ACT English : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #241 : Pronoun 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:

NO CHANGE

pioneers, people that

pioneers—people that

pioneers—people who

Correct answer:

pioneers—people who

Explanation:

"NO CHANGE" and "pioneers. People that" are incorrect because the clause, “People that left their homes to open up the wilderness and make the way clear for others to follow them,” is a dependent clause lacking a subject (forefathers).

"pioneers—people that" is incorrect because the pronoun “that” is impersonal, while pioneers are people. The personal pronoun “who” is most appropriate here.

Example Question #12 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

When the patent on Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary invention, the telephone, expired in 1894 thousands of new firms entered the telecommunication industry. Among them were a collection of profitable companies that merged to form what would later become known as The Bell System. The Bell System had amassed such weight in the industry that in 1933, when Congress passed a law declaring phone service a public utility, the Bell System quickly transformed into a monopoly. Lawmakers enthusiastic supported a series of provisions intended to stimulate competition. Appointed as the nation’s sole provider of telecommunication services, widespread criticism about the Bell System began to surface

The Federal Communications Act has so far been highly effective and the industry has grown tremendously as a result. In fact, for the past three years, the profitability of the largest three telecommunication companies has been greater than the largest three automotive companies. The number of calls provided by the top three companies range from five billion to six billion per day. Today, virtually everyone has made a phone call over the course of their lives. Most people do not know, however, that payment for swaths of electromagnetic wavelengths have become commonplace.

One explanation for such high call volume and large profits is that calls are becoming much less expensive for companies to provide, regardless for many large fixed expenses such as communication towers, base stations, and paying for utility poles. Over the last century, telephones had become an important part of modern society. In fact, the cost of delivering one telephone call today is about a thousandth of the cost in the 1950s. The increasing affordability and abundance of phone calls mark the progress made since the time of Alexander Graham Bell and the Bell System.

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:

enthusiasm

enthusiastically

NO CHANGE

enthused

Correct answer:

enthusiastically

Explanation:

The underlined word modifies the verb "supported", so we need to replace the underlined word with an adverb, the linguistic element used to modify verbs. The correct answer is "enthusiastically" because it is the only adverb. Answer choices "enthusiastic" and "enthused" are incorrect because they are both adjectives and "enthusiasm" is incorrect because it is a noun.

Example Question #243 : Pronoun Usage Errors

As the class entered the museum, Ms. Johnson noticed that two of her students had fallen behind the group. After all of the tickets had been secured, she approached the two girls, saying: “what on Earth is causing you to go so slow?” The taller girl, whose name was Ashley, was the first to respond:

“Veronica and I were just discussing something very private. Nobody can hear what her and I are discussing.”

“Well, Ashley, I think that our tour guide, Dr. Mitchell, will be offended by your behavior. You and Veronica should find separate places in the group and you should pay attention to him and me.”

The two girls reluctantly joined the rest of the class. Ms. Johnson looked to see if another student was out of their place, but everything seemed to be in order. The tour guide, Dr. Mitchell, introduced himself to the class: 

“Hello everyone! My name is Dr. Mitchell. I’m so glad that you have all come to the Museum of Natural History today; I think you’ll really enjoy our exhibits, which have been curated with the utmost care. The museum has three distinct types of exhibitions. Permanent exhibitions, temporary exhibitions, and space shows. The permanent exhibition and the space show is always available for viewing, but the temporary exhibition changes seasonally.“

Having finished his introduction, the permanent exhibition was the first thing that Dr. Mitchell showed to the class.

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:

who's name was Ashley

NO CHANGE

which was named Ashley

none of the other answers

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The original text is correct. The name belongs to Ashley, so the relative pronoun "whose" is correct. "Who's" is short for "who is," which is a possesive pronoun. When expanded, it creates the following, "The taller girl, who is name was Ashley."

We can immediately identify this sentence as incorrect. What is required to link Ashley and her name is a relative, not a possesive pronoun. The word "which" is incorrect here, because we are referring to a person and should therefore use a pronoun that refers to a person, not an object.

Example Question #244 : Pronoun Usage Errors

As the class entered the museum, Ms. Johnson noticed that two of her students had fallen behind the group. After all of the tickets had been secured, she approached the two girls, saying: “what on Earth is causing you to go so slow?” The taller girl, whose name was Ashley, was the first to respond:

“Veronica and I were just discussing something very private. Nobody can hear what her and I are discussing.”

“Well, Ashley, I think that our tour guide, Dr. Mitchell, will be offended by your behavior. You and Veronica should find separate places in the group and you should pay attention to him and me.”

The two girls reluctantly joined the rest of the class. Ms. Johnson looked to see if another student was out of their place, but everything seemed to be in order. The tour guide, Dr. Mitchell, introduced himself to the class: 

“Hello everyone! My name is Dr. Mitchell. I’m so glad that you have all come to the Museum of Natural History today; I think you’ll really enjoy our exhibits, which have been curated with the utmost care. The museum has three distinct types of exhibitions. Permanent exhibitions, temporary exhibitions, and space shows. The permanent exhibition and the space show is always available for viewing, but the temporary exhibition changes seasonally.“

Having finished his introduction, the permanent exhibition was the first thing that Dr. Mitchell showed to the class.

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:

our exhibits, that have been curated

NO CHANGE

our exhibits, who have been curated

our exhibits which have been curated

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The element need to connect "our exhibits" and "have been curated" is a relative pronoun. While "that" may work as a relative pronoun here (i.e. our exhibits that have been curated"), it would alter the meaning of the sentence slightly, suggesting that only some exhibits have been curated with the utmost care and that those are the ones the students will enjoy; furthermore, that does not require a comma and therefore the answer including the relative pronoun "that" incorrect. "Which," on the other hand, always require a comma before it, which is why the original text is correct and requires no change.

Example Question #12 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

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

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

What is the antecedent of the bolded relative pronoun “who”?

Possible Answers:

others

envy

objects

These

Correct answer:

others

Explanation:

A reordering of the sentence can help to make this answer more obvious.  It would make just as much sense to say, "But others, who dignify their paltry employments...with pompous titles..., are objects of envy."  It is the subject that is being qualified by the relative pronoun.

Example Question #16 : Relative Pronoun Usage Errors

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

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

What is the antecedent of the bolded relative pronoun “who”?

Possible Answers:

vanity

this

pleasure

man

Correct answer:

man

Explanation:

The author is using a kind of parallelism.  This could be represented:

The man...

(1) "Who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this"

(2) "Who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise"

Therefore, the "who" qualifies "man."

Example Question #251 : Pronoun 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."

Jane Gooddall is a primatologist and anthropologist whom studied the social interactions of chimpanzees in Tanzania for over five decades.

Possible Answers:

which studied

who studied

NO CHANGE

and studied

that studied

Correct answer:

who studied

Explanation:

This sentence needs a relative pronoun to link the independent clause "Jane Gooddall is a primatologist and anthropologist" to the phrase "studied the social interactions of chimpanzees in Tanzania for over five decades" in order to make that phrase a relative clause. "Whom" is not correct in this sentence because it does not call for an objective pronoun. Instead, the pronoun "who" should be used because it is referring to the subject of the sentence and is personal (unlike "that" or "which").

Example Question #122 : Other Pronoun Errors

Adapted from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the most cordial manner. The lawn was the reception room, and for several minutes a lively scene was enacted there. Meg was grateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, was dressed with a simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, and who was much flattered by Mr. Ned's assurances that he came especially to see her. Jo understood why Laurie "primmed up his mouth" when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had a standoff-don't-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with the free and easy demeanor of the other girlsAmy found Grace a well-mannered, merry little person, and after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, they suddenly became very good friends.

Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on beforehand, the party was soon embarked, and the two boats pushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurence waving his hat on the shore. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best to upset both by paddling about in a wherry like a disturbed water bug. Jo's funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it was of general utility. It broke the ice in the beginning by producing a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to and fro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the whole party, if a shower came up, she said.

Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to face with the rowers, which both admired her and feathered their oars with uncommon skill and dexterity.

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

Possible Answers:

whom

NO CHANGE

who

with whom

in which

Correct answer:

who

Explanation:

"Which" refers to groups of things while "who" and sometimes "that" are used in reference to people. Since the word "both" refers to the rowers in the sentence, we understand that the author is referring to people. The pronoun "whom" is in objective case, while "who" is properly used here in its subjective case. 

Example Question #981 : Word Usage Errors

Select the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the sentence is correct as is, select "NO CHANGE."

The concerto contest is an annual event where students compete to perform a solo with the city philharmonic.

Possible Answers:

an annual event who

an annual event which

NO CHANGE

an annual event in which

an annual event that

Correct answer:

an annual event in which

Explanation:

The word "where" refers to a place and should be functioning as a relative pronoun in the sentence. The sentence is trying to describe what the concerto competition is, not where it takes place. It also needs to be a prepositional phrase ("in which").

Example Question #124 : Other Pronoun Errors

Passage adapted from Theodore Roosevelt, "Dante and the Bowery," in History as Literature and Other Essays (1913)

It is the conventional thing to praise Dante because he purposely "used the language of the marketplace," so as to be understood by the common people; but we do not in practice either admire or understand a man which writes in the language of our own marketplace. It must be the Florentine marketplace of the thirteenth century—not Fulton Market of today. What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery! Of course, he could have done it only because not merely he himself, the great poet, but his audience also, would have accepted it as natural. The nineteenth century was more apt than the thirteenth to boast of itself as being the greatest of the centuries; but, except in regard to purely material objects, ranging from locomotives to bank buildings, it did not wholly believe in its boasting. A nineteenth-century poet, when trying to illustrate some point he was making, obviously felt uncomfortable in mentioning nineteenth-century heroes if he also referred to those of classic times, lest he should be suspected of instituting comparisons between them. A thirteenth-century poet was not in the least troubled by any such misgivings, and quite simply illustrated his point by allusions to any character in history or romance, ancient or contemporary, that happened to occur to him.

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

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

understand a man, that writes in the language of our own marketplace

understand a man whom writes in the language of our own marketplace

understand a man who writes in the language of our own marketplace

Correct answer:

understand a man who writes in the language of our own marketplace

Explanation:

The underlined portion of the passage includes a restrictive relative clause which modifies the noun "man" by giving you more essential information about what he, as the subject of the relative clause, does. You should not place commas around restrictive relative clauses, which are part of identifying--not just describing--a noun or pronoun.

The subject relative pronouns for humans are "who" and "that," but in this case, the answer choice with "that" has a comma incorrectly inserted before the relative clause.  

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