ACT English : Word Choice, Style, and Tone

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

My lunch I had with my friend Gary (1) did not go very well. For one thing (2) he said he would come to pick me up (3) at noon. He normally texts me when he's outside, so I waited until 12:25.  Finally, at 12:30, he sends (4) a text: "Left my phone at home and had to come back to get it since you weren't downstairs waiting."

When he came back to get me, he was mad, at me. (5) "I couldn't find your doorbell," he shouted, "because there was no name tag on it, so I had gone (6) all the way home to get my phone just to text you!" (7)

"Wait a minute," I said, starting to get angry myself, "you're mad at me because you left your phone at home and you couldn't find my doorbell?"

"That's right," he replied __________ (8). "If you had been waiting downstairs, I would have had to not go through all of this." (9)

"But you're the one who left your phone at home," I countered, "and you always text me when you get here. Never have you asked me (10) to wait outside for you."

"Well, you should have," he muttered.

The rest of the day goes (11) downhill from there, all because my former friend Gary is (12) too proud to admit when he makes a mistake.

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:

he was mad, at me!

he was mad—at me.

NO CHANGE

he was mad at me!

Correct answer:

he was mad—at me.

Explanation:

Using the hyphen and the italics best accentuates the speaker's disbelief at being the target of his friend's anger over his friend's mistake.

Example Question #1 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

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?”

What is the best form of the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

What is the value of physical theory?

What are the values of physical theories?

What is the value of physical theories?

What are physical theories' value?

Correct answer:

What is the value of physical theory?

Explanation:

There are two facts to pay attention to in this question. First, note the agreement between "value" and the verb. If it is plural, the verb must be "are." If it is singular, the verb must be "is."  Secondly, notice that in the next sentence, the author states, "What value does it have?" The author is asking two questions about a single thing, namely, physical theory: (1) What is its value? (2) What is its relation to metaphysical explication? So, the correct answer uses the singular "theory."

Example Question #2 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

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 sense of the underlined selection, "if only"?

Possible Answers:

as long as

limited to

if undoubtedly

instead that

Correct answer:

as long as

Explanation:

The broader context helps to understand the author's meaning in this somewhat difficult sentence. In a more direct form, we could render what he is saying as: "If our theory could allow for errors (so long as the text is a record of the inner experiences of a great-souled person), then matters would be more favorable for retaining the meaningfulness of Bible."

Example Question #4 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

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.

Which of the following expresses a meaning equivalent to the underlined selection, "He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing"?

Possible Answers:

The wisest person is the man who knows that he is not wise. This was the case for Socrates.

Socrates is the model for all wise men, if indeed there are any such people.

Socrates was the wisest, for he knew that his wisdom was in truth worth nothing.

The wisest men are like Socrates, who alone knew the limits of his wisdom.

Correct answer:

The wisest person is the man who knows that he is not wise. This was the case for Socrates.

Explanation:

The original sentence communicates two points:

(1) The wisest person knows that his wisdom is worth nothing.

(2) Socrates too knew that his wisdom was worth nothing.

The correct answer contains both of these, even though it uses two sentences to do so.

Example Question #4 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

In today's society, (1) they have a popular TV series that (2) follows the life of 4-5 (3) young teenage girls who are trying to raise their child while being a teenager at the same time (4). The television series shows hardships, but they (5) focus more on the relationships of these girls rather than how much their baby’s diaper is changed or how often the baby spits up all over them. They always have a happy ending, giving teen girls these days hope that it (6) will do the same for them. The show focuses of (7) a different group of teen moms each season, but all being held back by having a child at a young age. Some are alone, some have significant others, and some even decided to give (8) their baby up for adoption, but not one of their lives are perfect nor easy (9). Some teenagers enjoy watching the show just to watch the babies grow, but others watch it because they think it’s popular, they think it will make them popular as well (10). The show is based upon these girl’s (11) lives and it doesn’t always seem to have to do with their children it has to do with them being teenagers (12).

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:

Currently

In our modern society

NO CHANGE

Now in days

Correct answer:

Currently

Explanation:

"Currently" is the most concise and correct way to replace the wordy phrase above.

Example Question #3 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

In today's society, (1) they have a popular TV series that (2) follows the life of 4-5 (3) young teenage girls who are trying to raise their child while being a teenager at the same time (4). The television series shows hardships, but they (5) focus more on the relationships of these girls rather than how much their baby’s diaper is changed or how often the baby spits up all over them. They always have a happy ending, giving teen girls these days hope that it (6) will do the same for them. The show focuses of (7) a different group of teen moms each season, but all being held back by having a child at a young age. Some are alone, some have significant others, and some even decided to give (8) their baby up for adoption, but not one of their lives are perfect nor easy (9). Some teenagers enjoy watching the show just to watch the babies grow, but others watch it because they think it’s popular, they think it will make them popular as well (10). The show is based upon these girl’s (11) lives and it doesn’t always seem to have to do with their children it has to do with them being teenagers (12).

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:

NO CHANGE

they show a popular TV series that

there is a popular TV series that

there was a popular TV series that

Correct answer:

there is a popular TV series that

Explanation:

Since we don't know who "they" are, the phrase "there is a popular TV series that" is the most correct choice.

Example Question #3 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

Choose the correct version of the following sentence. 

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores, so she began by emptying the trash can, replacing it's bag and then rolled the garbage bin to the street. 

Possible Answers:

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores, so, she began by, emptying the trash can, replacing its bag, and rolling the garbage bin to the street. 

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores, so she began by emptying the trash can, replacing it's bag and then rolling the garbage bin to the street. 

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores, so she began by emptying the trash can, replacing it's bag and, then she rolled the garbage bin to the street. 

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores and she began by emptying the trash can, replacing its bag and rolling the garbage bin to the street. 

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores, and she began by emptying the trash can, replacing it's bag and then rolled the garbage bin to the street. 

Correct answer:

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores and she began by emptying the trash can, replacing its bag and rolling the garbage bin to the street. 

Explanation:

Claudia's mother told her to begin her chores and she began by emptying the trash can, replacing its bag and rolling the garbage bin to the street. 

This is the correct version of the sentence because it (1) removes "so" a poor stylistic choice, (2) removes the apostrophe in "its" to make it possessive, and (3) creates parallel structure by changing "rolled" to "rolling."

Example Question #8 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Charles Dickens in a note now lying before me (1) alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of [the novel] Barnaby Rudge (2), says (3) "By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his 'Caleb Williams' backwards? He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been done" (4)

I cannot think this the exacting (5) mode of procedure on the part of Godwin — and indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with Mr. Dickens idea (6) — but the author of “Caleb Williams” was too good an artist not to perceive the advantage derivative (7) from at least a somewhat similar process. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable (8) air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents (9) and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error I think (10) in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis — or one is suggested by an incident of the day — or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative — designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial (11) comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may from page to page (12) render themselves apparent.

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

Possible Answers:

Barnaby Rudge

"Barnaby Rudge"

NO CHANGE

'Barnaby Rudge'

Correct answer:

Barnaby Rudge

Explanation:

While Poe and Dickens both might have used single or double quotation marks to give the name of a novel, the standard in contemporary times is to italicize a novel's title.

Example Question #5 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

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 of the following is the best replacement for the underlined word "own"?

Possible Answers:

acknowledge possession of

acknowledge responsibility for

None of the other answers

possess

Correct answer:

acknowledge responsibility for

Explanation:

This passage is slightly old-fashioned in its tone; therefore, we should not be surprised that a word like "own" might be used in an older, less standard manner (as it is here). The word own can mean "acknowledge ownership of / possession of / [or even] responsibility for." Think of the contemporary expression "own up to your crime." It means "accept responsibility for your crime." Since the author uses the word "it," we know that he is not talking about the possessions. (He spoke of them in the plural in the preceding paragraphs.)  Instead, he wants the princess to take responsibility for the general state of affairs. That is, he wants her to "own up" to the fact that she has stolen goods (not to "own" the goods themselves).

Example Question #10 : Word Choice, Style, And Tone

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.

Which of the following is the subject of the passage's first sentence?

Possible Answers:

That the life of a man is but a dream

many a man

life

dream

Correct answer:

many a man

Explanation:

The main clause of the sentence is, "Many a man has surmised . . ." The order is reversed for poetic / stylistic reasons. The relative clause, "That the life of man is but a dream," is the direct object of this clause's verb, "surmised." It answers the question "what?": What have many surmised? That the life of man is but a dream.

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