ACT English : Separating, Combining, or Reordering Paragraphs

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

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.

If you wanted to split this paragraph into two separate paragraphs, what would be the best first sentence of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

In this way, . . .

A public speaker who inserts himself . . .

Few persons can bear . . .

The examples of Washington, Franklin . . .

Correct answer:

A public speaker who inserts himself . . .

Explanation:

While the two paragraphs would be relatively short, this could be acceptable for an autobiography, particularly given the length of Mr. Adams' sentences. At the sentence beginning, "A public speaker who inserts," he begins to explain specifically why it is not advisable to be extremely public and argumentative. The first two lengthy sentences merely assert the fact that "articulate eloquence is not the surest road to fame or preferment."

Example Question #2 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

Adapted from “The Fisherman and His Wife" in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

The next morning, when Dame Ilsabill had awoke, it was broad daylight, and she jogged her husband, the fisherman, with her elbow, and said, "Get up husband and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, “why should we wish to be king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said she.

"But, wife," said the fisherman, "how can you be king? The fish cannot make you a king."

“Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time, the sea looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges of foam as he cried out, “O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill will have her own will, and hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what would she have now," said the fish?

"Alas!" said the poor man, 'my wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish, “for she is king already."

Then, the fisherman had went home. As he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. When he went in, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head. On each side of she stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. 

After which sentence would you start a new paragraph in the underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. 

It would be best not to split this paragraph into two paragraphs.

"Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." 

Correct answer:

"Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." 

Explanation:

There are two thoughts here. The first is the wife's remark to her husband. The second is his action of going away and speaking to the sea. The latter thought begins immediately after the wife's words. Therefore, you should start the new paragraph there.

Example Question #3 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

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

Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love. What is a magic-lantern without light? You have but too kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall; and, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy, when, like mere children, we behold it, and are transported with the splendid phantoms. I have not been able to see Charlotte today. I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself. What was to be done? I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody today whom had been near her. Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return! Oh, the joy with which I welcomed him. I should certainly have caught him in my arms and kissed him, if I had not been ashamed.

It is said that the Bonona stone, when placed in the sun, attracts its rays and for a time appears luminous in the dark. So was it with me and this servant. The idea that Charlotte's eyes had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his very apparel, endeared it all inestimably to me so that, at that moment, I would not have parted from him for a thousand crowns. His presence made me so happy! Beware of laughing at me, Wilhelm. Can that be a delusion which makes us happy?

Which sentence in the passage's first paragraph should mark the start of a new paragraph and be the first line of this new paragraph?

Possible Answers:

"Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return!"

"I have not been able to see Charlotte today."

"I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself."

"I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody today whom had been near her."

Correct answer:

"I have not been able to see Charlotte today."

Explanation:

A clear shift of thought occurs when the author states, "I have not been able to see Charlotte today." At this point, he beings talking about something concrete in his life. If this is not put into a new paragraph, the whole first paragraph becomes a bit confusing, making the reader wonder why all of these remarks are together in one flow of thought.

Example Question #4 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

Adapted from The Apology by Plato (trans. Jowett)

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind and has given occasion also to many false statements against me. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find lacking in others. However, O men of Athens, the truth is that god only is wise. By his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing. He is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration. It is as though he said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” And so, I go about the world, obedient to the god, searching and making enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise. If he is not wise, then I show him that he is not wise. My occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own. Indeed I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing. Young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord. They like to hear my examinations of others and often imitate me, and then proceed to examine others. They quickly discover that there is plenty of people, who think that they know something but really know little or nothing. Then, those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves become angry with me. 

“This confounded Socrates,” they say, “this villainous misleader of youth!” And then, if somebody asks them, “What evil does he practice or teach?” they do not know and cannot tell. However, in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers: the teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, having no gods, and making wrong things appear to be right. 

They do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected (which is the truth). And as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, they have filled your ears with they’re loud and inveterate calumnies.

And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth. I have concealed nothing; I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me. Still, what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth? From this have arisen the crowds’ prejudice against me. This is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future enquiry.

After which sentence in the first paragraph could you begin a new paragraph?

Possible Answers:

It is as though he said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” 

And so, I go about the world, obedient to the god, searching and making enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise.

He is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration. 

By his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.

Correct answer:

It is as though he said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” 

Explanation:

When the speaker begins to say, "And so, I go about the world," he is beginning a new thought and describing his activity. This is a shift in focus that could merit a new paragraph. Note that the question asks for the sentence after which the break is to occur. Therefore, select the sentence preceding this one.

Example Question #5 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

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

Not long after this, the three greatest measures of all were carried. Three committees were appointed, one for preparing a declaration of independence, another for reporting a plan of a treaty to be proposed to France, and a third to digest a system of articles of confederation to be proposed to the States. I was appointed on the committee of independence and on that for preparing the form of a treaty with France. On the committee of confederation Mr. Samuel Adams was appointed. The committee of independence were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Mr. Jefferson had been now about a year a member of Congress, but had attended his duty in the house a very small part of the time, and, when there, had never spoken in public. During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together. It will naturally be inquired how it happened that he was appointed on a committee of such importance. There were more reasons than one. Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen; he had been chosen a delegate in Virginia, in consequence of a very handsome public paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses, which had given him the character of a fine writer. Another reason was, that Mr. Richard Henry Lee was not beloved by the most of his colleagues from Virginia, and Mr. Jefferson was set up to rival and supplant him. This could be done only by the pen, for Mr. Jefferson could stand no competition with him or any one else in elocution and public debate.

If you wanted to split this paragraph into two separate paragraphs, which sentence would be the best beginning for the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

"The committee of independence were . . ."

"Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen . . ."

"During the whole time that I . . ."

"Mr. Jefferson had been now about a year . . ."

"On the committee of confederation Mr. Samuel Adams . . . "

Correct answer:

"Mr. Jefferson had been now about a year . . ."

Explanation:

Although the choice is a bit subjective, the best option among those provided is the sentence that marks the shift to focus on Jefferson himself. The first paragraph would thus describe the set of committees that were established. The second would discuss Jefferson's character and his selection. The most tempting wrong answer is likely, "Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen." That is not acceptable because it is part of a set of reasons being provided. It would be better to keep these together with their explanatory introduction.

Example Question #6 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

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."

After which sentence must there be a paragraph break in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

After both "'I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming.'" and "'You must lend me these, Basil,' he cried."

"You must lend me these, Basil," he cried. 

"I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming." 

No paragraph break is necessary.

Correct answer:

"I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming." 

Explanation:

There must be a break in the paragraph when the new speaker takes up the dialogue. This happens at the sentence, "That entirely depends on how you sit to-day, Dorian." You can tell this because the speaker uses "Dorian" as the direct address of the sentence. (This is indicated by the comma preceding his name.)

Example Question #7 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

“What is Leisure?”

It would likely surprise modern readers if he or she were told that the meaning of life is leisure. This seems to be the same thing as saying that the meaning of life is nothing more than relaxing by the side of the pool. One can imagine almost anyone thinking to himself, “What a preposterous idea.” This idea is not as foreign as it might appear at first glance. Indeed, it could be considered the classic Western position about the very meaning of life. 

Of course, we need to understand what is meant by the word leisure if we are going to understand this assertion. The best way to understand this is to consider a contrast between two different kinds of activity. On the one hand, there are many activities that are for the sake of something else. On the other hand, there are those activities that are done for their own sake. These latter kinds of activities are those that are properly understood as being leisurely. For example, when someone cuts onions for a meal, the cutting of the onions is not done for their own sake. The easiest way to figure out if something is being done for the sake of another end is to ask, “Why are you doing that.” The onion cutter will answer, “I am doing it so that I can make dinner.” This helps us to see that the cutting of the onions is for the sake of something else. Indeed, even the eating of dinner is for the sake of something else, namely attaining adequate nutrition.

In contrast to these examples, leisurely activities are those that are done for they’re own sake. For example, ask someone who enjoys organ music why he is listening to an organ concert. The answer will almost certainly be, “For the sake of listening to organ music. It is that important and beautiful!” Many things can be considered leisurely, including forms of games that are played merely for their own enjoyment; however, it is important to bear in mind that there is a hierarchy of goods. Some types of leisure are better than others and likely are more preferable.

After which sentence should there be placed a paragraph break?

Possible Answers:

Many things can be considered leisurely, including forms of games that are played merely for their own enjoyment.

These latter kinds of activities are those that are properly understood as being leisurely.

NONE NEEDED

On the other hand, there are those activities that are done for their own sake.

One can imagine almost anyone thinking to himself, “What a preposterous idea.”

Correct answer:

These latter kinds of activities are those that are properly understood as being leisurely.

Explanation:

To understand this answer, read the following two sentences in order: These latter kinds of activities are those that are properly understood as being leisurely. For example, when someone cuts onions for a meal, the cutting of the onions is not done for their own sake.

So long as you read this passage thoughtfully, you will realize that the example actually is about the first class of things. This is confused by the lack of a paragraph break. Therefore, you should place the break right here so as to key the reader into the fact the passage is going to discuss each kind of activity in order. (The new paragraph and the paragraph following it parallel the points expressed in the current paragraph in the language of "On the one hand . . . On the other hand."

Example Question #8 : Separating, Combining, Or Reordering Paragraphs

1. First of all, you have to fit apartment visits and rental applications into your already busy schedule.

2. Additionally, you are competing against many others who want the same apartment you want.

3. With perseverance and luck, though, you can beat the odds and get that cute apartment you've been dreaming of!

4. Finding an apartment to rent in a crowded city can be difficult.

Place the following sentences in the best order to form a paragraph.

Possible Answers:

4, 1, 2, 3

1, 2, 3, 4

2, 1, 3, 4

4, 1, 3, 2

3, 1, 2, 4

Correct answer:

4, 1, 2, 3

Explanation:

This question asks you to place sentences in the most logical order to form a paragraph. Sentence 4 is the topic sentence of the paragraph, so it should come first. Sentence 1 begins with the phrase "First of all," suggesting that it provides the first piece of evidence for the topic sentence. Sentence 2 continues with more detail, and we know it should come next because it begins with the transitional phrase "additionally." Sentence 3 includes the phrase "with perseverance and luck, though" indicating that it contrasts previously introduced information--in this case, the information introduced in Sentences 1 and 2. Sentence 3 also provides a conclusion for the paragraph and therefore should come last. 

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