ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #1477 : Act English

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.

Which of the following is an acceptable replacement for the underlined selection, "had been growing on"?

Possible Answers:

had grown

grow

had continued growing

grew

Correct answer:

had continued growing

Explanation:

From the context, you can guess that the expression "growing on" means continued to grow. The author wishes to express this action as something that happened earlier in the past but also as a process as well. (That is, the growing occurred over a period of time.) The best way to do this is to keep the past perfect by using the form "had continued" but use the participle "growing" to explain what "had continued" happening over a period of time.

Example Question #1478 : Act English

Adapted from The Apology by Plato (trans. Jowett)

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind and has given occasion also to many false statements against me. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find lacking in others. However, O men of Athens, the truth is that god only is wise. By his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing. He is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration. It is as though he said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” And so, I go about the world, obedient to the god, searching and making enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise. If he is not wise, then I show him that he is not wise. My occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own. Indeed I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing. Young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord. They like to hear my examinations of others and often imitate me, and then proceed to examine others. They quickly discover that there is plenty of people, who think that they know something but really know little or nothing. Then, those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves become angry with me. 

“This confounded Socrates,” they say, “this villainous misleader of youth!” And then, if somebody asks them, “What evil does he practice or teach?” they do not know and cannot tell. However, in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers: the teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, having no gods, and making wrong things appear to be right. 

They do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected (which is the truth). And as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, they have filled your ears with they’re loud and inveterate calumnies.

And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth. I have concealed nothing; I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me. Still, what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth? From this have arisen the crowds’ prejudice against me. This is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future enquiry.

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "me, and then proceed to examine others"?

Possible Answers:

me; and then proceed to examine others

me and then proceed to examine others

NO CHANGE

me, then proceeding to examine others

Correct answer:

me, then proceeding to examine others

Explanation:

Since the sentence already has the compound predicate "like to hear . . . and often imitate," it is best to avoid adding another conjunction—at least given the structure of the sentence. (You do not string together verbal expressions by separating them with conjunctions. You separate them with commas, using a conjunction only at the end of the series.) Since this is not a new independent clause, the best option would be to use the participle "proceeding" instead of the finite verb "proceed."

Example Question #71 : Verb Formation Errors

I love to cleaning. It’s a good way to unwind at the end of the day, and, I always function better in a clean environment. I once heard someone say, “You’re home is your temple.” I attempt to lived my life by that. My priorities are getting rid of clutter, sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, and cleaning the counter top in our kitchen. I mop the floor extremely, quickly. I don’t mop all that often, but my roommates appreciate it whenever I do!. 

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:

I attempt to living my life by that.

I attempted to lived my life by that.

I attempt live my life by that.

I attempt to live my life by that.

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

I attempt to live my life by that.

Explanation:

Here, “to live” is an infinitive verb. An infinitive verb is almost always the word “to” followed by the present tense form of the verb.

Example Question #71 : Verb Formation Errors

From an adaptation of a Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, On the Occasion of the Death of the Latter's Wife Abigail (1818)

The public papers my dear friend, have announced the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in the same soil and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

What is the tense and voice of the boldfaced verb phrase “have announced” in the first sentence?

Possible Answers:

present perfect passive

past perfect active

present perfect active

past perfect passive

Correct answer:

present perfect active

Explanation:

The way to determine the voice of a verb is to ask, "Who or what is doing the action?" If it is the subject, then the voice is active. In this sentence, the papers are announcing, so the verb is active in voice. Although it is an event in the past, it is at an unspecified time in the past. Therefore, it is present perfect. (The "perfect" means "completed." This is something completed already, though not at a specified point of time.) The past perfect form is something like, "They had announced."  This indicates something even "more past" than an already past event.

Example Question #72 : Verb Formation Errors

From an adaptation of a Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, On the Occasion of the Death of the Latter's Wife Abigail (1818)

The public papers my dear friend, have announced the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in the same soil and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

What is the tense and voice of the verb “had given” in the first sentence?

Possible Answers:

present perfect active

past perfect passive

perfect active

past perfect active

Correct answer:

past perfect active

Explanation:

The sense of the sentence is that the papers have now announced the death that Adams' earlier letter already had announced.  When the helper verb "had" is used with the past participle, it indicates an activity that happened "further in the past" in comparison with events that already have occured.  Since the subject (the letter) is what "performs" the action of giving (i.e. announcing) the news, the verb "had given" is in the active voice.  (The passive form would be "had been given.")

Example Question #73 : Verb Formation Errors

From an adaptation of a Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, On the Occasion of the Death of the Latter's Wife Abigail (1818)

The public papers my dear friend, have announced the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in the same soil and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Which of the following would be a suitable equivalent to the phrase “Tried myself in the school of affliction”?

Possible Answers:

To be tried myself in the school of affliction

Myself having been tried in the school of affliction,

Trying myself in the school of affliction,

None of the others

Correct answer:

Myself having been tried in the school of affliction,

Explanation:

The participle "tried" is a shortened form of the perfect passive participle expression "having been tried." Although it is an infrequently used form in English, this can be rendered in what is called "an absolute phrase." For instance, to say that something happened after the food had been eaten, you could form a sentence like, "The food having been eaten, we washed the dishes and silverwear." Here, the reflexive pronoun "myself" is a bit more awkward than "food" in the example above. Nevertheless, it can be placed at the beginning of the clause to make the point that it is the subject (myself = Jefferson = "I" in the independent clause) who has "been tried in the school of affliction."

Example Question #41 : Verb Tense Errors

From an adaptation of a Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, On the Occasion of the Death of the Latter's Wife Abigail (1818)

The public papers my dear friend, have announced the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in the same soil and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Which is the best form of the phrase “are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in”?

Possible Answers:

are depositing our sorrows and suffering bodies in

have deposited our sorrows and suffering bodies in

had deposited our sorrows and suffering bodies in

are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in

Correct answer:

are to deposit our sorrows and suffering bodies in

Explanation:

The author here is speaking of the future time at which he and Mr. Adams will deposit their sorrows and boides in the soil. The only form among those provided that can be interpreted this way is the combination of "are" with the infinitive "to deposit." This construction can be interpreted either as "are going to deposit" or "must deposit." The other options do not at all express the tense in an appropriate manner.

Example Question #44 : Verb Tense Errors

Adapted from The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (ed. 1896)

Look at a plant in the midst of it’s range. Why does it not double or quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case, we can clearly see that if we wish in imagination to give the plant the power of increasing in number, we should have to give it some advantage over its competitors, or over the animals of the wild that prey on it. On the confines of its geographical range, a change of constitution with respect to climate would clearly be an advantage to our plant; but we have reason to believe that only a few plants or animals range so far, that they are destroyed exclusively by the rigor of the climate. Not until we reach the extreme confines of life, in the Arctic regions or on the borders of an utter desert, will competition cease. The land may be extremely cold or dry, yet their will be competition between some few species, or between the individuals of the same species, for the warmest or dampest spots.

Hence we can see that when a plant or animal is placed in a new country amongst new competitors, the conditions of its life will generally be changed in an essential manner, although the climate may be exactly the same as in its former home. If it’s average numbers are to increase in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have had to do in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies.

It is good thus to try in imagination to give to any one species an advantage over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do. This ought to convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it is difficult to acquire. All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.

Which is the best form of the boldfaced and underlined word “prey”?

Possible Answers:

were preying

have been preying

NO CHANGE

are preying

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

To understand this portion of the sentence, let us simplify the overall sentence to read, "We should have to give [the plant] some advantage . . . over the animals of the wild that prey on it." The sentence merely wants to make the general assertion that the plant would need advantages over animals that prey upon it. Nothing is inferred about current activities ("are preying") or past ones ("were preying" or "have been preying"). The sentence merely is stating a fact about the animals that do in fact prey upon the plant being discussd. This is best expressed by the simple present: "prey."

Example Question #92 : Usage Errors

Adapted from The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (ed. 1896)

Look at a plant in the midst of it’s range. Why does it not double or quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case, we can clearly see that if we wish in imagination to give the plant the power of increasing in number, we should have to give it some advantage over its competitors, or over the animals of the wild that prey on it. On the confines of its geographical range, a change of constitution with respect to climate would clearly be an advantage to our plant; but we have reason to believe that only a few plants or animals range so far, that they are destroyed exclusively by the rigor of the climate. Not until we reach the extreme confines of life, in the Arctic regions or on the borders of an utter desert, will competition cease. The land may be extremely cold or dry, yet their will be competition between some few species, or between the individuals of the same species, for the warmest or dampest spots.

Hence we can see that when a plant or animal is placed in a new country amongst new competitors, the conditions of its life will generally be changed in an essential manner, although the climate may be exactly the same as in its former home. If it’s average numbers are to increase in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have had to do in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies.

It is good thus to try in imagination to give to any one species an advantage over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do. This ought to convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it is difficult to acquire. All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.

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

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

increased

increasing

having been increased

increases

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

A longer way of stating the introductory clause would be, "If the conditions are to be arrived at so that the average numbers will increase in its new home." The somewhat irregular expression "are to increase" shortens this way of speaking in a way that the other options do not. The author is not speaking about a certain occurrence: "are increased" or "are increasing." Instead, he is expressing a conditional, as is indicated by the main clause of the sentence as well as the wider context of the passage.

Example Question #51 : Verb Tense Errors

"Our Family Trip to Hawaii" by Jennifer Mings

Last summer, my mother, sister, brother, and me took a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. We were excited to see everything, and couldn’t wait to arrive. After our lengthy plane ride, we stepped off of the plane in a daze. There was two flight attendants who immediately greeted us, putting flower wreaths around our necks. We then met up with our tour guide; and he told us that we would be going straight to Pearl Harbor.

On our way to Pearl Harbor, there was a largely immense amount of traffic, something that aggravated my mother. Luckily, the tour guide was a native of the island, and he was able to calm my mother down.

When we finally arrived at Pearl Harbor, there was many tourists and natives of different nationalities. The first thing we did when we arrived was watching a movie about the history of Pearl Harbor, which included the story of the USS Arizona. During the movie, everyone had been excited to see the USS Arizona Memorial and wanted to get on the boat. After, we all got on a boat and we were driven to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was an amazing, beautiful, gorgeous, and great experience for everyone.

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

Possible Answers:

was watch

NO CHANGE

had been watching

to watch

Correct answer:

was watch

Explanation:

All other answer choices change the verb tense.

 

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