ACT English : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, and Parentheses

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

My father spent ten years as a political refugee in a refugee camp in Thailand. He didn't know whether he would ever be allowed to go back to his homeland. He told me, “In the camp we used to sing songs – old chants, laments about separation, and we prayed to see our own villages and fields again.”

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

Possible Answers:

songs. Old chants, laments about separation, and we prayed

songs—old chants, laments about separation and we prayed

NO CHANGE

songs: old chants, laments about separation and we prayed

songs—old chants, laments about separation—and we prayed

Correct answer:

songs—old chants, laments about separation—and we prayed

Explanation:

Here, the phrase “old chants, laments about separation” is similar to an appositive. It's a phrase that gives more detail about what types of songs the speaker's father sang in the refugee camp. Though this additional information is nice, it isn't necessary to understand the sentence. You could cut out the phrase so that the sentence read, “In the camp we used to sing songs, and we prayed.” So the “old chants, laments about separation” can be understood as an aside, and set apart with dashes. Asides need to open and close with the same type of punctuation, which is why some of the other answer choices would not work.

Example Question #12 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

Because it was raining—the elementary school students had recess inside the classroom. Instead of playing ball or swinging, they colored, played games of pretend, and drew on the whiteboard.

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

Possible Answers:

Because it was raining:

NO CHANGE

Because it was raining;

Because it was raining,

Correct answer:

Because it was raining,

Explanation:

Here, the first part of the sentence, “Because it was raining,” is a dependent clause; it cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. The second part of the sentence, “The elementary school students had recess inside the classroom” is an independent clause; it can stand by itself as a sentence. Connecting these two types of clauses just requires a comma, not any type of fancier punctuation like a dash or a colon.

Example Question #11 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

My mother never wanted me to call her “mom.” Instead, she preferred "Rebecca," she said that name made her feel more like her own person.

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

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

"Rebecca"—she said that name

 

"Rebecca," she said, that name

 

"Rebecca" she said that name

 

Correct answer:

"Rebecca"—she said that name

 

Explanation:

Here, we can break up the second sentence into two independent clauses, “Instead, she preferred 'Rebecca'” and “she said that name made her feel more like her own person." Both of these can be sentences in their own right. Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma followed by a conjunction, a dash, a semicolon, or, in certain cases, a colon. The only one of these pieces of punctuation offered as a possible answer is the dash, so that is the right answer.

Example Question #12 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

In the afternoon, I went to the park to watch the pigeons there for a while. I sat on a bench for the better part of an hour. When I finally got up to head home, by then, it was already getting dark, I saw all of the pigeons take to the air in a great commotion.

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

Possible Answers:

head home: by then, it was already getting dark

head home—by then, it was already getting dark,

head home; by then, it was already getting dark: 

 head home—by then, it was already getting dark— 

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

 head home—by then, it was already getting dark— 

Explanation:

In the underlined part of the sentence, the phrase “by then, it was already getting dark” gives extra descriptive information; however, we don't really need this extra information to understand the sentence as a whole. So, we can punctuate it as an aside, by enclosing it within dashes or parentheses. Asides have to begin and end with the same type of punctuation, so the only right answer is the one that surrounds “by then, it was already getting dark” with two dashes.

Example Question #771 : Punctuation Errors

Despite the car salesman's assurances that the used car had been inspected and showed no problems—my brother still had reservations about its safety.

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

Possible Answers:

showed no problems. My brother

showed no problems; my brother

showed no problems, my brother

NO CHANGE

showed no problems: my brother

Correct answer:

showed no problems, my brother

Explanation:

Here, the first part of the sentence, “Despite the car salesman's assurances that the used car had been inspected and showed no problems,” is a dependent clause. It cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. The second part of the sentence, “my brother still had reservations about its safety,” is an independent clause, or a clause that can be a complete sentence by itself. To connect these two types of clauses here, we only need a comma.

Example Question #13 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

As we grow older, we leave behind certain things that defined us in the past: clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas. And leaving behind these things allows us to grow and change.

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

Possible Answers:

things that defined us in the past—clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas, and leaving

things that defined us in the past, clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas; and leaving

things that defined us in the past: clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas—and leaving

things that defined us in the past—clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas—and leaving

Correct answer:

things that defined us in the past—clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas—and leaving

Explanation:

Grammatically, the first sentence is fine as it is; however, the second sentence, as it is written, is a fragment. When we combine these two sentences together, we have to think about what is the most important information, and what is additional, unnecessary information. Here, you could cut out the phrase “clothes, friends, neighborhoods, ideas”, and instead write “we leave behind certain things that defined us in the past, and leaving behind these things allows us to grow and change.” We can think of the phrase we could cut out as an aside, and enclose it between two dashes. We have to introduce and close an aside using the same sort of punctuation, which is why some of the other answer choices don't work.

Example Question #11 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

One summer when I was little, my uncle took me to an ice cream shop. There were so many flavors of ice cream on the menu. Flavors that I had never even imagined, and it took me almost twenty minutes to decide what to get.

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

Possible Answers:

flavors of ice cream on the menu—flavors that I had never imagined—and it took me

flavors of ice cream on the menu: flavors that I had never imagined. And it took me

NO CHANGE

flavors of ice cream on the menu, flavors that I had never imagined: and it took me

flavors of ice cream on the menu—flavors that I had never imagined, and it took me

Correct answer:

flavors of ice cream on the menu—flavors that I had never imagined—and it took me

Explanation:

As it is written, the last sentence here is a fragment, so it needs to be corrected. We should connect the second and third sentences together. But how?

The phrase “Flavors that I had never imagined” continues the idea from the second sentence about how the shop had so many flavors of ice cream; however, “Flavors I had never imagined” provides extra information that isn't really necessary to understanding the sentence. We could cut that phrase out, and write, “There were so many flavors of ice cream on the menu, and it took me.” The best way to understand “Flavors I had never imagined” is to think of it as an aside, which should be enclosed in either parentheses or dashes.

Example Question #14 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

The shop offered strange, exotic-sounding flavors of ice cream, like “worms and dirt”, vanilla, gummy worms, and cookie crumbles, and “tortoiseshell”, chocolate ice cream blended with swirls of caramel and two kinds of dark chocolate.

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

Possible Answers:

“worms and dirt” vanilla, gummy worms and cookie crumbles; and “tortoiseshell” chocolate ice cream blended with swirls of caramel and two kinds of dark chocolate.

“worms and dirt”: vanilla, gummy worms, and cookie crumbles. And “tortoiseshell”: chocolate ice cream blended with swirls of caramel and two kinds of dark chocolate.

NO CHANGE

“worms and dirt” (vanilla, gummy worms, and cookie crumbles) and “tortoiseshell” (chocolate ice cream blended with swirls of caramel and two kinds of dark chocolate).

Correct answer:

“worms and dirt” (vanilla, gummy worms, and cookie crumbles) and “tortoiseshell” (chocolate ice cream blended with swirls of caramel and two kinds of dark chocolate).

Explanation:

This is a complex sentence, so to simplify it, we can think about which parts are most necessary and which parts are provide additional, less important information. The two flavors of ice cream that the narrator names are “worms and dirt” and “tortoiseshell.” This is important information. Following the names of the flavors are their descriptions. The descriptions are the less important, additional information, so they can be enclosed in parentheses. Using parentheses is the clearest way to rewrite this sentence, because it shows what exactly the names of the ice cream flavors are, and what the descriptions of the flavors are.

There needs to be a pause between the part of the sentence about “worms and dirt” and the part about “tortoiseshell,” which is why some of the other answers are not right.

Example Question #11 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

The French philosopher Rene Descartes once went out to dinner at a French restaurant because (1) after all (2) where else would he go to eat? On that occasion (3) he ordered the escargot en beurre, the chicken liver paté, the gratineed scallops (4) and the blanquette de veau. Then he proceeded to order another portion of each dish. The waitress was appeased (5). She had never seen anyone order so much food in one sitting it (6) made her slightly ill to watch him eat it all. What made it worse he had no table manner at all since (7) philosophers tend to be thinking about life and death and (8) not about using a napkin. Finally (9) as he sipped the last of his burgundy (10) Descartes made a motion for the check. The waitress asked (11) "Would you care for any desert, monsieur?" At that point, Descartes replied, "I think not" (12) and promptly vanished.

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

restaurant—because,

restaurant; because,

restaurant: because,

Correct answer:

restaurant—because,

Explanation:

The em-dash denotes a sudden addition to the sentence and is the only workable piece of punctuation here since what follows is not a complete sentence.

Example Question #12 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

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

Julia (and her ever-present dog, Fido) arrived at the fair with a sense of excitement and adventure.

Possible Answers:

Julia, and her ever-present dog, Fido, arrived at the fair with a sense of excitement and adventure.

Julia - and her ever-present dog, Fido arrived at the fair with a sense of excitement and adventure.

NO CHANGE

Julia and her ever-present dog Fido arrived at the fair with a sense of excitement and adventure.

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Parentheses are used to provide additional information or to include information that may serve as an aside.  In this case, the choice with the parentheses is the only choice that correctly identifies and her ever-present dog, Fido as additional information while using correct punctuation.  A comma is not necessary after Julia because Julia and her ever-present dog are only two items separated by and.  Some form of punctuation is necessary to indicate the additional information, but none of the other choices use punctuation consistently or correctly.

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