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 #41 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

The Common Good: The United Aim of Many” [18]

Among the many topics that are misunderstood [16] in political science, and political philosophy, the notion of the “common good” ranks foremost. Often, we think of the common good as being nothing more than getting “the most things for the most people.” For example, when a person makes multiple millions of dollars, people will often say, [17] “He should give back some of that money, for the sake of the common good.” Whether or not such people [18] should do this with his money, this is really an improper use of the expression the common good.

A better way to understand the common good is to think about common ends or common goals. An example will help to explain this. Think of a group of musicians on a stage. If all of these people came together to practice in the same room, we wouldn’t call them a symphony. [19] A mass of people just playing any music whatsoever are not a symphony. A symphony is an organized group; a mass of people is just a mass of people. Nothing physically differs regarding the mass of people and the symphony. [20] They are both made up of the same “stuff,” namely a group of musicians.

However, a common good changes [21] this mass into something that they never could be without that common good. [22] When these musicians come together to play the Dies Irae of Mozart, they become something that they never were as individuals.  Each member of the group uses his or her personal skill for the sake of a new, common performance. Perhaps the tuba player loves to play loudly.  Perhaps the lead violinist loves playing quickly.  These preferences must be channeled and limited for the sake of the common enterprise of playing Mozart’s stirring piece of music. [23] The desires of the individual instrumentalists, whom play the music, no longer reigns supreme.

The common good unites this group. If you were to ask the tuba player, what are you doing, he would answer, “Taking part in the symphonic playing of the Dies Irae.” [24] Then, if you were to ask any other musician the same question, he or she would answer in the same way. The answer would not be, “playing the Dies Irae my way.” If that were the answer, the musician would not be part of the symphony. He or she would be doing something private, not something that is truly common.

How should underlined selection [18] be changed?

Possible Answers:

should do this with their money

should do that with his money

should do this with his or her money

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

should do this with their money

Explanation:

For this question, look to the whole clause in which this selection is contained:

"Whether or not such people should do this with his money..."

The subject is "such people." This is a plural subject, so it requires a plural pronoun. The problem is that "his" is singular. Now, even "his or her" is also singular because of the or. It is only one or the other—not both. Therefore, you need to replace the word "his" with "their."

Example Question #42 : Pronoun Antecedent Number Errors

“John Adams—A Forgotten American Founder”

Sadly, the great exploits of important [46] men and women is often forgotten in the mists of history. The myths and historical tales of a nation can lead the people to forget [47] some of their most important founders and national heroes. In the United States of America, this kind of forgetfulness has occurred in the case of the Founding Father, John Adams. For a number of reasons, President Adams [48] had been forgotten. Recounting the [49] tales of the nations’ founding, many remember figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. [50] However, during those early years of the republic, Adams was a pivotal figure in assuring independence to the burgeoning nation.

[51] During the debates concerning the Declaration of Independence, Adams was something of a “chief orator,” tirelessly attempting to convince the gathered parties of the importance of declaring independence from England. [52] Adams a temperamental and passionate man, was the perfect person to fill such a role. In contrast to the judicious Franklin and the controlled and quiet Jefferson, he was fit for performing such oratorical shows and bombasts. [53] Although he joined Jefferson and Franklin on the drafting committee for the declaration, his most important work during this time was arguably this long project of oratory.

[54] In addition, many forget the lonely years Adams spent as a minister to France and as the first minister to England. What a difficult affair such posts would have been at the time. [55] As the minister to France, what weight could he have had with the court of such an old European nation? Furthermore, Adams [56] was not temperamentally [57] suited for French courtly customs being a stern and somewhat moralistic man. [58] Then, to be sent to England—how difficult that must have been. As the minister on behalf of a once-rebel nation, how could he stand before the Court of King James? Nevertheless, Adams served his [59] post nobly and deserves great recognition for this devoted service to his young nation.

Choose the answer that best corrects section [47].

Possible Answers:

it's most important

there most important

NO CHANGE

its most important

Correct answer:

its most important

Explanation:

Start by looking for the antecedent that is supposed to correspond with "their." It is "the people." Now, while people is a plural noun, it can also represent a singular subject. You can talk about all "the people" as though they were a group. Thus, what is made up of many individuals becomes a single subject. Hence, it is better to speak of the people as "it." Therefore, the people tend to forget its founders.  (Note the format. The form it's is a contraction of it is, not the possessive form of it.) 

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