ESL Language Use Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER Test

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General Information

The ACCUPLACER test ESL Language Use section measures your ability to accurately identify and use parts of the English language. Like most sections, it has 20 questions and covers five areas―including nouns and pronouns, subject-verb agreement, comparatives and descriptive words, verbs, and coordination.

Nouns, Pronouns, and Pronoun Case


In general, a noun is a part of speech that names a person, a place, or a thing. There are different types of nouns. Proper nouns name specific people or places, while common nouns name general people, places, or things. Nouns can act as the subject or the object of a sentence.

See if you can identify which of the following nouns in this sentence are proper nouns, and which are common nouns:

We visited Central Park in New York City when we went on vacation.

Central Park and New York City are proper nouns. They name a specific park and a specific city. The word vacation is a common noun. It names something general.


Pronouns are small words that are used to take the place of nouns for our writing and speech to not sound repetitive. Some of the most common are subject pronouns and describe people, such as I, you, he, she, we, and they. Pronouns can also replace a noun that is the object of a sentence, for example, me, him, her, them. Just like nouns, pronouns don’t always describe people. They can also stand for places, things, or concepts. For example, the pronouns it, this, and that describe things.

Look at the two following sentences: The first sentence uses the noun phone in a repetitive way. The second sentence uses the pronoun it to replace the phone. It sounds much better.

I bought a phone. The phone was very expensive but when I got home I found out that the phone didn’t work.

I bought a phone. It was very expensive but when I got home I found out that it didn’t work.

Pronoun Case

Pronouns in English have three “cases,” or uses. These are the subjective case, the objective case, and the possessive case. The subjective case is used when the pronoun is the person doing the action. The objective case is used when the pronoun is the object receiving the action. Finally, the possessive case is used when the pronoun expresses possession (who something belongs to).

Let’s look at this sentence, which uses several different types of pronouns:

James and Jane went to the cinema together. She felt cold so he gave her a jacket. He forgot that the jacket was mine.

In the sentence, she and he are in the subjective case; they describe the subjects of the sentence or who took the action. Her is in the objective case; it shows who received the action, or who was the object of the sentence. Finally, mine is in the possessive case; it shows who the jacket belonged to.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement means that the subject of the sentence and the verb of the sentence must agree in number. In other words, if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular, while if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural. Regular verbs follow very simple, predictable patterns, while irregular verbs (some common ones are go, be, and eat. Irregular forms must be memorized. In addition, there are certain types of nouns like collective nouns (such as the noun team) that are sometimes considered singular and sometimes plural depending on nuances of the sentence or where the speaker comes from, as usage can differ from country to country.

The following are two examples using the verb “to eat”:

The boy eats.
The boys eat.

In the first example, “the boy” is singular and in the second example “the boys” are plural.

Comparatives and Descriptive Words


Comparatives are descriptive adjectives or adverbs that describe how one thing is similar or different from another. To describe how two things are the same, we use the construction “as + adjective/adverb + as” and to describe two things that are different we use the construction “adjective/adverb + -er than”. If the descriptive word is long, instead of adding -er, we use the word *more” before it.

In the following sentence, the two sisters are of equal height:

Jen is as tall as her sister.

While in the following example, the two sisters are different:

Jen is taller than her sister.

Descriptive Words

Descriptive words are generally adjectives, adverbs, or adverb phrases that give us specific information about the qualities of a person, place, or thing, or describe how an action is being carried out. Adjectives modify nouns, and in English they are placed before the noun in the sentence. Adverbs modify verbs. They can describe the frequency, certainty, or manner of verbs, and they are found in different places in the sentence depending on what type of adverb they are.

Look at the descriptive words in this sentence:

The tall boy ran down the street quickly.

Tall is an adjective that describes the noun “boy,” while quickly is an adverb of manner that describes the verb “to run.”


Verbs are a part of speech that usually describes an action or occurrence, but also, sometimes, a state of being. The base form of a verb in English is called the infinitive whether it has the word to before it or not. Verbs have to be conjugated (change form) to agree with the subject of the sentence. In English, there are regular and irregular verbs. Regular verbs follow simple conjugation patterns, while irregular verbs have more complicated forms that must be memorized. Verbs also change according to tense and mood. Tense refers to when the action takes place in relation to the present. Mood refers to whether the sentence is a factual statement, a question, etc.

Focus on the different types of verbs in these sentences: Can you say which ones describe an action and which ones describe a state of being?

I have two dogs and three cats.

We went to school every morning at 8 o’clock.

I wish that we had seen the Eiffel Tower when we were in France.

In the first sentence, have is an example of a verb that describes a state of being, not an action. In the second sentence, went is the past tense of the action verb “to go,” and in the third sentence, had seen is the past perfect tense of the action verb “to see.”



Coordination is a way of combining two words, phrases, or short independent ideas (clauses) of equal importance into one sentence. This is done by using a conjunction. Some of the most common conjunctions are and, but, for, or, so, and yet.

Look at this sentence:

We have to study biology and chemistry during the first year of college.

Both subjects in the sentence above are given equal importance.

Here’s another example:

I want to be a doctor so I am going to study hard to pass all of my exams.

In this example, the conjunction so links two independent clauses.


When two parts of a sentence are combined and one is less important or dependent on the other, a subordinating conjunction is used. In alphabetical order, these are the subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, rather than, since, that, though, unless, until, when, where, whereas, wherever, whether, which, and while.

Here are some examples:

She ran through the house as if she were on fire.

The teen had no money although he had been working for months.

All of the puppies had found homes since their owner was diligent about advertising her dogs for sale.

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