ACT English : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, and Parentheses

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #772 : Punctuation Errors

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

Amarna was pursuing a career as a model, her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory, and found some promising opportunities in California, thousands of miles from home.

Possible Answers:

a model, her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory; but 

NO CHANGE

a model but her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory, she found

 a model—her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory and found

a model—her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory—and found

Correct answer:

a model—her parents certainly did not agree with her career trajectory—and found

Explanation:

The correct answer choice implements em dashes appropriately, using them to add a relevant independent clause in a manner that interrupts the sentence without creating a run-on sentence or comma splice errors.

Example Question #21 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

“Democracy—Always a Good Thing?”

In the contemporary world, we tend to think that democracy is always the best form of government.  We are enchanted by the idea of self-governance for it seems to affirm the maturity of the citizens of a nation.  Instead of being ruled by benign-monarchs or the landed-aristocracy, the citizens of a democracy are people who exercise self-mastery in a fully human manner.  Well, at least this is what we tend to think of the matter.

Really, however, democracy is an ambiguous affair.  Often, we use such single terms to name two different types of social arrangements.  Such an equivocation is understandable.  Whenever all (or at least most) of the people take part in political life, it seems like we have a kind of democracy.  However, it is important to make a clearer distinction.

On the one hand, there can be a community that aims at the common good.  In such a group, the people come together to have a political community that aims to fulfill human goals that could not be done by isolated individuals.  Such a group will come together to establish educational institutions to preserve culture, regulate commerce in order to help normalize economic interactions, pass many laws that regulate our social interactions, and undertake many other affairs.  Although all of these things benefit the individuals in the given society, such a group of self-governing people do not aim merely at the private satisfaction of the people.  This kind of “democracy” works together, for common political goals.

On the other hand, there can be a community that merely aims at the private goods of the citizens.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle remarked in his text, the Politics,  that democracy was a government by the numerous poor people for the sake of those same people’s private goods.  Clearly, he was using “democracy” in this sense.  If the people of a nation only come together in order to assure their own private freedom and to receive benefits for themselves, a given society is this kind of so-called democracy.

Of course, it is difficult to say what is the state of any particular nation today.  Often, elements of each of these kinds of governance is found in a given country at a particular time.  Still, it is important to be aware that such an “equivocation” is possible.  Otherwise, we will end up saying rather foolish things like, “Democracy is always a good form of government,” or, “democracy is a horrible form of government.”

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

Possible Answers:

ruled by benign-monarchs, or the landed-aristocracy,

NO CHANGE

ruled by benign-monarchs, or the landed-aristocracy

ruled by benign monarchs or the landed aristocracy

Correct answer:

ruled by benign monarchs or the landed aristocracy

Explanation:

As written, the sentence misuses hyphens. You should use hyphens to unite descriptors of a noun. There is, however, only one adjective in each case, namely "benign" and "landed." Therefore, no hyphens are necessary.

Example Question #22 : 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."

New structures are being built to house low-income families.

Possible Answers:

New structures are being built to house-low income families. 

New structures are being built to house low-income-families. 

NO CHANGE

New structures are being built to house low income families. 

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

This sentence uses "low" to modify "income." When you use high or low before a word you add a hyphen. For example: high-income, low-flying, or high-stress.

Example Question #23 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

“Mathematics and Learning”

What subject should be learned first?  The question rightly troubles anyone who’s interest is in education.  Of course, young children often must learn in a very basic and rote fashion, applying their apt memorization skills to simple tasks that will serve them very well in later years when they go one to apply such knowledge to more complex topics.  However, when the time comes to designing curricula, an important question must be answered for older students, namely “What is most important first topic in these students’s education?”

An argument can be made for the use of mathematics as a tool for teaching students how to reason more clearly.  This is not because mathematics is the basis of all knowledge.  Indeed not.  There are many important subjects including not only the humanities like poetry and history but sciences like biology and physiology too.   These topics are not strictly speaking mathematical in nature, even though mathematics can be used in it in many ways.

Our minds are best geared for learning things that we can sense, things that are visible and tangible.  Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense derived experience.  Beginning with simple everyday examples, children can be taught the more abstract and difficult skills that must be learned for the sake of the development of mathematical skills.  In the process of learning these topics, the children will begin to learn important rules about reasoning.  He or she will learn how several propositions can serve as the basis for conclusions.  They will learn how certain properties are related to various geometric figures and arithmetical rules.  Although much of this will be memorized at first, with time, they will have the opportunity to see that human reasoning in mathematical subjects is orderly and logical.  On the basis of such “logical experience,” young learners can then begin to be taught the rules of logic that they have been using all along.  As the medievals used to say, they could go from logica utens, logic used in other subjects, to logica docens logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject.

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:

Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense-derived experience.

Although, mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense derived experience.

Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense-derived-experience.

NO CHANGE

Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense, derived experience.

Correct answer:

Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense-derived experience.

Explanation:

The expression "sense-derived" is a single adjective modifying "experience." The phrase "sense derived experience" is a bit confusing without a clarifying hyphen to explain exactly what kind of experience you are talking about. Being "sense-derived" is the single adjectival description of the experience in question.

Example Question #24 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

“Mathematics and Learning”

What subject should be learned first?  The question rightly troubles anyone who’s interest is in education.  Of course, young children often must learn in a very basic and rote fashion, applying their apt memorization skills to simple tasks that will serve them very well in later years when they go one to apply such knowledge to more complex topics.  However, when the time comes to designing curricula, an important question must be answered for older students, namely “What is most important first topic in these students’s education?”

An argument can be made for the use of mathematics as a tool for teaching students how to reason more clearly.  This is not because mathematics is the basis of all knowledge.  Indeed not.  There are many important subjects including not only the humanities like poetry and history but sciences like biology and physiology too.   These topics are not strictly speaking mathematical in nature, even though mathematics can be used in it in many ways.

Our minds are best geared for learning things that we can sense, things that are visible and tangible.  Although mathematics is abstract, it can begin with this kind of sense derived experience.  Beginning with simple everyday examples, children can be taught the more abstract and difficult skills that must be learned for the sake of the development of mathematical skills.  In the process of learning these topics, the children will begin to learn important rules about reasoning.  He or she will learn how several propositions can serve as the basis for conclusions.  They will learn how certain properties are related to various geometric figures and arithmetical rules.  Although much of this will be memorized at first, with time, they will have the opportunity to see that human reasoning in mathematical subjects is orderly and logical.  On the basis of such “logical experience,” young learners can then begin to be taught the rules of logic that they have been using all along.  As the medievals used to say, they could go from logica utens, logic used in other subjects, to logica docens logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject.

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

from logica utens, logic used in other subjects, to logica docens, logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject

from logica utens (logic used in other subjects) to logica docens (logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject)

from logica utens, logic used in other subjects, to logica docens—logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject

from "logica utens," logic used in other subjects, to "logica docens" logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject

Correct answer:

from logica utens (logic used in other subjects) to logica docens (logic taught, as a unique, and separate subject)

Explanation:

The major issue in this portion of the sentence is clarity. While it is helpful to make small explanations of terms that are foreign, the prose shouldn't distract the reader. While a comma after docens would work to some degree, this is still a rather awkward formulation. In that format, it is difficult to pick out the appositions and the main part of the sentence. Therefore, it is better to use parentheses to separate out the appositional remarks.

Example Question #21 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

“Intellectual Virtues”

Whenever someone talks about being “virtuous,” we immediately think of someone whose very moral.  Perhaps we even think of people who are a bit boring for virtuous people can appear to have no fun at least in the popular imagination.  Whatever the case might be, almost any reader would be surprised to see the expression “intellectual virtues.”  What could this expression mean to designate!  At best, most people would say, “Such virtues must describe people for who knowledge is combined with devotion and rigorous discipline.”  That is; they would seem to describe the person who has a disciplined character in addition to being intelligent.

However, in ancient and medieval philosophy, certain intellectual capacities were considered virtues.  These character traits were not quite the same as moral character traits or virtues.  To understand this idea, it can be helpful to consider two example people, one whose skills are the fruit of a so-called intellectual virtue and the other whose skills are not.

It is easier to start with the person who does not have a given intellectual virtue.  We all know someone who is not very good at math, that is, someone for who math is difficult even though he or she might be quite skilled at many other tasks   It makes sense to say that this person doesn’t have an intellectual virtue.  Likewise, think of the person who is only able to memorize formulas.  Such a person is often very good at working through many problems with deft skill.  This person seems to be a “wiz” at geometry and algebra, quickly solving equations and proofs. 

However, this latter person might suddenly be presented with a difficult, new problem.  When we notice that he or she does not have the creative skill and insight to solve the problem, we realize that he or she does’nt have a so-called “intellectual virtue.”  This person merely has a habit—a particular skill that is helpful but does not indicate true and complete mathematical knowledge.  The person who is able to understand the mathematics and creatively apply this knowledge to solve new problems.  This person has a true intellectual virtue.  They have a particular ability for intellectual insight, able to probe the difficult domain of this topic.  This is much more noble as the mere habit of being able to balance equations and repeat facts about geometric figures!

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:

have no fun; at least in the popular imagination

have no fun at least, in the popular imagination

NO CHANGE

have no fun at least in the popular-imagination

have no fun (at least in the popular imagination)

Correct answer:

have no fun (at least in the popular imagination)

Explanation:

The issue in this selection is that the short expression (at least in the popular imagination) is a side comment and not part of the main flow of the sentence. Now, you could separate this by placing a comma or hyphen before the "at." This, however, is not an option provided. Therefore, the use of parentheses to isolate the comment is the best of the options provided.

Example Question #25 : 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."

After learning that the client was on a tight budget which (he hadn't known at first), Joe made a revised plan for the project.

Possible Answers:

a tight budget which he hadn't (known at first), Joe made a revised plan for the project.

(a tight budget which he hadn't known at first), Joe made a revised plan for the project.

NO CHANGE

a tight budget (which he hadn't known at first), Joe made a revised plan for the project.

a tight budget (which he hadn't known at first, Joe made a revised plan for the project).

Correct answer:

a tight budget (which he hadn't known at first), Joe made a revised plan for the project.

Explanation:

Parentheses should be used to enclose additional information as an aside. If the section in parentheses were removed, the sentence should still be complete. In the original format, removing the phrase in parentheses would leave the sentence "After learning that the client was on a tight budget which, Joe made a revised plan for the project," which does not make sense. The word "which" is part of the additional information being given, so it should be placed within the parentheses.

Example Question #26 : 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."

I'm going to start a brand new blog focusing on the Civil War (in addition to my blog about the Revolutionary War).

Possible Answers:

I'm going to start a brand new blog focusing on the Civil War (in addition to my blog about the Revolutionary War.)

I'm going to start a brand new (blog focusing on the Civil War in addition to my blog about the Revolutionary War). 

(I'm going to start a brand new blog) focusing on the Civil War in addition to my blog about the Revolutionary War.

NO CHANGE

I'm going to start a brand new blog (focusing on the Civil War in addition) to my blog about the Revolutionary War.

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

This question asks you about the grammatically correct use of parentheses. Parentheses should be used to mark off information that qualifies or explains the information preceding it. In this case, the information inside the parentheses, "in addition to my blog about the Revolutionary War," qualifies the creation of a "brand new blog focusing on the Civil War." The sentence must be complete even if the information in parentheses were removed, so it is not correct to include other parts of the sentence inside the parentheses. When the information in parentheses does not form a complete sentence, the period should be placed outside of the parentheses.

Example Question #27 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

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

Jane made so many good friends during her time at university (but more importantly, she also obtained her degree). She would go on to use her degree to get a banking job.

Possible Answers:

university--but more importantly, she also obtained her degree.

 university. And, more importantly, she also obtained her degree.

 university. (More importantly, she also obtained her degree.)

university, and more importantly, she also obtained her degree.

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

university--but more importantly, she also obtained her degree.

Explanation:

This question asks you about the best way to use parentheses and dashes. Parentheses should surround information that adds detail, but is not essential to the text, and their effect is to downplay the importance of this information. The use of the phrase "more importantly" suggests that parentheses are not a good choice. The use of a comma and the conjunction "and" is technically correct, but not the strongest structure because it also downplays important information. The best choice of punctuation is a dash, which draws attention to the information that follows. The dash also correctly characterizes the abrupt shift from the topic of Jane's friends to the topic of her degree.

Example Question #22 : Errors Involving Hyphens, Dashes, And Parentheses

“Justice and Parents”

We tend to think of justice as a matter of strict equality.  For example if someone wants to buy an item, they are understandably expected to pay an amount that is roughly equal to its value.  Likewise, when a law declares that the penalty for speeding is $150, it is considered just that one who breaks this law pays the fine.  However, justice can also pertain to matters that are beyond mere equality.

An obvious example of this is the case of the relationship between children and their parents.  Unlike the cases discussed earlier, children will have had little opportunity to repay they’re parents for all that they have done for them.  Technically speaking, strict “equality” would require the child to give birth to the parents.  This is an absurd thing to suggest.  Similarly absurd is the suggestion that children should directly repay the rearing offered by parents.  Once again, strict equality cannot occur in the child-parent relationship.

However, there is a kind of justice between children and his or her parents.  For example, when a parent ages and is in need of assistance, if the adult child can provide assistance but refuses to do so.  This is a kind of injustice to the parents.  On a more positive note.  For example, an adult child might send his parents on a cruise in memory of their anniversary.  Such an action would be a kind of “justice” done to the parents—at least in that it recognizes the immense debt that is owed by the child to the parents in question.

In these (and many other cases), justice is less about equality than it is about paying what one can pay.  That is, in such cases, both justice or injustice is determined by worthiness that surpasses mere equality.  This kind of justice could be called justice above justice.  That is, it is a kind of justice that surpasses the “normal” justice of equality.  Such acts of justice ensure that society does not become reduced to the cold calculation of equality but, instead, has the warmth of true affection and loving gratitude.

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

Possible Answers:

In these (and many other) cases

In this case, as in many other cases,

In these and many other cases

In this (and many other cases)

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

In this case, as in many other cases,

Explanation:

Technically, this sentence is referring back to the previous example. Hence, it is referring back to a case that is singular. It is best to refer back to "this" (meaning the case just mentioned about adult children) and perhaps remove the parentheses altogether, as they break up the flow a bit. Thus, the best option is, "In this case, as in many other cases." This introduction is much clearer than the other options.

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