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Pronoun Case on ACT English: Tips and Practice Questions

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Posted by Justin Berkman | Jun 14, 2015 5:30:00 PM

ACT English



Pronoun case is a grammar rule that tends to be broken by most English speakers. Perhaps of more concern to you, questions that test your knowledge of pronoun case often appear on the ACT. Master this rule and you'll be one step closer to mastering the ACT English section.

There are multiple pronoun rules that are tested in ACT English. This one is relatively straightforward and tends to be tested less often than ambiguous antecedents or pronoun antecedent agreement. However, if you are aiming for that 30+ score, you should be ready if you encounter a pronoun case question.


In this post, I'll do the following:

  • Explain the difference between subjects and objects.
  • Give you a clear understanding of pronoun case.
  • Offer strategies that can help you correctly answer pronoun case questions.
  • Provide you with practice questions so you can test what you've learned.


Quick Review: What's a Pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. The noun to which the pronoun refers is called the antecedent. Some examples of pronouns include I, he, she, it, me, him, her, their, we, and us.


What Is Pronoun Case?

Case refers to whether a pronoun is being used as a subject or an object.


What Is a Subject?

Simply, a subject is the noun that corresponds with a verb in a sentence. In a sentence in which there is an action, the subject is the noun that's doing the action. Here is an example:

Dave likes techno music.


Dave is the subject because he's doing the liking. In a sentence in which there's a description, typically using a form of the verb "to be," the subject is the noun that is being described. Check out this sentence:

Dave is brilliant.


Dave is the subject because he is the person who is brilliant.




What Is an Object?

An object is a noun that receives an action. An object can be a direct object, an object of a preposition, or an indirect object. This is an example sentence. The direct object of the verb is in bold:

I opened the door.


The direct object is "the door" because that is what I opened. Here is a sentence with an object of a preposition:

Chuck spoke to his girlfriend.


Chuck's girlfriend is the object because she is the person to whom he spoke. Also, an object of a preposition always follows a preposition. In this case, "girlfriend" follows the preposition "to."

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. Here's an example sentence with the indirect object bolded:

The government gave Matt a tax refund.


Matt is the indirect object because the government gave a refund to him. He received the direct object. If you're confused by the concept of an indirect object, for pronoun case questions, just remember that the 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 an object pronoun. Here's a list of subject pronouns:




Here's a list of the object pronouns that correspond with the subject pronouns from above:



If you understand everything up to this point, you're ready to take on pronoun case questions on the ACT. Here we go!


Pronoun Case in ACT English

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


I Vs. Me

She, He Vs. Her, Him

We Vs. Us

They Vs. Them


Let's go through the process of how to decide whether to use a subject or an object pronoun in a given sentence. 


ACT English Strategy

Here are some example sentences demonstrating how subject pronouns can replace subjects and object pronouns can replace objects. Take a look at the following sentence:

Nancy offered valuable guidance.


Let's replace "Nancy" with a pronoun. First, we have to determine if Nancy is a subject or an object. What do you think? Nancy is the subject because she did the offering. She did the action. Therefore, we must replace "Nancy" with a subject pronoun and the resulting sentence reads:

She offered valuable guidance.


You can't replace Nancy with an object pronoun. You can't write, "Her offered valuable guidance." That would be an example of a pronoun case error. 

Now we'll go through the same process with another example sentence:

Dave Chappelle gave his autograph to Irene.


To replace "Irene" with a pronoun, we have to determine if Irene is a subject or an object in the sentence. Well, in our example sentence, "Irene" is an object. Why? She is receiving what was given by the subject, and she is the object of the preposition "to." After replacing "Irene" with a pronoun, the sentence should look like this:

Dave Chappelle gave his autograph to her.


If we had made a pronoun case error when replacing "Irene" with a pronoun, the sentence would have read, "Dave Chappelle gave his autograph to she."


This rule seems relatively simple, right? Subjects do actions. Objects receive actions. Well, we know the ACT likes to complicate the most basic sentences and truly test your understanding of a grammar rule. Pronoun case questions become more difficult in sentences with compound subjects and compound objects.


The Same Rules Apply for Compound Subjects and Compound Objects

Compound just means that two nouns are connected with the word "and." In a sentence with a compound subject, there are two nouns that serve as the subject. In a sentence with compound objects, there are two objects of the same verb. Here's another example sentence for you (I love examples!):

Taylor Swift and Justin met at Target.


"Taylor Swift" and "Justin" are the subject. They are the people who did the meeting. They did the action. Now, let's replace "Justin" with a pronoun. We know that "Justin" is a subject so we have to replace "Justin" with a subject pronoun. Because I am Justin, this would be my sentence:

Taylor Swift and I met at Target.


If you were writing this sentence about me, this would be your sentence:

Taylor Swift and he met at Target.


That sentence probably sounds awkward to you, but it's grammatically correct. Most people would use the object pronoun and write, "Taylor Swift and him met at Target." That would be a pronoun case error. Remember, always follow the grammar rules and avoid relying on what "sounds right."

Let's follow the same process with another example sentence:

Hulk Hogan offered a red bandana to Marc and Justin.


Again, we'll replace "Justin" with a pronoun. In the above example, are "Marc" and "Justin" subjects or objects? They're objects. They received the action. They were offered the bandana. Also, they follow the preposition "to" and are the object of the preposition. Therefore, we have to replace "Justin" with an object pronoun. Because I'm Justin, this would be my sentence:

Hulk Hogan offered a red bandana to Marc and me.


Many people think "Marc and I" would be the correct phrase for that sentence. However, that would be a pronoun case error. Remember, "I" can only be used as a subject and "me" can only be used as an object

If you were writing the previous example sentence about me, you would write:

Hulk Hogan offered a red bandana to Marc and him.


Because you are replacing an object with a pronoun, you have to use an object pronoun.

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 is there a strategy that enables us to more easily identify pronoun case errors in sentences with compound subjects or objects? Absolutely!!

body_hulk_hogan.jpgHe didn't really offer me his red bandana.


ACT English Strategy

If you see a compound subject/object, cross out the other noun and "and." For compound objects, the sentence should still be grammatically correct. Let's try this strategy with the previous example:

Hulk Hogan offered a red bandana to Marc and me.


This sentence probably sounds less awkward to you. Most likely, you would be able to identify a pronoun case error if you saw a sentence that read, "Hulk Hogan offered a red bandana to I."

If you do the same thing with a compound subject, the sentence will be grammatically correct if you also change the verb from plural to singular, due to subject-verb agreement. Keep in mind that the singular and plural forms of a verb can be the same

Now we'll use the cross-out method with a compound subject to help determine if there's a pronoun case error. Here's our example sentence:

Him and Joe were talking to the cashier.


After crossing out the noun and "and," we're left with "Him were talking to the cashier." Once we change the verb to singular, this is our sentence:

Him was talking to the cashier.


At this point, you can probably figure out if there's an error, but let's follow the rules. In the sentence, is "Him" a subject or an object? It's a subject because he was doing the action. Therefore, we must use a subject pronoun. After plugging a subject pronoun into the original sentence, this would be the correct version of the example:

He and Joe were talking to the cashier.


Now we'll apply what we've learned to a question from an actual ACT.


Real ACT English Example



So how do we determine if there is a pronoun case error? First, let's employ our strategy and cross out "and her cousin." We're left with "her had staged." Does that look right to you? Now, let's determine if "her" is a subject or object. Well, "her" should be a subject because she's doing the action. She had done the staging. Then, after we plug the rest of the compound subject back into the phrase with a subject pronoun, we have "she and her cousin had staged." The correct answer is C.


Who Vs. Whom

Occasionally, the ACT will also test you on whether to use "who" or "whom" in a sentence. These words are known as relative pronouns. Most people have no idea when and how to properly use "who" and "whom." Luckily, the rule is pretty simple. The word "who" is a subject pronoun and "whom" is an object pronoun.

Here's a strategy to make life easier when answering questions involving "who" or "whom."


ACT English Strategy

For pronoun case purposes, "who" and "whom" function like "she" and "her" (or "he" and "him"). The word "who" is a subject pronoun and "whom" is an object pronoun. To determine if there's 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 there's not a pronoun case error in the original sentence, the resulting phrase should be grammatically correct.

Take a look at this sentence:

Justin, who is too self-absorbed, always references himself in his example sentences.


The sentence is saying that Justin is too self-absorbed and "who" modifies Justin. Justin is being described as self-absorbed. If we replace "who" with "he," the phrase would read, "He is too self-absorbed." The word "he" is being properly used as a subject. Therefore, there is not a pronoun case error and "who" is being used correctly.

Here's another example:

My mother, whom I admire, graduated from nursing school.

In the above sentence, the clause with "whom" is stating that "I adore my mother." Because "whom" is modifying "my mother," let's replace "my mother" with "her." The resulting sentence should be grammatically correct if "whom" is being used correctly. After replacing "my mother" with the pronoun, we have, "I admire her." That's correct because the word "her" is an object pronoun and "her" is receiving the action in the sentence.

Here's one final example using "whom" as an object of the preposition:
To whom much is given, much is expected.

Here, the sentence is saying that much is given to whom. If you replace "whom" with "her," "much is given to her" is grammatically correct. If the relative pronoun follows "to" or "for," you should always use "whom."


Now we can take what we've learned and apply those lessons to actual examples from the ACT.



 Real ACT English Example

This is a real example from an ACT English section. Use our strategy and your knowledge of pronoun case to answer the following question:




So here we have the phrase "friends whom have died." The "whom" refers to "friends," which is plural, and "whom" is an object pronoun. Therefore, let's replace "friends whom" with "them" to determine if the sentence is grammatically correct. "Them had died" is incorrect; the pronoun should be in the subject form.  "They had died" is correct. They did the dying. Therefore, we need to use the subject form of the relative pronoun. The answer is B, "friends who had died."

Let's take a look at another example:



In this sentence, "whom" refers to "Banneker's grandmother" and the verb is "bought." This sentence is made a little more tricky because the prepositional phrase starting with "after" separates "whom" from "bought." However, this sentence is saying that she (Banneker's grandmother) bought some land. However, "whom" is in the object case which is equivalent to "her." "Her bought some land" is obviously incorrect. The relative pronoun should be changed to the subject case. The answer is B.


General ACT English Strategies For Pronoun Case


#1: If a Pronoun is Underlined, Check for an Error in Pronoun Case

If you see that a 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 is doing the action or being described, 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. Also, use the replacement strategy, if necessary, to help determine if a noun is a subject or object.


#3: The Same Rules Apply for Compound Subjects or Objects 

If you see a compound subject or object, the sentence should be grammatically correct if you get rid of one of the nouns and "and." Change "Peter and I went to a baseball game" to "I went to a baseball game." The sentence is still correct, so if you see a compound subject or object on the ACT, use the cross out strategy to help determine if there is a pronoun case error. For compound subjects, also make sure that you change the verb from plural to singular.


#4: If a Pronoun Follows a Preposition, It is an Object Pronoun

Pronouns that follow prepositions, specifically "to," "for," or "between," should be in the object case.


#5: Use the Replacement Strategy for Who Vs. Whom

If you're trying to determine whether "who" or "whom" should be used, replace "who" with "he" or "she" for singular antecedents and "who" with "they" for plural antecedents. The word "whom" should be replaced with "him" or "her" for singular antecedents and "them" for plural antecedents. 


body_bring_it_home.jpgFinish strong!


Additional ACT English Practice Question

Hopefully, by this point you thoroughly understand pronoun case and how to correctly answer any pronoun case question that may appear on the ACT. I've created some realistic practice problems to test you on what you've learned. Remember to use the general strategies I referenced above.


1.  After I woke up yesterday, my parents decided to take my brother and me to breakfast.

       A. NO CHANGE
       B. I
       C. we
       D. their
2.  Despite her friends' objections, her and George decided to go to Las Vegas to elope.
     B. her
     C. she
     D. or her
3.  Christopher Hitchens, whom was a prolific writer, ruffled a few feathers during his public debates and television appearances.
     B.  which
     C. that
     D. who
4.  His boss told him that Jane and him would be given the day off tomorrow.
      A. NO CHANGE
      B. he
      C. his
      D. their


Answers: 1. A, 2. C, 3. D, 4. B


What's Next?

Since you're all at various points in your ACT prep, read this article to find out when you should take the ACT. For those of you who are comfortable with ACT English but struggling with Reading, learn these strategies for the ACT Reading section.

Read our staggering list of high quality ACT English prep guides here.

Finally, for those of you who aspire for perfection, get advice on how to get a perfect 36 on the ACT


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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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