ACT English : Verb Mood Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

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Example Question #207 : Usage Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

had been dining

were to be dining

was dining

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The phrase "were dining" uses the subjunctive mood, which is appropriate for describing the uncertainty about whether John is dining alone or not.

Example Question #208 : Usage Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "if our theory of revelation-value were"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

if our theory of revelation-value was

if our theory of revelation-value is

if our theory of revelation-value will be able

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Consider first the basic form of the sentence: "If our theory . . . were to affirm that any book . . . must have been . . . , the Bible would . . ." The introductory subordinate clause (following "If . . .") is not a certain statement of fact. It requires the use of the subjunctive mood, which we rarely use in English in comparison with other languages. In this case, we use what appears to be the plural "were," which is the appropriate form. For example, it is also improper to say, "If I was an angry man, I would . . ."  Instead, to be grammatically correct, you would need to write, "If I were an angry man, I would . . ."

Example Question #209 : Usage Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "if only it be"?

Possible Answers:

if only it is to be

if only it was

if only it is

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

As written, the form of the verb is correct, though we rarely use it in this manner. This is called the subjunctive mood, which we find in expressions that express a degree of uncertainty. For instance, it is not correct to say, "If I was rich . . ." Instead, we must say, "If I were rich . . ." This use of "were" is an indication of the subjunctive mood in English. In this sentence, "be" is an appropriate form of the subjunctive mood in conjunction with the use of "it" in the conditional clause.

Example Question #210 : Usage Errors

Adapted from “The Nose Tree” in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

Then the king made known to all his kingdom, that whomever would heal her of this dreadful disease should be richly rewarded. Many tried, but the princess got no relief. Now the old soldier dressed himself up very sprucely as a doctor, and said he could cure her. Therefore, he chopped up some of the apple, and, to punish her a little more, gave her a dose, saying he would call to-morrow and see her again. The morrow came, and, of course, instead of being better, the nose had been growing on all night as before; and the poor princess was in a dreadful fright. So the doctor then chopped up a very little of the pear and gave it to her. He said that he was sure that it would help, and he would call again the next day. Next day came, and the nose was to be sure a little smaller. However, it was bigger than when the doctor first began to meddle with it.

Then he thought to him, "I must frighten this cunning princess a little more before I am able to get what I want from her." Therefore, he gave her another dose of the apple and said he would call on the morrow. The morrow came, and the nose was ten times bad as before.

"My good lady," said the doctor, "Something works against my medicine and is to strong for it. However, I know by the force of my art that it is this, you have stolen goods about you. I am certain of it. If you do not give them back, I can do nothing for you."

The princess denied very stoutly that she had anything of the kind.

"Very well," said the doctor, "you may do as you please, but I am sure I am correct. You will die if you do not own it." Then he went to the king, and told him how the matter stood.

"Daughter," said he, "send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, that you stole from the right owners."

Then she ordered her maid to fetch all three and gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers. The moment he had them safe, he gave her a whole pear to eat, and the nose came right. And as for the doctor, he put on the cloak, wished the king and all his court a good day and was soon with his two brothers. They lived from that time happily at home in their palace, except when they took an airing to see the world in their coach with their three dapple-grey horses.

Which is the best form of the underlined selection, "disease should be richly rewarded"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

disease could be richly rewarded

disease would be richly rewarded

disease will be richly rewarded

Correct answer:

disease would be richly rewarded

Explanation:

Although you could stylistically argue that "should" could be used as the modal for the main verb of this sentence, we can make it a bit clearer by changing this word. Notice that this selection hides a conditional statement: If someone heals her, then they will be rewarded. The modal "would" expresses the conditional nature of the king's offer.

Example Question #1 : Verb Mood 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.

What is the best form of the underlined verb "were born"?

Possible Answers:

was born

are born

NO CHANGE

might be born

Correct answer:

might be born

Explanation:

The expression "were born" is too matter of fact for the sentence. It is a pure indicative. However, the author is given an example. This implies a degree of "possibility" or "potentiality." It might be the case that such a thing would happen—it is merely a supposed example. This is also hinted at by the verb in the next sentence: "would be." Thus, the best option is the verb form that uses the modal "might."

Example Question #2 : Verb Mood Errors

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 of hte following is the best form of the underlined selection "And, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we"?

Possible Answers:

and, if love was only to show us fleeting shadows, we

and, if love is only to show us fleeting shadows, we

and, was love only to show us fleeting shadows, we

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

As written, the selection is correct. The form of the verb is the subjunctive mood. We do not use this very often in English. Often, you will find it used in conditional expressions like, "If I were . . ." Though it appears to be a misuse of a plural form ("were") with a singular subject ("love"), such is not the case here.

Example Question #3 : Verb Mood Errors

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 of the following is the best form of the underlined verb "are"?

Possible Answers:

would be

were

NO CHANGE

will be

Correct answer:

would be

Explanation:

Although the form is perhaps a bit confusing, the sentence expresses a conditional. You can read, "And, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy," as (duly corrected, also), "and, if love were only to show us fleeting shadows, we would be yet happy."

Example Question #4 : Verb Mood Errors

Adapted from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

As she applied herself to set the tea-things, Joe peeped down at me over his leg, as if he was mentally casting me and himself up and calculating what kind of pair we practically should make, under the grievous circumstances foreshadowed. After that, he sat feeling his right-side flaxen curls and whisker, and following Mrs. Joe about with his blue eyes, as his manner always was at squally times.

My sister had a trenchant way of cutting our bread and butter for us, that never varied. First, with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast against her bib, where it sometimes got a pin into it and sometimes a needle, which we afterwards got into our mouths. Then, she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were making a plaster.  She used both sides of the knife with a slapping dexterity and trimming and moulding the butter off round the crust. Then, she gave the knife a final smart wipe on the edge of the plaster and then sawed a very thick round off the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Joe got one and I the other.

On the present occasion, though I was hungry, I dared not eat my slice. I felt that I must have something in reserve for my dreadful acquaintance, and his ally the still more dreadful young man. I knew, “Mrs. Joe's housekeeping to be of the strictest kind,” and that my larcenous researches might find nothing available in the safe. Therefore, I resolved to put my hunk of bread and butter down the leg of my trousers.

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "peeped down at me over his leg, as if he was mentally casting"?

Possible Answers:

peeped down at me over his leg, as if one was mentally casting

peeped down at me over his leg, as if he were mentally casting

peeped down at me, over his leg, as if he was mentally casting

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

peeped down at me over his leg, as if he were mentally casting

Explanation:

As written, the error in the sentence is the improper use of the indicative mood for the verb "was casting." In order to express a supposition such as "if he . . .," you need to use the subjunctive mood. This is more simply seen in sentences like: "If I were a scientist, I would work for the good of humanity." You do not say, "If I was a scientist. . ." As strange as this sounds, "were" is correct. We do not use the subjunctive much in English, but you might be familiar with it from a foreign language you are studying.

Example Question #5 : Verb Mood Errors

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

If I were a teacher, I would grade fairly.

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

can be

am ever

have been

was

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

This is the proper usage of the subjunctive mood. In this instance, the speaker is not (and has presumably never been) a teacher, but is instead thinking about the potential scenario. When working with hypotheticals, the subjunctive is the correct case. 

Example Question #6 : Verb Mood Errors

The ship was having trouble again. Engineer James Ferguson couldn't figure out why the super-duper drive engine kept breaching. Every time he had fixed it, it seemed to go wrong again. He had a capable crew and he was friendly with all of them: but the aliens who had evolved from deer rather than from apes as humans hadhad some problems when it came to fixing things. Their strong arms ended in tiny predicative hooves that sometimes makes it difficult for them to hold large objects. They were good at problem-solving though and he did like them a lot. The nearest one gave him a dough-eyed look of sympathy—appropriate, given her gender. He looked back at the breaching drive engine and sighed. "Once more into the breach, deer friends" he announced.

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

can't have

couldn't have

can't

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

While the first phrase implies that the ship has trouble often, this phrase refers to a specific action in the past, and thus the contraction for "could not" is appropriate.

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