ACT and SAT Grammar: Pronouns

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Pronouns Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

Pronouns appear with relative frequency on both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language.

We use pronouns all the time in everyday speech and writing. 

These helpful words help reduce redundancy in sentences. However, as straightforward as pronouns may seem, they can be tested in unfamiliar ways on the SAT and the ACT!

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the pronoun rules that will prove essential for your SAT Writing & Language or ACT English success.

You’ll find 2 guided examples using official practice test questions. 

Plus, we give you access to our free Pronouns worksheet, which includes additional practice questions, guided examples, and answers/explanations. Grab this below.

Here’s what we cover:

ACT and SAT Grammar: Where You’ll See Pronouns

Both the SAT and the ACT are interested in your ability to use basic English conventions.

You’ll encounter specific pronoun questions on the following 2 sections of each test:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many pronoun questions will appear within each of these sections, as standardized as these tests are. However, we’ve analyzed all of the officially released ACT and SAT practice tests out there and derived an estimate of how many of these questions you can expect per exam:

Pronoun Questions on the ACT Pronoun Questions on the SAT
2-5 1-5

In general, we tend to see more pronoun questions on the ACT than on the SAT.

Keep in mind that each test is likely to test your knowledge of pronoun questions in different ways (because they are, at the end of the day, different tests). Yet the strategy for Pronoun Questions we discuss in this post will still apply to either exam.

It’s important to note that your knowledge of pronoun rules can be helpful on one other section of the test: the optional essay portion. Essay readers will be assessing your English conventions usage, so fluent handling of pronouns can only help you achieve a higher essay score on the SAT or ACT.

How do you know if you’re dealing with a Pronouns question? You’ll likely see different pronouns in the answer choices, as in this question here:

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronoun Questions

We’ll walk you through how to approach this question and solve it correctly later on in this post.

Pronouns in a Nutshell

What exactly is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. We use pronouns so that we don’t have to say the same noun over and over again in a sentence or paragraph. That’s what makes them so useful! Their primary goal is to reduce redundancy and add a touch of versatility to the English language.

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Pronouns (1)

Most students are familiar with the following subject pronouns, for example:

  • you
  • she
  • he
  • it
  • they
  • we

When addressing a friend, instead of saying that friend’s name repeatedly, you might use “you” to refer to your friend and “I/me” to refer to yourself:

Hey, Darian, could you please fill me in on what I missed in lecture today?

Of course, there are several different types of pronouns, and for the purposes of ACT and SAT grammar, it will be important to know the basic difference between the most common types, outlined in the chart below.

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun
I me my mine myself
you you your yours yourself / yourselves
we us our ours ourselves
they them their theirs themselves
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
it it its n/a itself

Remember: you’ll never be tested on the proper English grammar name for a given rule or part of speech. But you will most definitely be tested on your ability to apply those rules and/or identify those parts of speech.

There are 2 other pronoun categories that will be useful to understand for the SAT and the ACT:

  • who versus whom
  • that versus which

We’ll discuss the usage rules for these categories in the next section.

The Pronoun Rules You Need to Know

As we’ve mentioned in our ACT and SAT grammar posts, you don’t need to know every single rule associated with each principle we discuss. That’s why we’ll be outlining the pronoun rules here that you need to know for the SAT and ACT–not all the pronoun rules in the universe!

Here’s what you need to know.

Rule #1: A pronoun must match its noun

This might sound fairly obvious, but it holds a lot of meaning on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. In fact, this rule informs the first step of our pronoun questions strategy (outlined in the next section).

A pronoun must match its noun in both type and form. For example, an object pronoun (me, you, us, them, her, him, it) must replace a noun that functions as a direct object. The same goes for subject pronouns, possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns.

Here’s a list of pronouns and their nouns (called antecedents) that demonstrate this correlation:

  • people’s voices –> their voices
  • Give the gift to Roger  –> Give the gift to him
  • I don’t know anything about trigonometry –> I don’t know anything about it
  • Ms. Lutz is teaching the class –> she is teaching the class
  • This book is Susan’s –> This book is yours

All of the pronouns in these examples match their nouns (antecedents) in type and form. We wouldn’t replace, for example, “people’s” with “hers” or “trigonometry” with “them.”

One of the most common pronoun mistakes confuses object pronouns for subject pronouns, as in the following incorrect sentences:

  • Her and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Meredith and him are dating.

In these sentences, the writer is erroneously using an object pronoun in place of a subject pronoun. If you ever are unsure about the difference, simply replace the pronoun with a noun to test it out:

  • Kate and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon –> She and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon
  • Meredith and Darrel are dating –> Meredith and he are dating

Rule #2: Who vs. Whom

Both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language are likely to contain at least one question that tests your knowledge of the difference between who and whom. For good reason, too–even professionals commonly confuse these pronouns!

The difference is actually relatively simple:

Who is a subject pronoun, while whom is an object pronoun.

Basically, you should use who anytime you are referring to the subject of the sentence (the person who is “doing” the verb). You should use whom whenever you are referring to the object of the sentence (someone who is receiving the action of the verb).

If you are unsure, you can always replace “whom” in the sentence with an object pronoun to test it out. We recommend “them” or “him” as these object pronouns end in m (making it easier to remember). It can also be helpful to rearrange parts of the sentence as you test out the pronoun usage.

Here are 2 example sentences that require either “who” or “whom:”

  • Ms. Lutz, _____ is teaching the class, received her doctorate from Oxford University.
  • Kate, with _____ I am traveling to Uruguay, is fluent in Spanish.

With the first, it’s clear that “Ms. Lutz” is teaching the class. We need a pronoun that replaces “Ms. Lutz,” which is a subject. This means we need to use “who.”

Here’s how the new sentence would read: Ms. Lutz, who is teaching the class, received her doctorate from Oxford University.

With the second sentence, it’s clear that the narrator is traveling with Kate to Uruguay. “Kate” here is a direct object, so we need an object pronoun to fill in the blank: “whom.”

Here’s how the new sentence would read: Kate, with whom I am traveling to Uruguay, is fluent in Spanish.

Rule #3: That vs. Which

We use the terms that and which frequently. What’s the difference?

First, both are used to refer to objects, not people. You can only use “who” or “whom” to refer to people.

For the purposes of the SAT and ACT, the difference comes down purely to punctuation: which generally has a comma in front of it, while that does not require a comma or any intervening punctuation. Here are two examples that make this clear:

He told me that I would have to drop a class in order to maintain my grades.

Cooper Park, which is just a half mile from campus, is a popular destination for students and dog-walkers.

Rule #4: Differentiate between contractions and possessive pronouns

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language love testing students’ knowledge of the difference between contractions and possessive pronouns. Make sure you know these differences! Here are some commonly confused contractions and possessive pronouns:

  • they’re vs. their vs. there
  • its vs. it’s
  • whose vs. who’s

Remember: write out the contraction to see if it fits the context (i.e., “it’s” is the same as “it is”). If not, cross it off and go for a pronoun or other option.

Rule #5: Maintain pronoun consistency

In general, if you start out with one pronoun in a sentence, you have to stick with it. This is especially important when using the pronouns you and one.

For example, this is an example of pronoun inconsistency (which would be incorrect on the SAT or ACT):

If you keep walking for about five blocks, one will spy a curious sight.

Both “you” and “one” in this sentence technically refer to the same general individual, but we need to use one or the other (not both). Here is a correct version of this sentence that shows pronoun consistency:

If you keep walking for about five blocks, you will spy a curious sight.

The strategy we discuss in the next section is designed to help you apply these rules in an efficient manner, regardless of the type of Pronouns question you’re navigating.

Pronoun Questions Strategy

When you encounter a pronouns question, we recommend that students follow these simple steps:

  1. Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing
  2. Classify that noun (type and form)
  3. Eliminate accordingly
  4. If needed, differentiate between contractions and pronouns

We will apply these four steps to the next 2 guided examples.

You can also get a jumpstart and apply these steps to the practice questions in our Pronouns Worksheet, which you can grab below.

Guided Examples: Pronoun Questions

Let’s take a look at this sample SAT pronoun question, mentioned earlier in this post. This is taken from the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Practice Test #1.

Guided Example #1: SAT Pronoun Question

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronoun Questions

Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing

We can see that all of the pronouns in our answer choices are possessive pronouns. There are no contractions, so we won’t be using step 4 of the strategy.

The underlined portion comes before the word lifetime, so we need to scan our context to see whose lifetime this is referring to. The noun that replaces this pronoun is students.

Classify that noun (type and form)

Students is a third-person plural noun.

Eliminate accordingly

We can cross off anything in our answer choices that isn’t third-person plural. This eliminates A (first-person plural), B (third-person singular), and C (third-person singular). Our correct answer is D.

Guided Example #2: SAT Pronoun Question

Let’s look at another sample pronoun question, also taken from the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Practice Test #1.

Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing

Looking at our answer choices, we can quickly tell that this is a “who vs. whom” question. It also appears to be a subject-verb agreement question, as we see “use” and “uses” in different answer choices.

Let’s start with the pronoun situation first. Context tells us that who/whom must refer to people, directly before the underlined portion.

Classify that noun (type and form)

People is a plural noun. In context, it functions as a subject.

Eliminate accordingly

Because people functions as a subject, we can eliminate our answer choices that contain whom, which is an object pronoun. Cross off A and B.

People is a plural noun, which means we want to use a plural verb (subject-verb agreement). Use is the plural verb here. We can eliminate answer choice C and select D as our answer.

Download PrepMaven’s Pronouns Worksheet

Now it’s time for you to apply our strategy for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT to some practice questions. 

You can do this right now with our free Pronouns worksheet.

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronouns

With this worksheet, you get:

  • A recap of the rules and strategy discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of pronoun questions from official practice tests
  • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.