SAT Tip: Cardinal Rules for Relative Pronouns

SAT Tip: Cardinal Rules for Relative Pronouns
Use who and whom to refer to people and which and that to refer to things (Photograph by Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

The SAT loves to test pronouns. The most common method is putting the wrong pronoun in a sentence (for example, “it” instead of “they”). Pronouns, however, come in a variety of flavors, so it can get tricky to keep track of them all: subjective case, objective case … the list goes on. Luckily, we don’t need to know those names, just what they do. A few special pronouns to keep in mind are what we call “relative” pronouns. These are pronouns such as that, who, whom, whose, which, where, when, and why. These noun substitutes are often used to link a dependent clause back to the main clause in a sentence:

My sister Marissa loves ice cream, which isn’t a very healthy snack for her to eat.

Here the relative pronoun “which” replaces “ice cream” and begins a dependent clause. Here are a few good rules to remember when it comes to relative pronouns.

Use who and whom only to refer to people. “Who” is the subjective case pronoun used to refer to people, while “whom” is the objective case pronoun. Examples:

She spoke to whom?

The man who is giving the speech is my husband.

The girl with whom I work is named Clare.

“Who” is used to replace the subject, such as “the man” in our example. To figure out whether to use who or whom in a sentence, rephrase it as a question.

Obama, (who or whom?) is our president, works in the Oval Office.

Ask yourself: Who or whom is the president? The answer: Obama. Since “Obama” is the subject of the sentence, it must be replaced with the subjective case, who.

Obama, who is our president, works in the Oval Office.

If we’d answered the question with an objective pronoun, then whom would have been correct.

With (who or whom?) do you like to go jogging?

Since this sentence is already a question, all we have to do is provide a logical answer: With him/her/Bob. Since him and her are both in the objective case, the correct sentence should say: With whom do you like to go jogging?

Always use the relative pronouns which and that to refer to inanimate objects. Which is often used to introduce a subordinate clause and is set off by commas from the rest of the sentence. That is used within the body of the sentence.

The SAT, which I am taking in the fall, is going to be so easy!

The SAT that I took last year was harder than I thought.

Remember on SAT test day to be suspicious of writing questions that use which or that to refer to people. This is an easy way to spot an error on Identifying Sentence Error or Improving Sentences questions and to get a few extra points.

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