ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #82 : Verb Formation Errors

"Our Family Trip to Hawaii" by Jennifer Mings (2013)

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:

has been

became

NO CHANGE

is

Correct answer:

became

Explanation:

The other three choices do not make sense in the context of the question.

Example Question #83 : Verb Formation Errors

"Lincoln as a Child" by Caleb Zimmerman (2013)

 Abraham Lincoln's forefathers were pioneers. People that left their homes to open up the wilderness and make the way clear for others to follow them. For one hundred and seventy years, ever since the first Lincoln came from England to Massachusetts in 1638, he had been moving slowly westward as new settlements were made in the forest. They faced solitude, privation, and all the dangers and hardships that beset those who take up their homes where only beasts and wild men have had homes before; but they continued to press steadily forward, though they lost fortune and sometimes even life itself in their westward progress.

Back in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, some of the Lincolns had been people of wealth and influence. In Kentucky, where the future President was born on February 12, 1809, his parents live in deep poverty. Their home was a small log cabin of the rudest kind, and nothing seemed more unlikely than that their child, coming into the world in such humble surroundings, was destined to be the greatest man of his time and true to his heritage, he also was to be a pioneer—not into new woods and unexplored fields like his ancestors, but a pioneer of a nobler and grander sort, directing the thoughts of people ever toward the right, and leading the American people, through difficulties and dangers and a mighty war, to peace and freedom.

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:

were to live

would have lived

lived

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

lived

Explanation:

"NO CHANGE" is incorrect because the Lincolns in question lived over 200 years ago. Choosing the present tense here creates verb confusion with the past perfect “was born” verb used earlier in the sentence.

"Would have lived" and "were to live" give the impression that Lincoln’s parents did not end up raising him in poverty. No indication of this is given in the subsequent sentences.

Example Question #84 : Verb Formation Errors

While the course appeared hard from the outset, when his report card arrived in the mail, Charlie had discovered that all of his studying had paid off. He had successfully passed Chemistry: his father would be proud. His father, a world-renowned chemist was doubtful that Charlie would pass the class but Charlie was sure that he could do it. He had spent all of the fall semester studying the periodic table, memorizing different measurements and learning the parts of an atom.

That terrible semester culminated in the final exam. The day of the big test, his stomach is a tight knot of nerves. He tried to tell his mother that he was feeling ill but she knew that he was lying.1 He shook as he tried to put on his shoes and socks.He woke up with his fingers tightly gripping the bedspread.3 Sitting on the bus, he could feel himself sweating through his light sweater.4 When Charlie finally arrived at school, he walked into his Chemistry class just as his teacher was passing out the test. “You may now begin,” she said.

With the report card now clenched in his hands in victory, Charlie knew that he could tackle anything to which he put his mind.

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:

discovered

NO CHANGE

discover

was discovering

Correct answer:

discovered

Explanation:

The sentence uses the simple past tense because the action of Charlie finding out his grade began and ended in the past.

Example Question #1490 : Act English

"A Unique Journey" by Jasmine Tilley (2013)

While I was studying abroad in Europe, I had the great opportunity to travel to different countries. For one of my adventures, I chose to travel to Switzerland; however, the classmates I usually traveled with were unable to come with me. I was faced in deciding whether to go alone or not at all. This decision was easy for me, I was not going to pass up the opportunity to see Switzerland!

I first had to board a train from where I was staying in Italy to reach the southern part of Switzerland. Unfortunately, the train workers were on strike that day, so I ended up delayed in Milan for several hours. Soon enough I was on my way again.  However, shortly after I reached the Switzerland border, the train stopped because one of the cars was filled with smoke! I still have no idea what happened, but after a few minutes we were moving again.

Once I finally reached Geneva, I had to walk to find the hostel where I was staying that I had booked. It was night, and I realized that I was truly alone. I did not know another soul in this entire country! This thought was both scary and exciting.

The next day, I walked all around Geneva. Being my own tour guide was a fantastic adventure. I saw all the major sites while also experiencing the culture. There was some sort of marathon going on that day, and there was so much excitement all throughout the city. There were live bands. It even rained off and on. Everything was new and interesting, and I loved it.

That evening, I boarded a train to Zermatt. Prior to this journey, I had no idea that the Matterhorn was an actual mountain! The city of Zermatt was very tiny and had no cars, only small electric vehicles that resembled wind-up toys. The whole city was lit up, and though I was walking to my hostel at night again, I felt very safe. Walking through Geneva at night, though, starkly contrasted it.

The next day, I decided to go skiing on the beautiful, snowy mountains in Zermatt. I rented a pair of skis and spent a few hours skiing in my jeans and coat! It was an amazing experience.

My journey to Switzerland is dear to me not just because of the many beautiful and exciting things I experienced, but also because I was alone. I had the time as well as the quiet atmosphere to absorb and contemplate not just what was going on around me but also what was going on inside myself. I felt changed somehow. I felt stronger and more independent.

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:

have

NO CHANGE

would of had

has

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

"Had" is correct because it is past tense and flows with the rest of the story. ‘Would of had’ is incorrect because it should be "would have had."

Example Question #52 : Verb Tense Errors

In 1929, E.F. Lindquist, a professor in the University of Iowa College of Education, began designing tests for the Iowa Academic Meet. The purpose of the meet was to identify exemplary high school students. Test-takers began with a first round of testing. This round occurred during the school day and covered ten core academic subjects. Students who scored well in the first round participated in district-level tests that were more difficult. High-scorers from the second round participated in a third round of testing. The top ten students in each subject area were rewarded with medals at a banquet. Although the test was a success, Lindquist wanted to reduce the competitive aspect of the test. To achieve this goal, Lindquist renamed the test the Iowa Every-Pupil Achievement Testing Program.

The tests popularity provided Lindquist with the opportunity to study how to best write, administer, and score a standardized test. However, Lindquist was not yet satisfied. He grew concerned that the test focused too much on rote memorization of content rather than on skill development. Lindquist began to work on a test for middle school students that would test skills. This test which was first administered in 1935 became known as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. In 1942, the Every-Pupil test is discontinued and replaced with the Iowa Tests of Educational Development. As Lindquist had hoped, this test focused on testing skills rather than pure content memorization.

By the late 1950s, Lindquist had gained significant renown in the world of standardized testing, so he became involved in the process of developing a college admissions testing program. Although the SAT had been a commonly used admissions test since 1926, it was primarily marketed in the northeast and used as an admissions test for universities in that region. Schools outside this area used a variety of different tests that covered different content and was administered at different times. This led to unreliable results.

In 1958, that a standardized, national test be developed was proposed by Lindquist. He also hoped that, unlike the SAT, the new test would measure academic achievement so that it could be used to gauge each student’s level of preparation for college-level work.

Lindquist and a man named Ted McCarrel began developing the new test. One of McCarrel's main jobs was contacting admissions officers and convincing schools to use the new test. However, like the SAT, the ACT began as a regional test. Unlike the SAT, however, it was primarily used in the Midwest. With time and effort, the test became more popular in other parts of the country.

In 1959, the ACT was administered for the first time. The test was similar to the Iowa Tests of Educational Development. It consisted of four parts; English, math, social studies, and natural science. The social studies and natural science portions required students to interpret readings from each field; thus, Lindquist was able to maintain his goal of testing skills rather than memorized facts. Students had forty-five minutes to complete each section of the test. The ACT quickly became a staple of the college admissions process. In the first year, 132,963 students took the test, and that number grew in subsequent years.

Today, many colleges and universities in the U.S. accept ACT results from students applying for admission. So, don't worry! I'm sure your college will accept it too!

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 discontinued and replaced with

discontinues and replaces with

was discontinued and is replaced with

NO CHANGE

is discontinued and was replaced with

Correct answer:

was discontinued and replaced with

Explanation:

Because the passage refers to the year 1942, which is in the past, the past tense of the verb is needed here. Furthermore, the rest of the passage is written in the past tense, so for the sake of consistency, the past tense should be used here. The verb in this sentence ,"is," should be changed to the past tense form "was."

Example Question #85 : Verb Formation Errors

When the patent on Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary invention, the telephone, expired in 1894 thousands of new firms entered the telecommunication industry. Among them were a collection of profitable companies that merged to form what would later become known as The Bell System. The Bell System had amassed such weight in the industry that in 1933, when Congress passed a law declaring phone service a public utility, the Bell System quickly transformed into a monopoly. Lawmakers enthusiastic supported a series of provisions intended to stimulate competition. Appointed as the nation’s sole provider of telecommunication services, widespread criticism about the Bell System began to surface

The Federal Communications Act has so far been highly effective and the industry has grown tremendously as a result. In fact, for the past three years, the profitability of the largest three telecommunication companies has been greater than the largest three automotive companies. The number of calls provided by the top three companies range from five billion to six billion per day. Today, virtually everyone has made a phone call over the course of their lives. Most people do not know, however, that payment for swaths of electromagnetic wavelengths have become commonplace.

One explanation for such high call volume and large profits is that calls are becoming much less expensive for companies to provide, regardless for many large fixed expenses such as communication towers, base stations, and paying for utility poles. Over the last century, telephones had become an important part of modern society. In fact, the cost of delivering one telephone call today is about a thousandth of the cost in the 1950s. The increasing affordability and abundance of phone calls mark the progress made since the time of Alexander Graham Bell and the Bell System.

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:

is becoming

have become

are becoming

NO CHANGE

has become

Correct answer:

have become

Explanation:

We notice that the sentence begins with "Over the past half-century", which is a context clue  telling us that some event started in the past and persists until today. The original text contains a tense error: "had become" is in the past perfect, a tense reserved for past events that have stopped or were interrupted. The correct tense for a verb that started in the past and persists until today is the present perfect (e.g., "has eaten", "have seen"). In this case, the  present perfect is "has become," the correct answer.

Although "has become" correctly uses the present perfect tense, it is incorrect because it uses singular rather than plural form, and the subject of the verb ("telephones") is a plural noun.

The answer choice "is becoming" is incorrect for two reasons: 1) it does not use the present perfect tense, and 2) it is in singular rather than plural form.

Example Question #1491 : Act English

Alfred Tarski, born on January 14, 1901, became known during his lifetime as a brilliant mathematician and teacher. He is best known for proving several advanced geometric theorems. By the time Tarski moved to the United States, much of Europe has already fallen into the grips of World War II. Hundreds of mathematical problems were solved by Tarski.

Tarski enrolled in Warsaw University in 1920. Originally wishing to study biology, mathematics was the subject in which Tarski ultimately excelled. He graduated with honors, and began his career as a math teacher. A true mathematical virtuoso, Tarski was concerned with neither the application of his research nor publishing his findings.   

Discoveries made by Tarski influenced the work of one of the world’s greatest physicists, Albert Einstein. Einstein and Tarski had many similar interests in common. Unlike Albert Einstein, however, Tarski was especially fond for pure mathematics. Although Tarski and Einstein were contemporaries, Einstein was the most prolific writer of the two.

In 1929, Tarski married his co-worker, Maria Witkowska. An affinity for mathematics ran in the family. Tarski even admitted that his wife knew more about algebra, geometry and trigonometry than did he. Tarski's two children, Jan, and Ina, grew up to be prominent mathematicians themselves; however, neither Jan nor Ina have received a great deal of international attention.

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:

already falls

to fall

will have already fallen

had already fallen

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

had already fallen

Explanation:

When describing two past events, one of which took place before the other, the appropriate tense for the chronologically earlier event is the past perfect (e.g., "had eaten" or "had heard"). 

The sentence mentions two past events: 1) Tarski's move to the US and 2) much of Europe falling into the grips of WWII. The "already" tells us that Europe fell into the grips of WWII before Tarski moved. The sentence should therefore read "By the time Tarski moved the United States, much of Europe had already fallen into the grips of World War II."

The answer choice "has fallen" is incorrect because it uses the present perfect, a tense reserved for continuous past events that persist up until and including the present.

The answer choice "will have fallen" is incorrect because it uses the future perfect, a tense reserved for continuous events that are going to happen in the future.

The answer choice "to fall" is incorrect because it is an infinitive and does not convey either a specific or relative time at which the falling occurs.

Finally, "falls" is incorrect because it uses the present tense to describe the past event of much of Europe falling into the grips of WWII.

Example Question #86 : Verb Formation Errors

"The Election of 1800" by Alec Slatky (2013)

The presidential election of 1800 was an unusual and unique contest in American history. The opponents were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson former friends who became rivals. Jefferson had actually been Vice President under Adams, but had not supported the latter’s policies. Jefferson leapt at the chance to unseat his former boss. Adams, too, would have enjoyed spending time on his farm more than dealing with political acrimony. Accordingly, he was too prideful to willingly relinquish his office. So, the two men who were most qualified for the position but least excited to have such a stressful job became the presidential candidates.

The campaign was a bitter partisan one and included numerous personal attacks. Critics called Jefferson a Democratic-Republican radical, he would lead the country down the bloody path of the French Revolution. Jefferson’s allies fired back, painting Adams as an anti-liberty autocrat. Adams was from Massachusetts. Adams even faced opposition from some extremists among his fellow Federalists and thus lacked the party unity required to win the election.

In the end, Jefferson emerged victorious, winning 73 of the 138 electoral votes. Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as President, and Aaron Burr was inaugurated as Vice President. The election was a milestone in American history: it was the first that shifted control of the White House to a different party, the first with a modern mudslinging campaign, and the first that truly tested whether the new nation would remain united despite all its divisions.

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 actually being

NO CHANGE

has actually been

is actually

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

"had actually been" is correct because it is in the correct tense.  The tense needs to indicate the past, because the event takes place before 1800, and this past perfect tense does so;  "is actually" indicates the present tense, "has actually been" indicates the recent past, and "was actually being" is unnecessarily wordy.

Example Question #102 : Usage Errors

The ship was having trouble again. Engineer James Ferguson couldn't figure out why the super-duper drive engine kept breaching. Every time he had fixed it, something seemed to go wrong again. He had a capable crew and he was friendly with all of them: but the aliens who had evolved from deer rather than from apes as humans hadhad some problems when it came to fixing things. Their strong arms ended in tiny predicative hooves that sometimes makes it difficult for them to hold large objects. They were good at problem-solving though and he did like them a lot. The nearest one gave him a dough-eyed look of sympathy—appropriate, given her gender. He looked back at the breaching drive engine and sighed. "Once more into the breach, deer friends" he announced.

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:

has fixed

is fixing

NO CHANGE

fixed

Correct answer:

fixed

Explanation:

Simple past tense is necessary here, so the correct word choice is "fixed."

Example Question #61 : Verb Tense Errors

The ship was having trouble again. Engineer James Ferguson couldn't figure out why the super-duper drive engine kept breaching. Every time he had fixed it, something seemed to go wrong again. He had a capable crew and he was friendly with all of them: but the aliens who had evolved from deer rather than from apes as humans hadhad some problems when it came to fixing things. Their strong arms ended in tiny predicative hooves that sometimes makes it difficult for them to hold large objects. They were good at problem-solving though and he did like them a lot. The nearest one gave him a dough-eyed look of sympathy—appropriate, given her gender. He looked back at the breaching drive engine and sighed. "Once more into the breach, deer friends" he announced.

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:

would have been having

has

NO CHANGE

have

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The sentence starts off in the past tense; we can tell this because of its use of the past tense verbs "had" and "was." There's no reason presented as to why the underlined verb "had" should not be in past tense as well, so it is correct as written.

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