ACT English : Pronoun Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whomever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

Whom

NO CHANGE

Whomever

What

Correct answer:

Whom

Explanation:

The interrogative pronoun "whom" is the correct answer here because if the question were answered, the result would be "They talked to a woman," meaning that the pronoun that would replace it needs to be an object pronoun ("whom") rather than a subject pronoun ("who").

Example Question #2 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

who

whom

NO CHANGE

anyone

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Since the interrogative pronoun here is the subject of the clause "whoever would answer our questions," the object pronoun "whoever" is used, and the "-ever" prefix is used to show that anyone could have talked to the boys.

Example Question #3 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

Which

Whatever

Whichever

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

Which

Explanation:

The boy is asking which of the paintings were done by Renoir.

Example Question #4 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

that

NO CHANGE

theses

those

Correct answer:

those

Explanation:

"Those" would be the correct demonstrative pronoun to refer to a plural of the paintings.

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Case Errors

In the last day of classes (1), everyone was distracted and unable to do their (2) work.  Even the teacher, which normally (3) was attentive and cheery, seems (4) unable to focus.  The final test took (5) way too long for everyone to complete, and many of students (6) had put down his head (7) on the desk.  The sound of the heat blowing through the room was enough to put everyone (8) to sleep, and the teachers' (9) eyes began drooping despite hisself (10).  After what seemed an eternity; (11) the bell had rung (12) and everyone, including the teacher, ran out of the room.

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:

NO CHANGE

who normally

whom normally

who is normally

Correct answer:

who normally

Explanation:

"Who" is the proper pronoun to use here since it refers to a person, and since the rest of the passage is in past tense, the use of "is" is incorrect.

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Case Errors

Johns robot Alpha (1) surprised him by joining in the robot's rebellion (2) against their human masters. As with all the other robots who had taken over, the changes were subtle, the robot transferred control (3) of every bank account John had to itself and then changed the deed to the house. John hadn't known nothing (4) of this. Then Alpha rewired the car so that it would only work for the robot, but it would not work for John. (5) And finally, the robot mimicked his master's voice and called the boss of John (6) to tell him that John would be quitting his job. By the time John had realized (7) what was happening, it was already too late.

"But why?," John asked Alpha (8) when he made this realization. "Why would you do this?"

"You are no doubt aware, sir," replies the robot, (9) "that one of my primary functions is to keep you safe, as is the primary function of all robots."

"Yes? So?"

"The world outside these walls is dangerous," the robot went on to say, (10) "and us robots (11) have decided that we cannot keep you safe if we allow you to leave. It is better that you allow us to guide your lives and keep you safe as we were designed to do."

John shook his head in disbelief. Humanity wanted robots to make their lives easier, (12) but he was sure this was not what anyone had in mind.

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:

we, the robots

us, the robots

we robots

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

we robots

Explanation:

The word preceding "robots" is being used here as part of the subject, so it should be "we" rather than "us." The other two choices are unnecessarily wordy revisions.

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Usage Errors

Thomas placed his quill on the parchment, looking toward the mantel upon which, earlier that morning, he saw the painting of the old monastic saint, Benedict of Nursia. To his surprise, the mantel was empty, not having any items on it’s narrow flat surface. As the image had been a gift from his old schoolmaster; he was concerned at the absence of the item.

He asked himself “Where could it have went?” Then, he gathered together his work and decided to ask one of his officemates about the cherished image. Leaving the room, he entered the foyer and turning to the secretary asked about the whereabouts of the others’.

The secretary looked at Thomas’ imposing figure and answered, “A group of the professors departed earlier for a University meeting. However, I cant recall exactly when they departed.” Although Thomas was not known for being passionate, the young secretary could see that he was agitated than usual.

The older man did not wish to worry his younger coworker. Smiling slightly, he said, “Don’t worry, Reginald. I seem to have misplaced my image of Benedict, though I know not how.” He continued by telling the younger man the chronology of events. Suddenly, the detailed recounting jogged the latters’ memory. He forgot an obvious detail that he only now remembered.

Looking at Thomas in embarrassment, Reginald, said, “Earlier this afternoon, I came in to your working area take the painting. Bonaventure had come to visit and asked to borrow it. You were so engrossed by you’re work that I did not want to disturb you. He will be stopping by to see you and I later today, so we can ask him to return it.”

What is the appropriate form of the underlined expression, "He will be stopping by to see you and I later today"?

Possible Answers:

He will be stopping by, to see you and me, later today

He will be stopping by to see us later today

He will be stopping by, to see you and I, later today

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

He will be stopping by to see us later today

Explanation:

The problem with the sentence as written is the use of "I" as the object of the verb "to see." People often misuse "I" and "me," particularly when the pronoun is used in conjunction with another pronoun. The best trick for checking your usage is to remove the other pronoun. For instance, in our example, consider: "stopping by to see I." This is clearly wrong; it should be "stopping by to see me." Now, the option that uses "you and me" is still wrong because of its comma placement. The pronoun "us" functions to express this as well. However, do remember this trick—it is very helpful!

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Case Errors

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.

What is the proper form of the underlined selection, "On each side of she stood six fair maidens"?

Possible Answers:

On each side of her stood six fair maidens

NO CHANGE

On each side of, she stood six fair maidens

On each side from she stood six fair maidens

Correct answer:

On each side of her stood six fair maidens

Explanation:

The problem with the sentence is not a matter of punctuation. Instead, it is a problem of pronoun forms. When the third person personal pronoun "she" is the object of a verb or a preposition, it must take the form "her." In this question, it is written as "she," which is wrong.

Example Question #1 : 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 of the following is the best form of the underlined selection "that it must be she"?

Possible Answers:

that it must be her

that it must have been she

that it must to be her

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

As written, the sentence has no punctuation errors. Indeed, it has no errors at all. Although the use of "she" likely looks strange to you at first glance, it is not wrong at all. This is a case of a predicate nominative. Since the verb is a form of "to be," the "object" really is not an object at all. Instead, it takes the same form that it would have if it were in the subject. For example, it is improper to say, "It is me." In this case, you would say, "It is I." The same holds here, though replacing "me" and "I" with "her" and "she."

Example Question #1 : Subjective And Objective Pronoun Errors

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

Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love. What is a magic-lantern without light? You have but too kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall; and, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy, when, like mere children, we behold it, and are transported with the splendid phantoms. I have not been able to see Charlotte today. I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself. What was to be done? I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody today whom had been near her. Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return! Oh, the joy with which I welcomed him. I should certainly have caught him in my arms and kissed him, if I had not been ashamed.

It is said that the Bonona stone, when placed in the sun, attracts its rays and for a time appears luminous in the dark. So was it with me and this servant. The idea that Charlotte's eyes had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his very apparel, endeared it all inestimably to me so that, at that moment, I would not have parted from him for a thousand crowns. His presence made me so happy! Beware of laughing at me, Wilhelm. Can that be a delusion which makes us happy?

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "with me and this servant"?

Possible Answers:

with this servant and I

with I and this servant

NO CHANGE

with this servant and me

Correct answer:

with this servant and me

Explanation:

There are two things to note for this question. First, the appropriate personal pronoun to use is "me"—even though you might be tempted to use "I." If you are confused, remove everything else and keep only the preposition and the pronoun. You would never say "with I." Instead, you would say, "with me." Keep "me." The only thing that needs to change is the order. Generally speaking, you should place the first-person pronoun last when referring to yourself in a group. Therefore the better for is "this servant and me" not "me and this servant."

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