ACT English : Comma Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : 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, "apple, and, to punish her a little more,"?

Possible Answers:

apple and, to punish her a little more,

NO CHANGE

apple and to punish her a little more

apple, and to punish her a little more,

Correct answer:

apple and, to punish her a little more,

Explanation:

The easiest way to see the proper form is to simplify the sentence. In its most basic form, it can be written: "He chopped . . . and . . . gave . . ."

The conjunction ("and") is being used to make a compound predicate. This does not require a comma. Therefore, you can eliminate the comma before "and." However, the expression, "to punish her . . . more," is an explanatory clause that should be set off from the second half of the predicate. Therefore, the two commas surrounding it should be retained.

Example Question #62 : 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, "wished the king and all his court a good day and was soon with his two brothers"?

Possible Answers:

wished the king and all his court a good day, and was soon with his two brothers

wished the king, and all his court a good day and was soon with his two brothers

NO CHANGE

wished the king, and all his court, a good day and was soon with his two brothers

Correct answer:

wished the king and all his court a good day, and was soon with his two brothers

Explanation:

As written, the sentence does not deliminate the multiple verbs in the predicate very well. Looking at the sentence in a simplified fashion, we can see that it states that the doctor: (1) put . . . (2) wished . . . (3) was with . . . Therefore, it is best to separate the verbs appropriately by placing a comma before the "and" that directly precedes the final verb ("was").

Example Question #61 : Comma 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 punctuation mark should appear after the underlined "it"?

Possible Answers:

A colon

A comma (NO CHANGE)

A semicolon

No punctuation should appear after the underlined "it."

Correct answer:

No punctuation should appear after the underlined "it."

Explanation:

As written, the sentence does not need the comma placed before the conjunction "and." The only compound formed here is a compound predicate, not a compound of two independent clauses. No commas are necessary at all here, and neither is any other form of punctuation.

Example Question #62 : Comma 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, "reserve for my dreadful acquaintance, and his ally"?

Possible Answers:

reserve, for my dreadful acquaintance, and his ally

reserve for, my dreadful acquaintance and his ally,

NO CHANGE

reserve for my dreadful acquaintance and his ally

Correct answer:

reserve for my dreadful acquaintance and his ally

Explanation:

As written, the issue with the selection in question is its superfluous comma before the conjunction "and." What we have here is merely a compound predicate that does not call for a comma to separate the parts. This is more easily seen if you consider the clause in a simpler form: "I must have something for my acquaintance and his ally."

Example Question #202 : Correcting Grammatical 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 correct form of the underlined selection, "ally the still more dreadful young man"?

Possible Answers:

ally the still, more dreadful, young man

NO CHANGE

ally the more dreadful still young man

ally, the still more dreadful young man

Correct answer:

ally, the still more dreadful young man

Explanation:

The problem with the sentence (both as written and in the wrong answers) is its lack of comma for the apposition. We use "appositives" when we place two words or phrases next to each other in order to describe the same thing. For instance, we could write: "My favorite teacher, Mr. Tremba." Here, the "ally" is being described as "the still more dreadful young man." By placing a comma after "ally," we are able to make clear that this is a case of apposition. (Sometimes, you can avoid using such commas, as in simple cases like "my friend John."  Here, the length of the phrases makes it desireable to use the comma to separate the two descriptions.)

Example Question #63 : Comma Errors

Adapted from “The Fear of the Past” in What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton (1910)

The last few decades have marked by a special cultivation of the romance of the future. We seem to have made up our minds to misunderstand what has happened; and we turn, with a sort of relief, to stating what will happen—which is (apparently) more easy. The modern man no longer presents the memoirs of his great grandfather; but is engaged in writing a detailed and authoritative biography of his great-grandson. Instead of trembling before the specters of the dead, we shudder abject under the shadow of the babe unborn. This spirit is apparent everywhere, even to the creation of a form of futurist romance. Sir Walter Scott stands at the dawn of the nineteenth century for the novel of the past; Mr. H. G. Wells stands at the beginning of the twentieth century for the novel of the future. The old story, we know, was supposed to begin: "Late on a winter's evening two horsemen might have been seen . . ." The new story has to begin: "Late on a winter's evening two aviators will be seen . . ." The movement is not without its elements of charm; theres something spirited, if eccentric, in the sight of so many people fighting over again the fights that have not yet happened; of people still aglow with the memory of tomorrow morning. A man in advance of the age is a familiar phrase enough. An age in advance of the age is really rather odd.

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined, "in the sight of so many people fighting over again the fights that have not yet happened"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

in the sight of so many people fighting over against the fights that have not yet happened

in the sight of so many people fighting again the fights that have not yet happened

in the sight of so many people fighting over, again, the fights that have not yet happened

Correct answer:

in the sight of so many people fighting over, again, the fights that have not yet happened

Explanation:

The adverb "again" is placed very awkwardly (in an awkward sentence). He is intending to say that there is something spirited (if eccentric) in watching people fight future fights again, even though they have not yet even happened. He is trying to be paradoxical. However, the paradox is so dense that the reader likely will stumble on the word "again," wondering if it is a mistake. Remedy this by setting it off in commas. 

Example Question #63 : Comma Errors

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

The sky which was black and stormy virtually guaranteed a snow day from school.

Possible Answers:

sky which was black and stormy,

sky, which was black and stormy

sky, which was black and stormy,

NO CHANGE

sky, which was black, and stormy,

Correct answer:

sky, which was black and stormy,

Explanation:

The correct answer uses a pair of commas to offset the unnecessary clause "which was black and stormy" from the main sentence. Using fewer or more commas than this is incorrect. Remember: to test whether a clause is necessary or not, read the sentence without the clause to see if it is still a complete (though probably more dull) sentence.

Example Question #64 : Comma Errors

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

Sometimes it is better to forgive and forget, then to hold grudges. 

Possible Answers:

forget, but

NO CHANGES

forget

forget then

forget than

Correct answer:

forget than

Explanation:

There is no need for a comma because "than to hold grudges" is not a full sentence. Also, "than" is the correct word because you are making a comparision. "Then" is an adverb used to situate actions in time. 

Example Question #551 : Act English

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

Now, if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the kingdom of the Turk. Therefore it was only necessarily for Alexander, first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After this victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure in Alexander’s power, for the reasons noted earlier. If his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there was no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves. However, it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Roman’s in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these latter states, of which the Romans always held an insecure possession; however, with the power and long continuance of the empire, the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. When fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered, no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia or at the difficulties that others have had to keep an acquisition. This is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror but, instead, by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

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

Possible Answers:

Alexander's power—for the reasons—noted earlier

Alexander’s power, for the reasons, noted earlier

Alexanders power, for the reasons noted earlier

Alexander’s power for the reasons noted earlier

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

Alexander’s power for the reasons noted earlier

Explanation:

As written, the selection misplaces the comma before "for." There is no need for this punctuation. "For" is being used here as a preposition in a phrase that adverbially describes why the state remained in Alexander's power.

Example Question #66 : 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 is the best form of the underlined selection, "the fisherman, with her elbow, and said,"?

Possible Answers:

the fisherman, with her elbow and said,

the fisherman, with her elbow, saying,

the fisherman with her elbow, and said,

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

the fisherman, with her elbow, saying,

Explanation:

There are two issues in the selection as written. The first is merely syntactic. There is no need for the comma before the "and said." This does not mark a new independent clause. Instead, it merely marks a compounding of the predicate: "She jogged. . . and [then] she said." However, given that the sentence is already a compound of two independent clauses, it is best to eliminate the second "and," as it likely can could cause confusion. This is best done by using the present active participle "saying."

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