ACT English : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, and Parentheses

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

← Previous 1 3 4

Example Question #1 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

When I retired I took up sprinting.  I ran for my university track team a D3 team so don’t get too excited—and performed as a top athlete in our conference.  I fell in love with running so much that I even signed up to run cross country in the fall.  Endurance is not my thing and that is part of why I am lazy.  I played soccer one season because the team needed an extra body.  I was an awful terrible soccer player but it was so much fun!  

What would make the underlined portion grammatically correct?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

track team which was a D3 team so don’t get too excited—and

track team, a D3 team so don’t get too excited—and

track team a D3 team so don’t get too excited and

track team—a D3 team so don’t get too excited—and

Correct answer:

track team—a D3 team so don’t get too excited—and

Explanation:

Dashes are used to set apart extra information that is not vital to the sentence, meaning the sentence has a subject and a verb of its own without the portion dashed off; however, if the extra information is located in the middle of the sentence, it must be surrounded by a dash on both sides.

Example Question #2 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

What would make the underlined portion grammatically correct?

To begin I should explain how it is that I am a sports-lover but lazy.  I have tried as many sports as have been possible in my life and I have enjoyed all of them.  I had competed in national gymnastics which is probably the most holistically challenging for ten years.  This sport took precedence in all of middle and high school for me.  

Possible Answers:

competed in national gymnastics, which is probably the most holistically challenging of all the sports I did—for ten

competed in national gymnastics. Which is probably the most holistically challenging of all the sports I did—for ten

competed in national gymnastics—which is probably the most holistically challenging of all the sports I did—for ten

competed in national gymnastics; which is probably the most holistically challenging of all the sports I did for ten

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

competed in national gymnastics—which is probably the most holistically challenging of all the sports I did—for ten

Explanation:

Extra information must be separated from the sentence by commas, dashes, or parenthesis. The same punctuation must be used to open the extra information as is used to close it.  

Example Question #3 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

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:

However, in past days, indeed, for nearly two thousand years,

However, in past days—indeed, for nearly two thousand years—

However in past days indeed for nearly two thousand years

However, in past days, indeed, for nearly two thousand years;

However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years;

Correct answer:

However, in past days—indeed, for nearly two thousand years—

Explanation:

The phrase, "indeed, for nearly two thousand years" functions almost as a pure aside by the author. Since it significantly alters the flow of ideas, it is best to set it off by something more than mere commas. (This is particularly the case here, where there are already many commas involved.) You could do this either with long dashes or with parentheses.

Example Question #4 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

As they entered, they saw Dorian Gray who was seated at the piano his back to them, turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann's "Forest Scenes." "You must lend me these, Basil," he cried. "I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming." "That entirely depends on how you sit to-day, Dorian."

"Oh, I am tired of sitting, and I don't want a life-sized portrait of myself," answered the lad, swinging round on the music-stool in a willful, petulant manner. When he caught sight of Lord Henry, a faint blush colored his cheeks for a moment, and he started up. "I beg your pardon, Basil. I did’nt know you had any one with you."

"This is Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian, an old Oxford friend of mine. I have just been telling him what a capital sitter you were, and now you have spoiled everything."

"You have not spoiled my pleasure in meeting you, Mr. Gray," said Lord Henry, stepping forward and extended his hand. "My aunt has often spoken to me about you. You are one of her favorites, and, I am afraid, one of her victims also."

"I am in Lady Agatha's black books at present," answered Dorian with a funny look of penitence. "I promised to go to a club in Whitechapel with her last Tuesday, and I really forgot all about it. We were to have played a duet together: three duets, I believe. I don't know what she will say to me. I am far too frightened to call."

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:

NO CHANGE

played a duet together—three duets. I believe

played a duet together—three duets, I believe

played a duet together; three duets, I believe

played a duet together three duets, I believe

Correct answer:

played a duet together—three duets, I believe

Explanation:

Certainly, there needs to be some separation between "together" and "three." However, it is not correct to use a colon here. Colons are used before the enumeration of lists or directly stating some fact (e.g. "There is only one option: eat the peas!"). Among the options provided, only the hyphen provides an acceptable separation.

Example Question #5 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

Adapted from The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (ed. 1896)

Look at a plant in the midst of it’s range. Why does it not double or quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case, we can clearly see that if we wish in imagination to give the plant the power of increasing in number, we should have to give it some advantage over its competitors, or over the animals of the wild that prey on it. On the confines of its geographical range, a change of constitution with respect to climate would clearly be an advantage to our plant; but we have reason to believe that only a few plants or animals range so far, that they are destroyed exclusively by the rigor of the climate. Not until we reach the extreme confines of life, in the Arctic regions or on the borders of an utter desert, will competition cease. The land may be extremely cold or dry, yet their will be competition between some few species, or between the individuals of the same species, for the warmest or dampest spots.

Hence we can see that when a plant or animal is placed in a new country amongst new competitors, the conditions of its life will generally be changed in an essential manner, although the climate may be exactly the same as in its former home. If it’s average numbers are to increase in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have had to do in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies.

It is good thus to try in imagination to give to any one species an advantage over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do. This ought to convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it is difficult to acquire. All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.

Consider the boldfaced and underlined selection in the first paragraph. Given that the commas are correctly placed, which of the following would be most closely equivalent?

Possible Answers:

species; or between the individuals of the same species, for

species—or between the individuals of the same species—for

species; or between the individuals of the same species; for

species, or between the individuals of the same species; for

Correct answer:

species—or between the individuals of the same species—for

Explanation:

Although the original use of commas is a bit awkward for contemporary English grammar, if we take them as being correctly placed, we can see that the author is trying to signal an "aside." That is, he is making an additional concession to his reader, as though saying, "between a few species—okay, or even between individuals—for." If we wish to retain the sense of this being an "aside" or extra concession, the best option among those provided is the one that uses dashes.

Example Question #6 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

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:

landscapes, when I consider all this, Wilhelm, I am silent

landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm, I am silent

landscapes—when I consider all this, Wilhelm, I am silent

NO CHANGE

landscapes—when I consider all this, Wilhelm—I am silent

Correct answer:

landscapes—when I consider all this, Wilhelm, I am silent

Explanation:

This is a long sentence, so let us break it down:

"Indeed, discovering . . . "

Discovering what? "that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation"

To this is added the subordinate clause: "while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes"

Now, after this, the author comes to the main clause: "when I consider all this, Wilhelm, I am silent."

This could also be written: "I am silent, Wilhelm, when I consider all this."

Therefore, the best form of this phrase will set off the introductory portion with a long dash and set off "Wilhelm" with commas (because of direct address to a person).

Example Question #1 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

How should doctors plan treatments for patients? In Western medicine, many believe that illnesses are just problems that can be fixed with the right combination of drugs: but maybe to really treat illnesses, we also have to examine the ways that illnesses take on meanings in different cultural, social, and historical contexts.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose “NO CHANGE.”

Possible Answers:

drugs but maybe, to really

drugs but maybe to really

NO CHANGE

drugs – but maybe to really

drugs: but maybe, to really

Correct answer:

drugs – but maybe to really

Explanation:

Here, a dash is the best way to connect the two related phrases. Since the two phrases before and after the colon can be independent sentences by themselves, a semicolon could also work. However, that's not one of the choices. A colon would not work, since it is only used to introduce a list or details that illustrate what is said before the colon. A pause is needed after “drugs”, but is not needed after “maybe”, which is why two of the other answers would not work.

Example Question #8 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

The word lithophyte refers to a plant that can grow on bare rock. It comes from the Greek words lithos: meaning “stone” and phyte: meaning “plant”.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose “NO CHANGE.”

Possible Answers:

lithos – meaning “stone” and phyte – meaning “plant.”

lithos, meaning “stone” and phyte, meaning “plant.”

NO CHANGE

lithos (meaning “stone”) and phyte (meaning “plant”).

lithos meaning “stone” and phyte meaning “plant.”

Correct answer:

lithos (meaning “stone”) and phyte (meaning “plant”).

Explanation:

Here, we have to distinguish between the most important parts of the second sentence and the less important parts. The most important part of the sentence states that the word lithophyte comes from lithos and phyte. The definitions of those Greek words are less important. The definitions can be thought of as asides, so they should be enclosed in parentheses. Though separating out the definitions using commas or dashes might work, a pause is needed between the part of the sentence about lithos and the part about phyte, which is why the other answers do not work.

Example Question #9 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

I wanted to bake an apple pie, but I didn't have some of the ingredients cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, so I first had to make a trip to the nearby grocery store.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose “NO CHANGE.”

Possible Answers:

ingredients, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, so I

NO CHANGE

ingredients—cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter—so I

ingredients. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter; so I

ingredients—cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, so I

Correct answer:

ingredients—cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter—so I

Explanation:

In this sentence, “cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter” gives extra information about which ingredients were missing; however, this information isn't necessary for understanding the overall meaning of the sentence, so it can be thought of as an aside and enclosed in dashes. Asides have to begin and end with the same type of punctuation, which is why some of the other answers are not right.

Example Question #10 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

The correct use of certain types of punctuation—contrary to what many students, adults, and even college professors believe—is not set in stone, but is actually subject to controversy and evolves over time.

Choose the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the sentence. If the underlined portion is correct as written, choose “NO CHANGE.”

Possible Answers:

punctuation: contrary to what many students, adults, and even college professors believe, is not

punctuation—contrary to what many students, adults, and even college professors believe: is not

punctuation contrary to what many students, adults and even college professors believe is not

NO CHANGE

punctuation, contrary to what many students, adults, and even college professors believe: is not

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

This sentence is correct as it is. The part of the sentence enclosed by dashes, “contrary to what many students, adults, and even college professors believe”, gives extra information that can be cut out of the sentence without affecting the sentence's grammar. Asides like these can be enclosed by dashes or parentheses, but they have to be introduced and end with the same kind of punctuation.

← Previous 1 3 4
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: