ACT English : Understanding Referents

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #291 : Revising Content

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

To what does the underlined “it” refer?

Possible Answers:

The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics

The question of the relationship between experience and metaphysics

The question of the value of physical theory

The question of the nature of astronomy

Correct answer:

The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics

Explanation:

The author is comparing two forms of the general question with which the passage had opened. It is difficult to formulate the question in a way that is not the same as one of the two options that he provides. However, among the options provided, only "The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics" adequately indicates what he means by "it" in the sentence in question.  

In particular, note that he is not merely discussing the relationship between experience and metaphysics. This is likely the most tempting wrong answer; however, nowhere does he discuss this question / problem.

Example Question #2592 : Act English

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

To what does the underlined personal pronoun “they” refer?

Possible Answers:

The sciences about which questions are asked

The questions being considered

The values of physical theories

The ages in which such questions are asked

Correct answer:

The questions being considered

Explanation:

Both from meaning of the passage as a whole, as well as from the author's use of "they" in the sentence before this one, we can only assume that this "they" refers to the questions about physical theory. Considering the last sentence, the author states, "As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed." The verb itself ("posed") indicates that he is referring to the questions noted earlier in the paragraph. This pronoun ("they") functions as the referent for our sentence's pronoun ("they"), ultimately being tied back to "the questions" being considered.

Example Question #2593 : Act English

Adapted from “Emerson’s Prose Works” in The Works of Orestes A. Brownson: Philosophy of Religion by Orestes Brownson (ed. 1883)

Mr. Emersons literary reputation is established and placed beyond the reach of criticism. No living writer surpasses him in his mastery of pure and classic English; nor do any equal himneither in the exquisite delicacy and finish of his chiseled sentences, or in the metallic ring of his style. It is only as a thinker and teacher that we can venture any inquiry into his merits; and as such we cannot suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by his oracular manner, nor by the apparent originality either of his views or his expressions.

Mr. Emerson has had a swarm both of admirers but also of detractors. With many, he is a philosopher and sage, almost a god; while with others, he is regarded as an unintelligible mystic, babbling nonsense fitted to captivate beardless young men and silly maidens with pretty curls, all of who constituted years ago the great body of his hearers and worshipers. We rank us in neither class, though we regard he as no ordinary man. Indeed, we believe he to be one of the deepest thinkers as well as one of the first poets of our country. Indeed, by long acquaintance have him and us been in mutual contact—if only from a distance at times. We know him to be a polished gentleman, a genial companion, and a warmhearted friend, whose' kindness does not pass over individuals and waste itself in a vague philanthropy. So much, at least, we can say of the man, and this do we base not only upon former personal acquaintance and upon our former study of his writings.

What is an acceptable replacement for the bolded word "many"?

Possible Answers:

many people

many fools

many mistakes

many reasons

Correct answer:

many people

Explanation:

The adjective "many" is being used substantively in this sentence. That is, it is being treated as though it were a noun. It implies a noun, though to ascertain what noun, we need to consider the broader context. Although the author is somewhat dismissive regarding Mr. Emerson's admirers, he is by no means completely negative. Therefore, the option "many fools" is inappropriate. However, the other two options are incorrect as well, for clearly he is referring to groups of human beings.  

Example Question #2594 : Act English

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.

To what does the bolded “others” refer?

Possible Answers:

other children

other things

other motives

other adults

Correct answer:

other adults

Explanation:

The referent for the pronoun "others" really goes back to the previous paragraph, in which the author compares certain adults to children. At the beginning of the paragraph, the author continues this theme, stating that those people are happiest who amuse themselves with what he calls "their playthings." It would perhaps be clearer even to say, "other such adults," or something similar.

Example Question #11 : Understanding Referents

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.

To what does the bolded word “them” refer at the end of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

grown-ups

biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod

children

motives

Correct answer:

children

Explanation:

The key phrase to note is, "that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children." The author is stating that, in spite of what people would wish to say about adults, they are guided around by treats and punishments just like children. It is to the children that that the pronoun "them" refers.

Example Question #2596 : Act English

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.

To whom or what does the bolded “them” refer?

Possible Answers:

others

employments

titles

beings

Correct answer:

employments

Explanation:

Here, be careful not to be tempted by the closer word "titles." The people in question dignify their achievements, by means of titles. However, the relative participial clause returns to describe the other people as "representing their employments" as being "great achievements." Another clue is the fact that the main verb of the clause is "performed." Titles are not performed but achievements—if taken in the sense of "activities"—can be construed to be something performed.

Example Question #2597 : Act English

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 implied noun for the bolded adjective “most”?

Possible Answers:

innocent people

users

confused people

criminals

Correct answer:

users

Explanation:

The adjective "most" is being used in a substantive sense. That means that it implies a noun or itself functions as a noun. There is a little bit of ambiguity here, for "most" could imply either "Americans" or "users." Since the latter option is the only one provided, we can select that as the correct answer. The sentence basically reads: "Early in the history of digital media, most users were far less certain about the legality and illegality of downloading such files." Since this substantive adjective is a bit ambiguous, it would be best to be explicit.

Example Question #351 : Writing And Revising Effectively

Passage adapted from G. K. Chesterton, "The Wrath of the Roses," in Alarms and Discursions (1910)

The position of the rose among flowers is like that of the dog among animals. It is not so much that both are domesticated as that we have some dim feeling that they were always domesticated. There are wild roses and there are wild dogs. I do not know the wild dogs; wild roses are very nice. But nobody ever thinks of either of them if the name is abruptly mentioned in a conversation or a poem. On the other hand, there are tame tigers and tame cobras, but if one says, "I have a cobra in my pocket," or "There is a tiger in the music-room," the adjective "tame" has to be somewhat hastily added. If one speaks of beasts one thinks first of wild beasts; if of flowers one thinks first of wild flowers.

But there are two great exceptions caught so completely into the wheel of man's civilization, entangled so unalterably with his ancient emotions and images, that the artificial product seems more natural than the natural. The dog is not a part of natural history, but of human history; and the real rose grows in a garden. All must regard the elephant as something tremendous, but tamed; and many, especially in our great cultured cities, regard every bull as presumably a mad bull. In the same way we think of most garden trees and plants as fierce creatures of the forest or morass taught at last to endure the curb.

But with the dog and the rose this instinctive principle is reversed. 

What two things does the underlined portion "two great exceptions" refer to?

Possible Answers:

emotions and images

elephants and bulls

tigers and cobras

roses and dogs

Correct answer:

roses and dogs

Explanation:

The author has just stated that whenever people talk about beasts or flowers they think instinctively of wild beasts and wild flowers. When he says, then, that there are two exceptions to this general tendency--that is, two things which we don't naturally picture as wild, but as tame--he refers to roses and dogs.

This is the main point of this entire passage, and it is reinforced by the final sentence "But with the dog and the rose this instinctive principle is reversed." The pronoun "this" refers us back to what the author has just said. The preceding sentence makes clear that he is contrasting the dog and the rose with all the other plants and creatures.

Example Question #352 : Writing And Revising Effectively

“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.

To what is the underlined "this" referring?

Possible Answers:

Success in mathematical instruction at an early age

The basis of the curriculum changes recommended here

The fact that mathematics is a good tool for teaching clear reasoning

The nature of mathematical knowledge

The use of mathematics in biology and physiology

Correct answer:

The fact that mathematics is a good tool for teaching clear reasoning

Explanation:

To answer this question, it might be helpful to ask yourself how the sentence in question could be rewritten. You could write, "However, do not misunderstand the assertion that mathematics is useful in this way. This assertion does not mean that mathematics is the basis of all knowledge." The general idea is that "this fact regarding the place of mathematics in the general curriculum for teaching clear reasoning." That is a lot of circumlocution (i.e. "talking around the exact meaning")! Hence, it is understandable that the passage only has the demonstrative "this."

Example Question #353 : Writing And Revising Effectively

“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 sovling 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!

To what does the underlined section refer?

Possible Answers:

The difference between intellectual and moral virtues.

The history of medieval treatments of moral virtues.

The history of medieval distinctions of moral and intellectual virtues.

The idea that there are things called intellectual virtues.

None of the others

Correct answer:

The idea that there are things called intellectual virtues.

Explanation:

By looking at the surrounding context, you can quickly and easily answer this question. In what follows, the discussion remains focused on the idea of an "intellectual virtue." It is not primarily concerned with the medieval discussions of this topic. Those are merely cited to show how others have held this position, and hence, that it is not totally crazy!

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