ACT English : Comma Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #161 : Punctuation 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.

What is the correct form of the underlined selection, "Three and gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers"?

Possible Answers:

three, gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers

three and gave them to the doctor, begging him to give them back to the soldiers

three, and gave them to the doctor, and begging him to give them back to the soldiers

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

three, gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers

Explanation:

Since the author wishes to express a sequence of events, we can do this by treating the predicate like we would a list of (e.g.) nouns. Just as you would separate three nouns with commas (e.g. apples, oranges, and goblins), you can separate each of the verbs (with their objects, etc) in the predicate: (1) ordered . . .three, (2) gave . . . doctor, (3) begged.  This option is slightly better than the option that uses the present active participle (begging), because the correct answer still expresses the sequential order in clear terms: First (1), then (2), and then (finally) (3).

Example Question #51 : Comma Errors

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes; Commodity Beauty Language and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor his work-yard his play-ground his garden and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed, the sun evaporates the sea, the wind blows the vapor to the field, the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this, the rain feeds the plant, the plant feeds the animal, and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

In modern English, which of the following could replace the underlined section?

Possible Answers:

world; will

NO CHANGE

world will

world: will

Correct answer:

world will

Explanation:

While Emerson placed a comma here, the sentence is a complete thought and thus does not need a comma separating the subject from its verb.

Example Question #51 : Comma Errors

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes; Commodity Beauty Language and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor his work-yard his play-ground his garden and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed, the sun evaporates the sea, the wind blows the vapor to the field, the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this, the rain feeds the plant, the plant feeds the animal, and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

Which is the best form of the underlined section?

Possible Answers:

Commodity: Beauty: Language: and Discipline

NO CHANGE

Commodity, Beauty, Language and Discipline

Commodity, Beauty, Language, and Discipline

Commodity—Beauty—Language—and Discipline

Correct answer:

Commodity, Beauty, Language, and Discipline

Explanation:

While Emerson originally used semicolons to separate these elements, in modern English we would more likely use commas to separate the elements following a colon. A comma is also needed before the "and"; this is called an Oxford comma and prevents certain sentences' lists from becoming ambiguous.

Example Question #51 : Comma Errors

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes; Commodity Beauty Language and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor his work-yard his play-ground his garden and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed, the sun evaporates the sea, the wind blows the vapor to the field, the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this, the rain feeds the plant, the plant feeds the animal, and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

Which is the best form of the underlined section?

Possible Answers:

The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed

The field is at once: his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed

NO CHANGE

The field is at once his floor; his work-yard; his play-ground; his garden; and his bed

Correct answer:

The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed

Explanation:

The phrase is a series and thus requires commas, even before the "and."

Example Question #51 : Comma Errors

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. 

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "Get up husband and bestir yourself"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

Get up! Husband and bestir yourself

Get up, husband, and bestir yourself

Get up husband, and bestir yourself

Correct answer:

Get up, husband, and bestir yourself

Explanation:

As written, the issue with the sentence is its lack of commas to separate off the noun of direct address, namely, "husband." From the context, we can tell that Ilsabill is speaking to her husband. The verbs are in the imperative mood, directed to him.

Example Question #51 : Comma Errors

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. 

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "The sea looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges"?

Possible Answers:

the sea looked a dark gray color and was overspread with curling waves and ridges

the sea had looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges

NO CHANGE

the sea looked a dark gray color, was overspread with curling waves, and ridges

Correct answer:

the sea looked a dark gray color and was overspread with curling waves and ridges

Explanation:

As written, the problem with the sentence is its incorrect use of a comma to separate off the compound predicate. There are two things being said of the sea: it (1) appeared a certain color and (2) was overspread with waves. Since these are not two independent clauses, no comma is needed to separate that which precedes the "and" from that which follows it.

Example Question #56 : Comma Errors

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. 

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "As he came close to the palace he saw a"?

Possible Answers:

As he came close to the palace he seen a 

As he came close to the palace, he saw a 

As he came closer to the palace he saw a 

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

As he came close to the palace, he saw a 

Explanation:

The only error in the sentence, as written, is the lack of a comma separating the subordinate clause, "As he came close to the palace," from the main clause, "He saw a . . . "

Example Question #57 : Comma Errors

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. 

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound"?

Possible Answers:

a troop of soldiers, and, hearing the sound

NO CHANGE

a troop of soldiers and heard the sound

a troop of soldiers and, hearing the sound,

Correct answer:

a troop of soldiers and heard the sound

Explanation:

As written, the only issue with the sentence is its inappropriate use of the comma separating "soldiers" from "and." The main clause of the sentence could be simplified to be: "He saw . . . and heard . . ." This is merely a case of a compound predicate, requiring no commas.

Example Question #58 : Comma Errors

Ivan and Oscar, two little white mice living in Mrs. Wiggins house (1), were desperate for some cheese, but the only way to get to the kitchen was climbing down (2) the old suit of armor that Mrs. Wiggins brought (3) back from England after her honeymoon. Ivan had went down (4) to the kitchen many times before, but Oscar was new to it all and (5) he was more nervous than he would admit. They came out at the hole in the wall above the suit of armors (6) left shoulder, and Oscar watched as Ivan slipped fast (7) into the joins between the steel plates. He then heard Ivan scuttling down through the shoulder, chest, and the left leg (8) before emerging through the left foot below. "Come on down Oscar (9)" called the courageous mouse. Oscar made his way into the shoulder just as his friend had done, but (10) 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 (11) mind. Finally he called out, "Help, Ivan! Help! Wont (12) you help me make it through the knight?"

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:

down, Oscar

NO CHANGE

down, Oscar,

down, Oscar;

Correct answer:

down, Oscar,

Explanation:

Because "Oscar" is additional information in the quoted sentence, and because it is also at the end of a quoted phrase, it should be set off by commas.

Example Question #52 : Comma 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.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "sprucely as a doctor, and said he could cure her"?

Possible Answers:

sprucely as a doctor and said he could cure her

sprucely, as a doctor, and said he could cure her

NO CHANGE

sprucely as a doctor and said, he could cure her

Correct answer:

sprucely as a doctor and said he could cure her

Explanation:

As written, the problem with this selection is its unnecessary use of the comma before the conjunction "and." The conjunction is in only in the predicate, compounding the old soldier's two actions: (1) dressing up and (2) saying that he can cure her. In such a case, you do not need to use a comma.

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