Pronoun Case on ACT English | Rules, Tips, Strategies

Pronoun-Case-ACT-English-rules-tips-strategies

Pronoun Case on ACT English | Rules, Tips, Strategies

pronoun-case-act-english-rules-tips-strategies

Pronoun case is a grammar rule that is most frequently broken in spoken English. This might be a curious piece of trivia, but how does this affect you?

The most important point for you is that questions that test your knowledge of pronoun case frequently appear on the ACT and if you are aiming for a composite score of 30+ you should be ready to confidently answer any pronoun case question the ACT might throw at you.

In this article, we will discuss the difference between a subject and an object; provide you with clear understanding of pronoun case; and suggest strategies that can help you quickly and correctly answer pronoun case questions.

What is a Pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. The noun to which the pronoun refers to is called its antecedent. Clear antecedents must be present at all times; pronouns must be consistent; and pronouns and antecedents must match in number and in person. Pronoun examples include: I, he, she, him, her, we, us, you, they, and their.

If you need more clarity, read our article on pronoun-antecedent agreement.

What is a Pronoun Case?

Pronoun Case on ACT English

Pronoun case refers to whether the pronoun is being used as a subject or an object.  

What is a Subject?

A subject is a noun that corresponds to the verb in the sentence. In a sentence where there’s action, the subject is the noun that is doing the action.  

Example:         My dog jumped up.

“My dog” is a subject because he is the one doing the jumping.

In the sentence where there’s description, the subject is the noun being described.

Example:         My dog is a Golden Retriever.

“My dog” is a subject because he is the one that is a Golden Retriever.

What is an Object?

Pronoun Case on ACT English

An object is a noun that receives an action.  An object case can be a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of preposition.  

Example:         I opened the book.

“The book” is a direct object because it received an action – it is what I opened.  Let’s look at a sentence with an indirect object.

An indirect object comes before the direct object and indicates to whom or for whom the action is done and who is receiving the direct object.

Example:         John read his nephew an exciting story.

“Nephew” is an indirect object because he is for whom John read a story.

Let’s look at a sentence with an object of preposition.

Example:         My dog jumped over the fence.

The fence is the object because it is what the dog jumped over. An object of a preposition always follows a preposition – in this case, the preposition is the word “over.”

If you are confused about the distinction between a direct and an indirect object, remember – an object receives the action either directly or indirectly.

Subject Pronouns Vs. Object Pronouns

If a noun is being used as a subject, the noun can be replaced by a subject pronoun.

If a noun is being used as an object, the noun can be replaced by a object pronoun.

Subject Pronouns

Pronoun Case on ACT English

  Singular Plural
1st person I We
2nd person You You
3rd person He/She/It/One They

 

Object Pronouns

Pronoun Case on ACT English

  Singular Plural
1st person Me Us
2nd person You You
3rd person Him/Her/It/One Them

Pronoun Case on ACT English

The ACT tests whether you should use a subject or an object pronoun. You should expect to be tested on the following subject vs. object pairs.

  • I vs. Me
  • She, He vs. Her, Him 
  • We vs. Us 
  • They vs. Them

Let’s talk about the steps you should take to decide if an object or a subject pronoun is appropriate in a given sentence.

ACT English Strategy

Pronoun Case on ACT English

Example:         John borrowed Tara’s notebook.

If we want to replace “John” with a pronoun, we first need to determine if John is a subject or an object of the sentence. John is the subject because he did the borrowing. Because he did the action, we must replace “John” with a subject pronoun. We get the following sentence.

Example:         He borrowed Tara’s notebook.

You can’t replace John with an object pronoun because the sentence would incorrectly read, “Him borrowed Tara’s notebook.” This sentence has a pronoun case error.

Now, using the same sentence, we will go through the same process and discuss usage of an object pronoun.

Example:         John borrowed Tara’s notebook.

To replace “Tara” with a pronoun, we have to first determine if Tara is a subject or an object of the sentence. Tara is the object because she is the one the notebook was borrowed from. After replacing Tara with a pronoun, the sentence should read like this:

Example:         John borrowed her notebook.

If we made a pronoun case error when replacing Tara with a pronoun, the sentence would incorrectly read, “John borrowed she notebook.”

To summarize: Subjects do actions. Objects receive actions. This rule seems relatively simple, right? The only issue is that the ACT likes to complicate the simplest sentences and really test your understanding of a grammar rule. Pronoun case questions become much more difficult in sentences with compound subjects and compound objects.

The Same Rules Apply for Compound Subjects and Compound Objects

Pronoun Case on ACT English

Compound subjects and objects just mean that two nouns are connected by “and.” In a sentence with a compound subject, two nouns serve as a subject, while in the sentence with a compound object, there are two objects of the same verb. Let’s look at an example:

Example:         John and Jane met at the arcade.

Here, “John” and “Jane” are the subject. They are the people that did the action, i.e. the meeting. Let’s replace “Jane” with a pronoun. We know that “Jane” is the subject, so we have to replace Jane with the subject pronoun. The new sentence would read:

Example:         John and she met at the arcade.

This sentence might sound awkward to you, but it is grammatically correct. Most people would use an object pronoun “her” and write, “John and her met at the arcade,” but that would be a pronoun case error.

The Same Rules Apply for Compound Subjects and Compound Objects (cont’d)

If I was Jane, then replacing “Jane” with a subject pronoun would read:

Example:         John and I met at the arcade.

Rule: Always rely on grammar rules not on what “sounds right.”

Let’s use the same process with another example:

Example:         The tour guide gave a map to Kate and Jane.

If we replace “Jane” with a pronoun, we must first determine if “Kate” and “Jane” is a subject or an object of the sentence. They received the action. They were offered a map. Also, they follow a preposition “to” which makes them the object of the preposition. They are objects; therefore, we have to replace “Jane” with an object pronoun.

Example:         The tour guide gave a map to Kate and her.

As in the previous example (about subject pronouns), if I was Jane, then the sentence would read:

Example:         The tour guide gave a map to Kate and me.

Many people think that “Kate and I” is the correct phrase for this sentence, but that usage would be a pronoun case error. “I” can only be used as a subject and “me” can only be used as an object.

One of the reasons the ACT tends to use compound subjects or objects in questions that test pronoun case because the correct answer often sounds wrong to us. So, let’s talk about a strategy that can help us identify pronoun case errors in sentences with compound subjects and compound objects more easily.

ACT English Strategy

Pronoun Case on ACT English

Whenever you see a sentence with a compound object/subject and are confused about which pronoun would be correct, cross out the other noun and “and.” The sentence should still be grammatically correct.

Example:         The tour guide gave a map to Kate and me.

This sentence sounds much less awkward. If you saw a sentence that read “The tour guide gave a map to I,” you would probably be able to identify the error.

You can do the same thing to a sentence with a compound subject: cross the other noun, “and,” and also change the verb from plural to singular (due to subject-verb agreement). Sometimes singular and plural form of the verb is the same.

Incorrect:        John and her met at the arcade.

Crossing out “John and,” we are left with:

Incorrect:        John and her met at the arcade.

Looking at this sentence, you can probably tell there is an error, but let’s use the rules. In this sentence, is “her” a subject or an object? It’s a subject because she was doing the action of meeting. Therefore, we must use a subject pronoun. After plugging the appropriate subject pronoun into the original sentence, we are get the following sentence:

Correct:           John and she met at the arcade.

Let’s apply these rules to a real ACT example:

·      ACT English Example

Pronoun-Case-ACT-English-rules-tips-strategies

Pronoun-Case-ACT-English-rules-tips-strategies

Looking at this question, how do we determine if there is a pronoun case error? Let’s use our strategy and cross out “and her cousin.” We are left with “her had staged.” Does that look right? Second, let’s determine if “her” is a subject or the object. “Her” should be a subject because she is doing the action of staging the photographs. We can definitively tell that the pronoun should be “she.” Plugging “and her cousin” back into the sentence, we have “she and her cousin had staged. The correct answer is C.

Who vs. Whom

Sometimes, the ACT will test you on the usage of “who” vs. “whom” in a sentence. These words are known as relative pronouns. Most people have no idea when and how to correctly use “who” and “whom,” but the rule is pretty simple. “Who” is a subject pronoun and “whom” is an object pronoun.  

Here is a strategy to make your life easier when it comes to answering “who” and “whom” questions on the ACT English.

ACT English Strategy

For the purpose of determining proper pronoun case, “who” and “whom” function like “she” and “her” (or like “he” and “him”). The word “who” is a subject pronoun and “whom” is an object pronoun. To determine if there is a pronoun case error, replace “who” with “she” and “whom” with “her.” If the antecedent is plural, replace “who” with “they” and “whom” with “them.” If the original sentence does not contain a pronoun case error, then the original sentence should be correct.

Let’s look at an example:

Example:        The girl, whom I know well, ran past me with flowers in her arms.

In this sentence, the clause “whom” states that “I know the girl.” Because “whom” modifies “the girl,” we can replace “the girl” with “her.” If “whom” is being used correctly, the resulting sentence should be grammatically correct. After replacing “the girl” with the pronoun, we have, “I know her.” This is correct because the word “her” is an object pronoun and is receiving the action in the sentence.

ACT English Strategy (cont’d)

Here’s another example:

Example:         The man, who had emerged from a winding staircase, was sharply looking at the strangers.

In this example, the word “who” modifies the man that emerged from a staircase. If we replace “who” with a subject pronoun “he,” we get: “he had emerged from a winding staircase” which tells us that “he” is being properly used as s subject. Therefore, “who” is being used correctly and there is no pronoun case error.

The previous two examples had singular antecedents (the man, the girl). Let’s look at an example with a plural antecedent.

Example:         At the park, he met two people, one of whom he knew.

Here, the word “whom” modifies the people. People is a plural antecedent, so we can replace “whom” with “them.” If the word “them” can be properly used as an object, then the usage of “whom” is correct.

Let’s take what we’ve learned in this section and apply it to a real ACT example.

·      ACT English Example

Pronoun-Case-ACT-English-rules-tips-strategies

Pronoun-Case-ACT-English-rules-tips-strategies

In this question, we have the phrase “friends whom had died.” The pronoun “whom” refers to “friends”. The noun “friends” is plural, and “whom” is an object pronoun. If we replace “friends whom” with “them” we get “them had died” which is incorrect – the pronoun should be in the subject form. The correct usage is “they had died” because they did the action of dying. Therefore, we must use the subject form of the relative pronoun – “who.” The correct answer is B.

Summary: ACT English Strategies

#1. If Pronoun is underlined, check to see if there is a Pronoun Case Error.

#2. Determine if the Pronoun is Being Used as a Subject or Object

If the pronoun being described is doing the action, then it’s a subject. If the pronoun is receiving the action, it’s an object. Use subject pronouns for subjects and object pronouns for objects. If necessary, use the replacement strategy to determine if a noun is a subject or an object of the sentence.

#3. Apply the Same Rules for Compound Subjects and Compound Objects.

If a compound subject or object is underlined, determine if there is a pronoun case error by getting rid of one of the one of the nouns and the word “and” and checking if the sentence makes sense. For example, change “Alex and I went to a magic show” to “Alex went to a magic show” or “I went to a magic show.” Both are correct, so use the cross out strategy to determine if there is a pronoun case error whenever you see a compound subject or compound object question on the ACT. For subject pronouns, remember to also change the verb from singular to plural.

#4. If a Pronoun Follows a Preposition, It Is an Object Pronoun.

Pronouns that follow prepositions such as “to,” “for,” or “between,” should be in the object case.

#5. Use Replacement Strategy with Who vs. Whom

If you are trying to determine whether who vs. whom should be used, replace “who” with “he” or “she” for singular antecedents and “who” with “they” for plural antecedents. Similarly, replace “whom” with “him” or “her” for singular antecedents and “them” for plural antecedents.

Next Steps

Do you know how to determine when you should take the ACT? If not, read our article about taking the ACT for the first time.

Are you feeling confident about ACT English, but are struggling with ACT Reading? Learn the strategies for ACT Reading section.

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