ACT English : Compound Subject Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Question #1 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from The Autobiography of John Adams (ed. 1856)

Here I will interrupt the narration for a moment to observe that, from all I have read of the history of Greece and Rome, England and France, and all I have observed at home and abroad, articulate eloquence in public assemblies is not the surest road to fame or preferment, at least, unless it be used with caution, very rarely, and with great reserve. The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson is enough to show that silence and reserve in public is more efficacious than argumentation or oratory. A public speaker who inserts himself, or is urged by others, into the conduct of affairs, by daily exertions to justify his measures, and answer the objections of opponents, makes himself too familiar with the public and unavoidably makes himself enemies. Few persons can bear to be outdone in reasoning or declamation or wit or sarcasm or repartee or satire, and all these things that are very apt to grow out of public debate. In this way, in a course of years, a nation becomes full of a man’s enemies, or at least, of such as have been galled in some controversy and take a secret pleasure in assisting to humble and mortify him. So much for this digression. We will now return to our memoirs.

Which is the best form of the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson is

The example of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson are

The examples of Washington Franklin and Jefferson is

The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson are

Correct answer:

The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson are

Explanation:

We can discard the answer choice which removes the sentence's necessary commas, so the issue here is one of subject-verb agreement. The easiest way to approach this is by cutting out prepositional phrase "of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson." This gives us: "The example(s) . . . is" or "The example(s) . . . are." The only option that is correct is the one having the plural subject and verb: "The examples . . . are."

Example Question #2 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from The Discourse on Method by René Descartes (1637; 1899, ed. Eliot)

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be acquired, I was ardently desirously for instruction in them. But as soon as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of which it is customarily to be admitted into the order of the learned, I completely changed my opinion. I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors and was convinced that I had not advanced in all my attempts at learning. At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered. And yet, I was studying in one of the most celebrated Schools in Europe. I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such were anywhere to be found. I had been taught all that others learned there. However, not contented with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read all the books that had fallen into my hands, studying those branches that are judged to be the most curious and rare. I knew the judgment that others had formed of me. I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, although there were among them some whom were already marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself. Furthermore, I concluded that there was no science in existence that was of such a nature as I had previously been given to believe.

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection "At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered"?

Possible Answers:

At every turn, ignorance and unknowing were to be discovered

NO CHANGE

At every turn, ignorance or unknowing was to be discovered

At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was discovered

Correct answer:

At every turn, ignorance and unknowing were to be discovered

Explanation:

As written, this sentence does not match the plural subject correctly with its main verb. Notice that the subject of the sentence is "ignorance and unknowing." This expression could be replaced with the word "they" to make it clearer: "They was to be discovered." Clearly, this is improper form. Replace "was" with "were," and the sentence will be corrected: "They were to be discovered."

Example Question #3 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

A candle faintly burned in the window, to which the black ladder had often been raised for the sliding away of all that was most precious in this world to a striving wife and a brood of hungry babies. Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, that of all the casualties of this existence upon earth, not one was dealt out with so unequal a hand as death. The inequality of birth was nothing to it. For example, the child of a king and the child of a weaver were born tonight in the same moment. What would be the disparity between the death of any human creature who was serviceable to, or beloved by, another, while this abandoned woman lived on!

From the outside of his home he gloomily passed to the inside with suspended breath and with a slow footstep. He went up to his door opened it and so into the room.

Quiet and peace was there. Rachael was there, sitting by the bed.

She turned her head, and the light of her face shone in upon the midnight of his mind. She sat by the bed watching and tending his wife. That is to say, he saw that someone lay there and knew too good that it must be she. However, Rachael’s hands had put a curtain up, so that she was screened from his eyes. Her disgraceful garments were removed, and some of Rachael’s were in the room. Everything was in it’s place and order as he had always kept it. The little fire was newly trimmed, and the hearth was freshly swept. It appeared to him that he saw all this in Rachael’s face. While looking at it, it was shut out from his view by the softened tears that filled his eyes; however, this was not before he had seen how earnestly she looked at him, and how her own eyes were filled too.

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection "Quiet and peace was there."?

Possible Answers:

Quiet and peace was there;

Quiet, and peace, were there. 

Quiet and peace were there.

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

Quiet and peace were there.

Explanation:

As written, the sentence does not have appropriate agreement between its subject and its main verb. The subject is plural: "Quiet and peace." This could be replaced with the simple pronoun "they." If you do this, it is obviously problematic: "They was there." That is obviously wrong. The form must be "They were there."

Example Question #4 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from The Autobiography of John Adams (ed. 1856)

Here I will interrupt the narration for a moment to observe that, from all I have read of the history of Greece and Rome, England and France, and all I have observed at home and abroad, articulate eloquence in public assemblies is not the surest road to fame or preferment, at least, unless it be used with caution, very rarely, and with great reserve. The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson is enough to show that silence and reserve in public is more efficacious than argumentation or oratory. A public speaker who inserts himself, or is urged by others, into the conduct of affairs, by daily exertions to justify his measures, and answer the objections of opponents, makes himself too familiar with the public and unavoidably makes himself enemies. Few persons can bear to be outdone in reasoning or declamation or wit or sarcasm or repartee or satire, and all these things that are very apt to grow out of public debate. In this way, in a course of years, a nation becomes full of a man’s enemies, or at least, of such as have been galled in some controversy and take a secret pleasure in assisting to humble and mortify him. So much for this digression. We will now return to our memoirs.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the passage. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

that silence and reserve in public are more efficacious than argumentation or oratory

NO CHANGE

that silence and reserve in public is always more efficacious than argumentation or oratory

that silence and reserve in public could be more efficacious than argumentation or oratory

that silence and reserve in public is more efficacious then argumentation or oratory

Correct answer:

that silence and reserve in public are more efficacious than argumentation or oratory

Explanation:

The author is making a simple observation regarding silence and reserve. Therefore, the verb should be in the present tense and the indicative mood (i.e. No modals are needed). The easiest way to find the appropriate agreement between subject and verb is to eliminate any superfluous verbiage. Thus, the subject of the clause is "silence and reserve." This is a plural subject, replaceable by the third person plural pronoun "they."  This would take the verb "are."

Example Question #5 : Compound Subject Errors

"Our Family Trip to Hawaii" by Jennifer Mings (2013)

Last summer, my mother, sister, brother, and me took a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. We were excited to see everything, and couldn’t wait to arrive. After our lengthy plane ride, we stepped off of the plane in a daze. There was two flight attendants who immediately greeted us, putting flower wreaths around our necks. We then met up with our tour guide; and he told us that we would be going straight to Pearl Harbor.

On our way to Pearl Harbor, there was a largely immense amount of traffic, something that aggravated my mother. Luckily, the tour guide was a native of the island, and he was able to calm my mother down.

When we finally arrived at Pearl Harbor, there was many tourists and natives of different nationalities. The first thing we did when we arrived was watching a movie about the history of Pearl Harbor, which included the story of the USS Arizona. During the movie, everyone had been excited to see the USS Arizona Memorial and wanted to get on the boat. After, we all got on a boat and we were driven to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was an amazing, beautiful, gorgeous, and great experience for everyone.

Choose the answer that best corrects the bolded portion of the passage. If the bolded portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

there was many tourists, and natives, of different nationalities

there were many tourists, and natives, of different nationalities

there were many tourists and natives of different nationalities

Correct answer:

there were many tourists and natives of different nationalities

Explanation:

This is because there is correct verb usage (the verb must match up with the multiple direct objects) and there is not an overuse of commas. 

Example Question #6 : Compound Subject Errors

Alfred Tarski, born on January 14, 1901, became known during his lifetime as a brilliant mathematician and teacher. He is best known for proving several advanced geometric theorems. By the time Tarski moved to the United States, much of Europe has already fallen into the grips of World War II. Hundreds of mathematical problems were solved by Tarski.

Tarski enrolled in Warsaw University in 1920. Originally wishing to study biology, mathematics was the subject in which Tarski ultimately excelled. He graduated with honors, and began his career as a math teacher. A true mathematical virtuoso, Tarski was concerned with neither the application of his research nor publishing his findings.   

Discoveries made by Tarski influenced the work of one of the world’s greatest physicists, Albert Einstein. Einstein and Tarski had many similar interests in common. Unlike Albert Einstein, however, Tarski was especially fond for pure mathematics. Although Tarski and Einstein were contemporaries, Einstein was the most prolific writer of the two.

In 1929, Tarski married his co-worker, Maria Witkowska. An affinity for mathematics ran in the family. Tarski even admitted that his wife knew more about algebra, geometry and trigonometry than did he. Tarski's two children, Jan, and Ina, grew up to be prominent mathematicians themselves; however, neither Jan nor Ina have received a great deal of international attention.

Choose the answer that best corrects the bolded portion of the passage. If the bolded portion is correct as written, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

has received

receive

NO CHANGE

are receiving

Correct answer:

has received

Explanation:

The sentence contains two singular subjects—1) Jan and 2) Ina—separated by the word "or." The verb should also be in singular because each of the subjects is singular.

Answer choice "has received" is correct because it is in singular form.

The other answer choices—"have received," "are receiving," and "receive"—are plural forms and are therefore incorrect.

Example Question #7 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

The ghost on hearing this set up another cry and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night that the police has been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

"Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know that ages of incessant labor, by immortal creatures, for, this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused! Yet such was I. Oh, such was I."

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob" faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive position of my business!"

Which of the following is the best form of the bolded section?

Possible Answers:

charity! mercy! forbearance! And benevolence was

charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence was

NO CHANGE

charity, mercy forbearance, and benevolence were

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The ghost is enumerating a list of things that were its duties during its lifetime. These included (as he states) things like charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence. These all need to be separated by commas. Now, be careful that your verb matches in number as well. A trick for figuring this out is to replace the subject with a single word, its appropriate pronoun. The multiple duties could be replaced with the single word "they." This would require "were," not "was," so the best answer choice is to leave the sentence as it is written.

Example Question #8 : Compound Subject Errors

Adapted from “Puritanism as a Literary Force” in A Book of Prefaces by H.L. Mencken (1917)

Naturally enough, this moral obsession has given a strong color to American literature. It is true that American literature is set off sharply from all other literatures. In none other will you find so wholesale and ecstatic a sacrifice of ideas, of all the fine gusto of passion and beauty, to notions of what is proper and nice. From the books of grisly sermons that were the first American contribution to letters down to that amazing literature of "inspiration" which now exists, one observes no relaxation of the moral pressure.

In the history of every other literature there have been periods of what might be called moral innocence. In such periods a naive “joie de vivre” (joy of living) has broken through all concepts of duty and responsibility, and the wonder and glory of the universe has been hymned with unashamed zest. The age of Shakespeare comes to mind at once. The violence of the Puritan reactions offers a measure of the pendulums’ wild swing. But in America no such general rising of the blood has ever been seen.

The literature of the nation, even the literature of the minority, has been under harsh and uneducated Puritan restraints from the beginning, and despite a few stealthy efforts at revolt, it shows not the slightest sign of emancipating itself today. The American, try as he will, can never imagine any work of the imagination as wholly without moral content. It must either tend toward the promotion of virtue or, otherwise, be questionable.

Which is the best form of the bolded section?

Possible Answers:

responsibility and the wonder and glory of the universe have been hymned with unashamed zest

responsibility and the wonder and glory of the universe has been hymned with unashamed zest

NO CHANGE

responsibility, and the wonder and glory of the universe have been hymned with unashamed zest

Correct answer:

responsibility, and the wonder and glory of the universe have been hymned with unashamed zest

Explanation:

There are two rules to pay attention to in answering this question. First, notice that there are two independent (though topically related) clauses in this sentence. Therefore, you need a comma before the "and." Now, the second clause has a plural subject: "wonder and glory." These words could be replaced by the pronoun they. That means that the verb needs to match this plural number. The verb "to have" has the form "have" when we have a plural subject like "they." Therefore, the best option is the one that has the comma and the verb form "have."

Example Question #1 : Correcting Agreement Errors

John and Susan runs to the finish line as fast as possible.

Possible Answers:

running to the finish line

run to the finish line

runs to the finish line

having run to the finish line

are run

Correct answer:

run to the finish line

Explanation:

The underlined portion of the sentence contains a verb error with "runs." "John and Susan," while both singular nouns, are together a plural, and need a plural verb form, instead of the singular "runs." "Run to the finish line" is the correct answer choice.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Agreement Errors

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason is coming over later than everyone else.

Possible Answers:

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason coming

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason are coming

Lisa, Aaron,, and Jason is coming

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason is to come

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason have come

Correct answer:

Lisa, Aaron, and Jason are coming

Explanation:

The use of the singular verb "is" does not match with the plural subjects of the sentence. The subject and verb must always be in agreement. The correct answer is "Lisa, Aaron, and Jason are coming."

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