee by Jefferson

Explanation:

This is an example of potential (though not complete) ambiguity in using a demonstrative pronoun. The "this" is referring back to the setting up of Jefferson as a rival to supplant Lee. (This is stated directly at the end of the previous sentence.) The best option among those provided is, "The potential supplanting of Lee by Jefferson," since it does at least imply the rivalry (by means of the act of supplanting).

Example Question #8 : Understanding Referents

An adapted selection 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 were 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.

To what does the underlined word "those" refer?

Possible Answers:

kingdoms

rebellions

successors

tumults

countries

Correct answer:

tumults

Explanation:

The exception is being made in contrast to the "tumults" mentioned earlier in the sentence. Do not look forward to the word "rebellions," for which "those" is also used. You must remain in context and note the true referent for the demonstrative "those."

Example Question #9 : Understanding Referents

Adapted from The Discourse on Method by René Descartes (1637; 1899, ed. Eliot)

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be acquired, I was ardently desirously for instruction in them. But as soon as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of which it is customarily to be admitted into the order of the learned, I completely changed my opinion. I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors and was convinced that I had not advanced in all my attempts at learning. At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered. And yet, I was studying in one of the most celebrated Schools in Europe. I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such were anywhere to be found. I had been taught all that others learned there. However, not contented with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read all the books that had fallen into my hands, studying those branches that are judged to be the most curious and rare. I knew the judgment that others had formed of me. I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, although there were among them some whom were already marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself. Furthermore, I concluded that there was no science in existence that was of such a nature as I had previously been given to believe.

To what does the underlined "one" refer?

Possible Answers:

instructor

era

minds

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

era

Explanation:

Consider the sentence in this light: "And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding X." The "X" could easily be replaced with "era" to give us: "And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding era." This is the referent for "one" in the sentence as written.

Example Question #10 : Understanding Referents

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.

To what does the underlined indefinite pronoun "one" refer?

Possible Answers:

person

earth

reflection

casualties

Correct answer:

casualties

Explanation:

To find the correct answer, it is helpful to read the sentence in its simpler form: "Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection that not one was dealt . . ." The key is the verb "was dealt," which gives us a clue to the subject (as does the comparison to "the hand of death"). The pronoun "one" refers to the "casualties" mentioned in the subordinate clause preceding our pronoun.

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