ACT English : Comma Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #621 : Act English

Paul stood waiting, for the meeting with James. He had arrived early at the little alleyway in northern Bramville, waiting to meet the other man at a pub named the “Pick and the Shovel.” The whole situation was extremely strange, for Paul had never met James. Indeed, nobody whom Paul knew had met him. Hitherto, the mysterious man had been nothing more than a voice on the phone and a conversationalist via e-mail.

The making, of the trip to Bramville, was utterly unexpected, and his companions had encouraged him to reconnoiter the situation, record his thoughts, and communicate them within the coming week. Many peoples’ fates rode on the character of this mysterious man, this James. By stroke of luck, Paul was about to meet him.

Although Paul was quite certain that this was the appropriate course of action, he was still quite unnerved. Thousands of miles from his home, far from any friends, and without a cell phone, he could well be the target of a dangerous man. For this reason, he watched very intently as every person passed by, particularly those men who were alone. Many times, he asked himself, “Is that him”?

Thus, Paul watched and waited, somewhat overcome with fear yet also anxious to meet this mysterious man. It was time for a meeting with this man, upon whose mysterious persona were placed so many hopes. Though Paul was nervous to be the person to meet James, he knew that he was the man to whom this task had been appointed by fate.

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

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

Paul stood waiting for the meeting with James.

Paul, stood, waiting, for the meeting with James.

Paul stood, waiting for the meeting with James.

Correct answer:

Paul stood, waiting for the meeting with James.

Explanation:

The phrase "waiting for the meeting with James" is a (present active) participial phrase describing how paul was standing.  While you might be able to leave the sentence without any comma, it is best to have a comma separating the main action, "Paul stood," from the further description, "waiting for James."

Example Question #622 : Act English

Paul stood waiting, for the meeting with James. He had arrived early at the little alleyway in northern Bramville, waiting to meet the other man at a pub named the “Pick and the Shovel.” The whole situation was extremely strange, for Paul had never met James. Indeed, nobody whom Paul knew had met him. Hitherto, the mysterious man had been nothing more than a voice on the phone and a conversationalist via e-mail.

The making, of the trip to Bramville, was utterly unexpected, and his companions had encouraged him to reconnoiter the situation, record his thoughts, and communicate them within the coming week. Many peoples’ fates rode on the character of this mysterious man, this James. By stroke of luck, Paul was about to meet him.

Although Paul was quite certain that this was the appropriate course of action, he was still quite unnerved. Thousands of miles from his home, far from any friends, and without a cell phone, he could well be the target of a dangerous man. For this reason, he watched very intently as every person passed by, particularly those men who were alone. Many times, he asked himself, “Is that him”?

Thus, Paul watched and waited, somewhat overcome with fear yet also anxious to meet this mysterious man. It was time for a meeting with this man, upon whose mysterious persona were placed so many hopes. Though Paul was nervous to be the person to meet James, he knew that he was the man to whom this task had been appointed by fate.

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

Possible Answers:

Thousands of miles from his home, far from any friends, and without a cell phone

Thousands of miles from his home far from any friends, and without a cell phone, 

Thousands of miles from his home far from any friends, and without a cell phone

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

There are three items in the list found here:

(1) "Thousands of miles from his home"

(2) "far from any friends"

(3) "without a cell phone"

These items are all subordinate clauses that are describing Paul's state of affairs. Since they are placed in sequence, they should each be separated by a comma. Furthermore, since they are subordinate to the main clause, which only begins at "he could," you need a comma at the end of the sequence as well. So, the correct answer is to leave the sentence as it is written.

Example Question #261 : Punctuation Errors

Adapted from "The Weakness, Unrest, and Defects of Man," from The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (ed. 1901)

We care nothing for the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if we could make it move faster; or we call back the past, to stop its rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander through the times in which we have no part, unthinking of that which alone is ours; so frivolous are we that we dream of the days which are not and pass by without reflection those which alone exist. For the days of the present generally gives us pain; we conceal it from our sight because it afflicts us, and if it be pleasant, we regret to see it vanish away. We endeavor to sustain the present by the future, and think of arranging things not in our power, for a time at which we have no certainty of arriving.

If we examine our thoughts, we shall find them always occupied with the past or the future. We scarcely think of the present, and if we do so, it is only that we may borrow light from it to direct the future. The present is never our end; the past and the present are our means, the future alone is our end. Thus we never live, but hope to live, and while we always lay ourselves out to be happy, it is inevitable that we can never be so.

Which of the following is the best form of the bolded selection, “back the past . . .”?

Possible Answers:

back the past, to stop its

back the past to stop its

back the past—to stop its

back the past; to stop its

Correct answer:

back the past to stop its

Explanation:

In this sentence, "to" is being used in the sense of meaning "in order to." Looking at the clause, the comma breaks the flow of the thought and is not helpful given the simplicity of the second half of the predicate: "we call back the past in order to stop its flight." An increase in the number of commas in a sentence is not always the best policy for clarity.

Example Question #141 : Comma Errors

Ivan and Oscar, two little white mice living in Mrs. Wiggins house, were desperate for some cheese, but the only way to get to the kitchen was climbing down the old suit of armor that Mrs. Wiggins brought back from England after her honeymoon. Ivan had went down to the kitchen many times before, but Oscar was new to it all and he was more nervous than he would admit. They came out at the hole in the wall above the suit of armors left shoulder, and Oscar watched as Ivan slipped fast into the joins between the steel plates. He then heard Ivan scuttling down through the shoulder, chest, and the left leg before emerging through the left foot below. "Come on down Oscar" called the courageous mouse. Oscar made his way into the shoulder just as his friend had done, but somehow got mixed up and ended up in the right arm. The twists and turns inside the armor were too complicated for his tiny, mousy mind. Finally he called out, "Help, Ivan! Help! Wont you help me make it through the knight?"

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:

it all: and

it all, and

NO CHANGE

it all; and

Correct answer:

it all, and

Explanation:

The use of the conjunction between the two complete sentences here indicates the use of the comma. Had there been no conjunction, the semicolon would then have been appropriate.

Example Question #142 : Comma Errors

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.

What is the best form of the bolded selection, “such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself”?

Possible Answers:

such a man is at peace and creates his own world within himself

such a men is at peace, and creates their own world within themselves

such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within themself

such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself

Correct answer:

such a man is at peace and creates his own world within himself

Explanation:

As it stands, the problem with this clause is its use of the comma before the conjunction "and." Taken simply, the sentence is a case of a compound predicate, not of a combination of two independent clauses. It simply states, "such a man is at peace and creates his own." "Is" and "creates" are two verbs for the subject, "such a man."

Example Question #142 : Comma Errors

Today, most Americans are familiar with the idea of purchasing music and movies online. While a number of these users continue to download these media files illegally, the overall public conscience had changed regarding this matter. Early in the history of digital media, most were far less certain about the legality and illegality of downloading such files. Today, matters are quite different, not only because of several important lawsuits but, indeed, because of the overall growth of relative inexpensive means of purchasing such digital content. This change of conscience has been accompanied by a simultaneously change in culture regarding online file-sharing. In the early days of illegal file-sharing, users would regularly host servers that were overtly and publically visible to users and potential enforcement personnel. Today, however, people utilize a number of carefully planned modes of obfuscation. Using encryption, indirection, and other means the contemporary illegal file-sharer shows clear awareness of the fact that their activity is illegal.

What is the best form of the bolded selection, “using encryption, indirection, and other means the contemporary illegal file-sharer”?

Possible Answers:

Using encryption indirection and other means the contemporary illegal file-sharer

NO CHANGE

Using encryption, indirection, and other means, the contemporary illegal file-sharer

Using encryption, indirection, and other means the contemporary, illegal file-sharer

Correct answer:

Using encryption, indirection, and other means, the contemporary illegal file-sharer

Explanation:

The problem with the selection as written is the lack of a comma at the close of the participial clause that introduces the sentence: "Using encryption, indirection, and other means." The subject of the sentence begins at "the contemporary illegal file-sharer." Before this, we need to insert a comma to separate off the subordinate clause appropriately.

Example Question #261 : Punctuation Errors

Please select the underlined portion of the sentence with errors, or select "no error" if the sentence has no errors.

The customer did not correctly understand the promotion, she expected to get half price on both items.

Possible Answers:

promotion, she

No error

did not correctly

get half price

Correct answer:

promotion, she

Explanation:

This sentence is a run-on, and should be split into two sentences with the appropriate punctuation, or given a proper conjunction.

Example Question #2 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Commas

Please select the underlined portion of the sentence with errors, or select "no error" if the sentence has no errors.

Although we frequently camp at the State Park, the National Park is our favorite place to visit, it has the longest mountain range in the country. 

Possible Answers:

visit, it

the longest

No error

Although we

Correct answer:

visit, it

Explanation:

Commas can only be used between dependent and independent clauses. When a comma splits two independent clauses, as in this question, it becomes a "comma splice", and is gramatically incorrect. Either a period or semi-colon should be used.

Example Question #3 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Commas

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college, in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

Possible Answers:

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college, in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college; in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college, also in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college, the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

Correct answer:

In the sciences, students need to see a lab early in college; in the humanities, archives do not need to be seen until they are upperclassmen.

Explanation:

The sentence as presented is actually two complete thoughts united in one sentence, which is done to contrast the two thoughts. In these instances, the thoughts should be broken up more concretely than by one comma. The correct answer choice utilizes a semi-colon to unite the two sentences in one.

Example Question #4 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Commas

Feudal lords were not all horrible bosses, many relied too much on their subjects.

Possible Answers:

bosses, many relied

bosses' many relied

bosses; many relied

bosses, so many relied

bosses many relied 

Correct answer:

bosses; many relied

Explanation:

The sentence actually contains two complete sentences, which are placed together to show their thematic ties. Any such complex sentence must be joined either by a comma and conjunction or a semi-colon. The only answer choice containing such a construction is "bosses; many relied."

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