The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English


The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

Every word in the English language can be placed into 8 distinct categories collectively known as “parts of speech.” 7 of the parts of speech are tested on ACT English and SAT Writing. Ability to understand and use the different parts of speech is not only necessary for strong English grammar, it is essential to succeeding on the SAT and/or ACT.

Do you know what is a preposition or a conjunction? Can you tell the difference between an adjective and adverb? In this article, we will discuss the English grammar you need to know before moving on to the more complex concepts tested on the ACT English section.


How You Should Use This Guide?

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

This guide is designed to help you review the basics before you attempt our more complex ACT grammar guides. If you’ve studied grammar in school, you will already know many of the concepts described here. If you haven’t, many may seem natural to you (especially if you are a native English speaker). Regardless of whether you have or haven’t studied grammar, you can use this as a reference to understanding the basic rules or to remind yourself of what something means.


Many of the concepts discussed here are not directly tested on the ACT and/or SAT. Instead, these concepts are the building blocks will help you understand the why behind the concepts that are tested. Therefore, don’t worry about memorizing the names of the grammar terms in this guide (no one is going to ask you for a definition of a noun), focus on understanding the concepts.


Parts of Speech Tested on ACT English and SAT Writing?

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

The seven parts of speech tested on the ACT English and SAT writing are: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions.



The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

Nouns are words that are used to identify people, places, things, or ideas.


Categories of Nouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

Common Nouns –

Refer to non-specific people, places, or things.

Example: cat, boy, city, university, or company.


Proper Nouns –

Refer to specific people, places, or things.

Example: Jessica, New York City, Golden Gate Bridge, Harvard University.


Concrete Nouns –

Refer to people places or things that you can physically touch.

Example: water, street, person, sidewalk.


Abstract Nouns –

Refer to thoughts, subjects, games, or ideas. These are things that cannot be touched.

Example: freedom, love, justice, chemistry, tennis.


Uses of Nouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

Nouns can serve different functions in a sentence. They can be used as a subject, predicate nominative, appositive, direct or indirect object, or object of the preposition. There are more uses of nouns, but because the ACT and SAT don’t test them, we will not discuss them here.


Note: Remember that it is not important to know the names of these functions. It is important to know how nouns can be used, so you can recognize when one is used incorrectly.




The subject of the sentence is the person or thing that is doing the action of the verb.

Example:         Mary went to the store.

Mary is the subject of the sentence because she is doing the action.


Predicate Nominative


A predicate nominative comes after a linking verb (see verb section for explanation) and re-states the subject of the sentence.


Example:         Mary is a great friend.

Mary is the subject. Friend is the predicate nominative. In this sentence Mary and friend are the same thing, or Mary=friend.




An appositive is a noun that re-states or gives more information about another noun in the sentence. Unlike a predicate nominative, it does not come after a linking verb. Instead, it is usually next to the noun it is describing and is set off by commas.


Because appositives are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, removing the appositive still results in a grammatically correct sentence.


Example:         My friend, Mary, is a wonderful person.


Here, Mary is an appositive because it gives more information about who the friend is. If you remove the appositive, the sentence still makes sense:  My friend is a wonderful person.


Direct Object


A Direct Object is a noun that receives the action of a transitive verb (see verb section for more information).


Example:         I got a perfect score on the ACT.


Ask yourself: What did I get? I got a score. Therefore, score is a direct object.


Indirect Object


Indirect object is a noun that receives the Direct object.


Example: I made Mary fudge brownies.


Ask yourself: What did I make? I made brownies. Therefore, brownies is a direct object.


Who received the brownies? Mary. Therefore, Mary is the indirect object


Object of a Preposition


All prepositional phrases, at a minimum, consist of a preposition and a noun. The noun that comes after a preposition is the object of a preposition.


Example:         I got a perfect score on the ACT.


Here, the preposition is on. On what? On the ACT. Therefore, ACT is the object of preposition.


How to Form Plural Nouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

This is another concept that is not directly tested by the SAT or the ACT, but every once in a while, you will need to recognize whether a noun is singular or plural in order to match it to a correct verb or establish possession.


Most nouns form plural forms by adding –s.


Examples:       dog + -s = dogs


key + -s = keys


If a noun ends in an –s, -x, -z, -sh, or –ch, add -es. This rule exists because it is very difficult to make these sounds followed by an –s, so to soften the sound, add –es.


Examples:        box + -es = boxes

bus + -es = buses

crunch + -es = crunches


If the last letter of the noun is a –y, replace the –y with –ies.


Examples:       baby à babies

fly à flies


Some nouns that end in –f or –fe form the plural by replacing –f/-fe with –ves.


Examples:       leaf à leaves

life à lives


Plurals of some nouns form irregularly. Unfortunately, there are no consistent rules for how to change these from singular to plural, so you just have to memorize them. The good news is that most of these words are common and you probably know them already.


Examples:        mouse à mice

man à men

child à children

goose à geese

foot à Feet


Some singular nouns don’t change in plural form.


Examples:        fruit à fruit

fish à fish

deer à deer


Remember: Never form a plural by adding ‘s (apostrophe +s). Apostrophes should only be used for showing possession.


How to Form Possessive Nouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

The possessive form shows ownership.


Example:         Mary’s; dog’s; baby’s


To form a possessive of a plural noun that ends in an –s, add the apostrophe to the end of the word.


Example:         purses, cats, tigers


To form a possessive of an irregular noun that does NOT end in an –s, add ‘s


Example:         children’s, men’s, mice’s


Special Types of Nouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

If you are already familiar with all of the noun forms described above, there are a few special types of nouns.




The gerund form, or the –ing form of a verb can be used as a noun if it has a helping verb.


Example:         Cooking is a fun hobby.

Here, cooking is a noun and is the subject of the sentence.




The infinitive form, or the “to” form, of a verb can be used as a noun.


Example:         She likes to run.

Here, to run is a direct object of the verb “likes,” therefore, it is being used as a noun.



The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

Pronouns are words that can replace nouns. Unlike nouns, pronouns have different cases, meaning that the pronoun form changes depending on its purpose in the sentence.

Unlike nouns (which can be used as a subject or several different kinds of objects), personal pronouns have one form when they are used as a subject and another form when used in any of the object functions (direct object, indirect object, or object of preposition).


HINT: This IS actually tested on the ACT.


Personal Pronouns


Nominative case (subject) Singular Plural


First Person


I We
Second Person You You


Third Person He / She / It They



The nominative case forms should be used ONLY when the personal pronoun is the subject of a clause.


Examples:        He and I went to the store.


Daniel and he are my best friends.


Many people say “Daniel and him”, but this is incorrect because “he” is the subject of the clause and, therefore, must be used in the nominative case. If you are not sure, try crossing out the other subject – “Daniel”. Would you say “him is my best friend”? No. So, ‘he’ is the correct form.


Example:         The winner of the competition was she.


A sentence like this does not sound correct to most people, but it is. Try placing the subject ‘she’ in the front of the sentence: She was the winner of the competition.


Objective case Singular Plural


First Person


Me Us
Second Person You You


Third Person Him / Her / It Them


The objective case pronouns should be used for direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions.


Examples:        He gave her and me wonderful presents.

He gave us wonderful presents.

The presentation will be given by Bob and me.


Non-personal Pronouns


Non-personal pronouns include: both, either, few, many, one, some, this, that, which, who. These pronouns do not change form between the nominative (subject) case and objective case. Some students mistakenly believe that these pronouns cannot stand on their own.


Examples:        I have two hobbies. Both are very exciting.

The tulip is beautiful. This is my favorite flower.

Many people went to explore the new continent. Only some returned.


The tricky part of using these pronouns with verbs is that it is not obvious whether the verbs are singular or plural. One good way of determining this is to add the word “one” after the pronoun. If the resulting sentence makes sense, the verb should be singular. If it doesn’t make sense, the verb should be plural.


Examples:        This (one) is my favorite.       CORRECT – singular

That (one) is my brother.        CORRECT – singular

Few (one) succeeds.               INCORRECT – plural


If adding “one” does not work, add “of them”. If the resulting sentence makes sense, the verb should be plural.


Examples:       Both (of them) are exciting     CORRECT – plural

Many (of them) try to get a perfect ACT score:         CORRECT – plural


How to Form Possessive Pronouns

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

The possessive forms of personal pronouns are:


  Singular Plural


First Person


mine ours
Second Person yours yours


Third Person his / hers / its theirs



Examples:        Hers is the chocolate desert.

That report card is yours.


Main Rules for Pronouns on the SAT and ACT

The Complete Guide to Parts of Speech on ACT English

The ACT and SAT both test pronouns frequently. Here is a list of types of questions you are likely to see on the tests.


Rule 1


Always make sure a pronoun has a clear antecedent (a noun that a pronoun is replacing). If there is no obvious antecedent for the pronoun either in the same sentence or in a very recent sentence, this is considered incorrect.


Example:         Emma and Nicole both like strawberries, but she likes them more.


This would be considered incorrect because it is not clear who ‘she’ is referring to. The antecedent should be very clear.


Rule 2


Pronouns should always be consistent. For example, if you are using third person pronouns in a sentence, you should use them all the way through the sentence. This is called pronoun agreement.




Incorrect:         Before one starts a new class, you should make sure to read the syllabus.

Correct:           Before one starts a new class, one should make sure to read the syllabus.

Correct:           Before you start a new class, you should make sure to read the syllabus.


Rule 3


Pronouns should always match their antecedents (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural).




Incorrect:         Several boys asked her out, but she didn’t like him.

Correct:           Several boys asked her out, but she didn’t like them.


Incorrect:         One of the students painted this mural. Art is a talent of theirs.

Correct:           One of the students painted this mural. Art is a talent of his or hers.


Incorrect:         Each of the women was considered beautiful when they were in their prime.

Correct:           Each of the women was considered beautiful when she was in her prime.




Verbs are words that show actions or states of being.


Types of Verbs


Linking verbs can be thought of as an equal sign because they show a relationship between the subject and predicate nominative or predicate adjective.


Examples:        I am a human being.   I = human being.

The food smells delicious.      Food = delicious.


Action verbs are verbs that show an action. Many (but not all of them) will be paired with a direct object.


Examples:        The car rolled downhill.

I saw a breathtaking view.


Conjugating Verbs


Most verbs follow a simple pattern in the present tense:


Present Tense Singular Plural


First Person


(I) walk (we) walk
Second Person (you) walk (you) walk


Third Person (he/she/it) walks (they) walk



Notice that only the third person singular is different. This is VERY important on the ACT and SAT because of …


Subject-Verb Agreement


When the subject of the clause is a singular noun or pronoun, it must be matched with a singular verb. When the subject of the clause is a plural noun or pronoun, it must be matched with a plural verb.


Theoretically, subject-verb agreement seems simple, the SAT and ACT will try to trick you by adding extra words and phrases between the subject and the verb in the sentence making it difficult to determine if the verb agrees with the subject or another noun in the sentence.


Example:         My sister, despite having to carry three children, walk five miles every day.


You can tell from this sentence that walk is the verb, but there are two nouns in the sentence: sister and children. If children is the subject of the sentence, then walk is the correct verb, but if sister is the subject, then the verb has to be changed to walks. How can you tell? Ask yourself, “who is doing the action? (who is walking five miles)” It is my sister, which is a singular noun. Therefore, the sentence should read: My sister, despite having to carry three children, walks five miles every day.


Example:         Lisa and Jack likes to dance.


This sentence has two subjects: Lisa and Jack, so you need the plural form of the verb.


Correct:           Lisa and Jack like to dance.


Verb Tense


Verb tense tells when the action is taking place.


The present tense tells about things that are happening now.




No helping verb He sings
Present Perfect To have + past participle He has sung


Present Progressive To be + present participle He is singing



The past tense tells about actions that have already happened.




No helping verb He sings
Past Perfect Had + past participle He had sung


Past Progressive To be + present participle He was singing



The future tense tells about actions that are going to happen.





Will or shall + verb He will sing
Future Perfect Will have + past participle He will have sung


Future Progressive Will + be + present participle He will be singing



You should always keep the tenses consistent in every sentence. Both ACT and SAT test this frequently.




Incorrect:        After Mary had eaten the main course, she eats the dessert.

Correct:           After Mary had eaten the main course, she ate the dessert.


The first sentence matches the past perfect with the present tense and that is incorrect.

The second sentence matches the past perfect with the past tense and that is correct.


Incorrect:         The cakes we tasted yesterday are delicious.

Correct:           The cakes we tasted yesterday were delicious.


The first sentence pairs past tense (tasted) with present tense (are). This pairing is incorrect.




Adjectives are describing words that modify nouns and pronouns.


Types of Adjectives


Like nouns, adjectives can be common or proper. Some common adjectives include beautiful, short, tall, happy.  Proper adjectives are formed from proper nouns. Like proper nouns, they must be capitalized.


Examples:        I like Italian food.

He plays the French horn.


Possessive Adjectives


These adjectives are formed from the personal pronouns and are used to describe objects that belong to a certain person.




Personal Pronoun Possessive Adjective Personal Pronoun Possessive Adjective
I/me My We Our


You Your You Your


He/she/it His/her/its They Their


Unlike the possessive pronouns, possessive adjectives must be used with a noun.


Examples:        That coat is mine. Vs. That is my coat.

Public speaking is a great skill of hers. vs. Public speaking is her great skill.

That dog is ours. vs. That is our dog.


Demonstrative adjectives


Demonstrative adjectives include this, that, these, and those. When these words are used as adjectives instead of pronouns, they must be modifying a noun.


Examples:       That is a person I like. vs. I like that person.

                        These are my best friends. vs. My best friends are these people.



Adjectives Formed from Verbs


Adjectives that are formed from verbs are called participles.


The present participle is formed by adding –ing to the verb root. The past participle is formed by adding –ed to the verb root.


Examples:        The burned dinner did not taste very good.

The chirping birds sat outside my window.


Adjectives Formed from Nouns


Sometimes nouns can be uses as adjectives.


Example:         The hockey player is fast.


Normally, hockey is a noun, but it is used as an adjective to elaborate on what kind of player a person is.  On the SAT or ACT this skill is tested by describing someone’s profession (i.e. basketball player). Since the noun is used as an adjective, do not separate the two words with a comma.


Uses of Adjectives


Adjectives are usually used to describe nouns and are usually placed before a noun they modify.


Example:         The girl enjoyed watching a beautiful sunset.


If more than one adjective modifies the same noun, separate the adjectives with a comma if the order of adjectives is not important.


Example:         An energetic, friendly dog wagged his tail.


If you come across a sentence where the order of adjectives IS important – meaning if you reversed them, the sentence would not make sense – then do not use a comma.




Correct:           Mom went to the store to buy spreadable chocolate frosting.

Incorrect:        Mom went to the store to buy chocolate, spreadable frosting.



Adjectives can also be used as predicate adjective. Similar to predicate nominatives, this means they come after a linking verb and they describe the subject of the sentence.


Examples:        The cake smells delicious. Delicious describes cake.

The athlete is very fast. Fast describes athlete.





Adverbs are words that describe or modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.


Remember: Use of adverbs AND use of adjectives is tested on the ACT and SAT. Therefore, it is important to be able to understand what the adverb or adjective is modifying and use it correctly.




She ran quickly down the street. Quickly describes how she ran. (Adverb describing verb)

He was very happy with the present. Very describes how happy he was. (Adverb describing adjective)

Stop talking so loudly! So describes how loudly the person is talking. (Adverb describing adverb)

How are Adverbs Formed?


Many adverbs are formed by adding –ly to an adjective.




Careful à Carefully

Easy à Easily

Quiet à Quietly


Some adverbs are formed irregularly and need to be memorized


Adjective Adverb


Good Well
Fast Fast
Hard Hard
Late Late
Early Early
Daily Daily
Straight Straight
Wrong Wrong OR Wrongly


Example:         The good girl drives very well.


Make sure to memorize the Good / Well pair because it is the most widely misused and most frequently tested.  If you see the word ‘good’ in a sentence, make sure it is describing a noun, not a verb.




Incorrect:         I did good on the test.

Correct:           I did well on the test.


Prepositions are words that show where something or someone is, or tells when something is happening.

Common Prepositions


Here is a list of most common prepositions in the English language:


About Above Across After Against Along


Amid Among Around At Atop Before


Behind Below Beneath Beside Between Beyond


But (meaning except) By Concerning Down During Except
For From In Inside Into Like


Near Of Off On Onto Out


Outside Over Past Regarding Since Through


Throughout To Toward Under Underneath Until


Up Upon With Within Without  



Prepositional Phrases


A prepositional phrase is a phrase that includes AT LEAST a preposition and a noun or pronoun, which is known as the object of the preposition. This is an important concept.


When a pronoun is used as part of the prepositional phrase, make sure that it is in the objective case.




Correct:           Give that ball to me!

Incorrect:         Give the ball to I!


Usually this kind of mistake will sound incorrect to native English speakers. However, some trickier questions involving I vs. me as part of a compound object are not so clear.



Incorrect:         She went to the mall with Sarah and I.

Correct:           She went to the mall with Sarah and me.


Incorrect:         The presentation was given my her and I.

Correct:           The presentation was given my her and me.


If you are having difficulties, try taking out the other part of the compound object to make the correct form of the pronoun more obvious.

Example:        He went to the mall with Sarah and I.

Correct:           He went to the mall with Sarah and me.

Both the SAT and ACT will add unnecessary prepositional phrases to make errors less obvious. Don’t be afraid to cross out the prepositional phrases to make sentences easier to analyze.  

Prepositions in Idioms

Many prepositions have to be used in a certain way with certain phrases. This is not because one preposition is grammatically more correct, but because certain phrases in the English language are idiomatically correct because they have always been said a certain way.

For example, we would say: “She fell in love with him.” We wouldn’t say, “She fell towards love at him.”

We would say, “She is hard at work.” We wouldn’t say, “He is hard in work”.


Conjunctions are words that link ideas together. There are three types of conjunctions: coordinative, subordinate, and correlative.

Coordinating Conjunctions

These are the most familiar types of conjunctions because they include: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, aka FANBOYS.


F For
A And
N Nor
B But
O Or
Y Yet
S So


Coordinating conjunctions can be used to join similar words, phrases, or clauses. The most commonly used conjunction is ‘and’.



John and Jen went to the store.   –> Joining words.

The rabbit ran through the patch and out of sight.   –> Joining phrases.

The rabbit ran through the patch, and we watched it go.  –> Joining clauses.

Coordinating conjunctions can also be used to join two independent clauses – parts within a sentence that can stand as a sentence on its own.



The employee made a sales pitch, but the customer did not react.

subject + verb + CONJUNCTION + subject + verb

“The employee made a sales pitch” and “the customer did not react” can both be independent sentences.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to join a dependent clause to an independent clause. An independent clause is a part of a larger sentence, but can stand as a complete sentence on its own. A subordinate (or dependent) clause cannot stand as its own sentence.

Typically, a dependent (subordinate) clause will add detail to the independent clause.

While there are many subordinate conjunctions, below is a list of some of the more common ones.

After Although Because Even though If


Once Since Though Unless Until


When Whenever Where Wherever While



There are two structures that you can use to form sentences with dependent and independent clauses:

  1. (subordinating conjunction + dependent clause) , (independent clause)


While I was getting ready for school, my mother prepared breakfast.


  1. (independent clause) + (subordinating conjunction + dependent clause)


My mother prepared breakfast while I was getting ready for school.

Sometimes a subordinate conjunction and dependent clause can be inserted between parts of an independent clause. In that case, the subordinate conjunction and the dependent clause have to be set off by commas.

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are similar to coordinating conjunctions, but correlative conjunctions must always be used in pairs. It is worth memorizing the common pairs because the SAT and the ACT will sporadically test your knowledge of these to see if you know which word pairs belong together.


Both … and

Either … or

Neither … nor

Not only … but also

Whether … or



Both my friend and I went to swim.

In her opinion, the movie was neither good nor bad.

It is difficult to decide whether you should study for ACT or go to the beach.

Parallel Structure

Parallel structure is one of the concepts the SAT and ACT like to test frequently. Remember, when two or more things are linked by a conjunction, they must have the same general structure.


Incorrect:         Mike likes to bike and swimming.

Correct:           Mike likes biking and swimming.

Correct:           Mike likes to bike and to swim.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve learned or refreshed the basics of English grammar, now it’s time to find out about more challenging concepts. Here is a guide for all of the grammar rules tested on the ACT (coming soon).

Want to know exactly what you will face on test day? Here is a guide about exactly what you should expect to find on ACT English.

Looking for some helpful tips as you study? Check out the 5 critical concepts you must know for ACT English.

If you’d like to see me explain this topic, watch my YouTube Video:

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