ACT English : Pronoun-Antecedent Number Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

Adapted from “Puritanism as a Literary Force” in A Book of Prefaces by H.L. Mencken (1917)

Naturally enough, this moral obsession has given a strong color to American literature. It is true that American literature is set off sharply from all other literatures. In none other will you find so wholesale and ecstatic a sacrifice of ideas, of all the fine gusto of passion and beauty, to notions of what is proper and nice. From the books of grisly sermons that were the first American contribution to letters down to that amazing literature of "inspiration" which now exists, one observes no relaxation of the moral pressure.

In the history of every other literature there have been periods of what might be called moral innocence. In such periods a naive “joie de vivre” (joy of living) has broken through all concepts of duty and responsibility, and the wonder and glory of the universe has been hymned with unashamed zest. The age of Shakespeare comes to mind at once. The violence of the Puritan reactions offers a measure of the pendulums’ wild swing. But in America no such general rising of the blood has ever been seen.

The literature of the nation, even the literature of the minority, has been under harsh and uneducated Puritan restraints from the beginning, and despite a few stealthy efforts at revolt, it shows not the slightest sign of emancipating itself today. The American, try as he will, can never imagine any work of the imagination as wholly without moral content. It must either tend toward the promotion of virtue or, otherwise, be questionable.

Which is the best form of the bolded expression, “The American, try as he will, can never imagine”?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

The Americans, try as he will, can never imagine

The American, try as he will, can never imagines

The American, try as they will, can never imagine

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Two observations will help to answer this question. First, remove the subordinate clause "try as he will." This gives you: "The American can never imagine." You can immediately eliminate one option:

"The American can never imagines..."  (The helper verb "can" will take a verb form with no ending—not having the "s" on the end of "imagines.")

For the remainder, notice the pronoun agreement in the subordinate clause. You have:

American—he

American—they

Americans—he

The only option that is correct is the one that matches the two singular forms: American—he. So, the sentence is correct as it is written.

Example Question #2 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

In addition to helping the environment, renewable resources—such as solar power and hydroelectricity—may also provide an economic benefit, as it may reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Possible Answers:

this being the reduction in our dependence on foreign oil.

as it reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

as it may reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

as they depend on the reduction of foreign oil.

as they may reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Correct answer:

as they may reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Explanation:

The pronoun "it" should be plural because its antecedent is the plural subject "resources." Only two choices correcty change "it" to "they," but one of them, "as they depend on the reduction of foreign oil," confuses cause and effect. The resources are not dependent on the reduction of foreign oil. The correct answer is "as they may reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Example Question #1 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Most men who go to sporting events find it an enjoyable diversion.

Possible Answers:

Most men who go to sporting events find it an enjoyable diversion.

Most of the men who go to sporting events find it an enjoyable diversion.

Many men who go to sporting events find it an enjoyable diversion.

Most men who go to sporting events find them an enjoyable diversion.

Most men who go to sporting events find it to be an enjoyable diversion.

Correct answer:

Most men who go to sporting events find them an enjoyable diversion.

Explanation:

The sentence as written contains one small error. "It," a singular pronoun, is used to refer to the plural "sporting events." In order to fix this issue, the pronoun needs to be made plural, which is done in "Most men who go to sporting events find them an enjoyable diversion."

Example Question #3 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

While it can seem like a daunting task to train for a marathon, anyone who has completed the challenge knows that preparing a plan that they stick to is the key to success. 

Identify the answer choice that best improves the underlined portion of the sentence. 

Possible Answers:

preparing a plan that they stick to

preparing a plan and sticking to it

sticking to a plan 

preparing, and having that be a plan that they stick to

preparing a plan that he sticks to

Correct answer:

preparing a plan and sticking to it

Explanation:

In this sentence, the subject is "anyone," a singular pronoun. Therefore, all pronouns relating back to "anyone" should be singular. In the underlined portion of the sentence, "preparing a plan that they stick to," "they" is plural, not singular. Now that we have identified the problem, we have to figure out how to correct it.

Given that "anyone" is gender neutral, the best way to improve this sentence is avoid the use of a gendered pronoun (meaning "he" or "she") and simply avoid using a pronoun at all. The correct answer, "preparing a plan and sticking to it," accomplishes this objective and is therefore the best way to improve the sentence.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

Just as they finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happily.

Possible Answers:

Just as he finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happily.

Just as he finished work for the day, his lost green helmet was found by the worker, who made his way home happily.

Just as he finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happy.

Just as they finished work for the day, the worker finds his lost green helmet and made his way home happily.

Just as they finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happily.

Correct answer:

Just as he finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happily.

Explanation:

The original sentence contains an error in noun-pronoun agreement: the plural possessive pronoun "their" is used to refer to "the worker," a singular noun. We need to use a singular possessive pronoun to refer to a singular noun, and our choices in this case are "his," "her," and "its." One doesn't use "its" to refer to people, and while "the worker" is not a gendered noun, we can tell that the worker being described in the sentence is male because of the use of the possessive pronoun "his" in the phrases "his lost green helmet" and "made his way home happily." For the sentence to be correct, we need to replace "their" with "his," so the correct answer is "Just as he finished work for the day, the worker found his lost green helmet and made his way home happily."

Example Question #5 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Although the basketball team used their star players, the match was lost.

Possible Answers:

Although the basketball team used its star players

Although the basketball team used their star players

The basketball team used their star players

The basketball team used its star players, although

Although the star players were used by the basketball team

Correct answer:

Although the basketball team used its star players

Explanation:

Choose a pronoun that properly agrees with the subject. In this case, "basketball team" is singular, although it represents a group of people, and should be accompanied with "its," instead of "their."

Example Question #6 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices repeats the underlined portion as it is written.

A student should always have access to their notes.

Possible Answers:

they're notes

it's notes

its notes

his or her notes

one's notes

Correct answer:

his or her notes

Explanation:

Whenever a sentence refers to a person of unknown gender and a singular possessive pronoun is required that refers to that person, one typically includes both the masculine and the feminine possessive pronouns in the phrase "his or her." In this case, "his or her" is a better choice than "their" because "student" is a singular noun, and "their," which is a plural pronoun, does not agree with it in number. Considering the other potential answer choices, "they're" is the contraction of "they are," which would not make sense in the sentence, "it's" is the contraction of "it is," which wouldn't make sense in the sentence either, and "its" is the possessive form of the pronoun "it," which is not used to refer to a person. So, none of those answer choices can be correct.

Example Question #11 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Most books printed before the nineteenth century, even ones that have been carefully preserved, contain materials that cause it to decay.

Possible Answers:

that causes them to decay

that can cause it to decay

that causes it to decay

that cause it to decay

that cause them to decay

Correct answer:

that cause them to decay

Explanation:

The original text contains a pronoun agreement error. The intended antecedent of the pronoun "it" is supposed to be "books," which is plural and would therefore require the plural pronoun "them" instead of the singular pronoun "it."

The only answer choices that contain "them" instead of "it" are "that cause them to decay" and "that causes them to decay." The answer choice with "causes," however, uses this singular verb with a plural subject, "materials," and is therefore incorrect.

Example Question #2 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The community is currently accepting nominations for the award, which will be given to the person who has most significantly transformed the world through their charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

Possible Answers:

the person that has most significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

the person who most significantly transformed the world through their charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

the person who has most significantly transformed the world through their charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

the person that significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

the person who has most significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

Correct answer:

the person who has most significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries.

Explanation:

The original text "the person who has most significantly transformed the world through their charitable actions or scientific discoveries" and the answer choice "the person who most significantly transformed the world through their charitable actions or scientific discoveries" contain pronoun agreement errors because they incorrectly use the plural pronoun "their" to refer to the singular noun "person."

The answer choices "the person that has most significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries" and "the person that significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries" are incorrect because they use "that" to refer to a person, when "who" or "whom" should be used when referring to a person. (Remember to use "that" only when referring to non-human living things or objects.)

The answer choice "the person who has most significantly transformed the world through his or her charitable actions or scientific discoveries" is correct because it is the only answer choice that correctly uses "who" and the singular pronoun "his or her" to match the singular noun "person."

Example Question #9 : Correcting Pronoun Antecedent Agreement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Mitchell was one of the first members of corporate to realize that employees are most productive when he or she feels to be part of a team.

Possible Answers:

he or she feels part of a team

it's more like a team for them

they feel as if they are part of a team

he or she feels to be part of a team

feeling part of a team is made possible

Correct answer:

they feel as if they are part of a team

Explanation:

The pronoun refers to employees, so the pronoun should be plural rather than the singular he or she.

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