ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

whom

who

anyone

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Since the interrogative pronoun here is the subject of the clause "whoever would answer our questions," the object pronoun "whoever" is used, and the "-ever" prefix is used to show that anyone could have talked to the boys.

Example Question #1 : Other Pronoun Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

Whatever

Which

Whichever

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

Which

Explanation:

The boy is asking which of the paintings were done by Renoir.

Example Question #1 : Pronoun Usage Errors

The teacher had several questions for her students when they returned from the museum. Who did they talk to? What did they see?  

 “We talked to whoever would answer our questions,” replied Jake with the red hair (as opposed to Jake who sat behind him with the brown hair). “Our questions were answered by one woman most of the time.”

"But who was that woman?" the teacher asked.

"We never got her name," Jake with the brown hair said.  "At the time, we didn't think her name was important." 

Upon hearing this, Hugh was getting annoyed. "Her name wasn't 'Important,'" said Hugh, "it was Ingrid." 

"Oh," Jake with the brown hair said. "I knew it started with an 'I.'"

"We saw several paintings by some guy named Renoir," Jake with the red hair said. 

"What were these?" Jake with the brown hair asked.

"They were the bigger of the three by the door," Jake with the brown hair replied.

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

Possible Answers:

those

that

NO CHANGE

theses

Correct answer:

those

Explanation:

"Those" would be the correct demonstrative pronoun to refer to a plural of the paintings.

Example Question #21 : Usage Errors

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

The new law was passed by a two-thirds majority.

Possible Answers:

A two-thirds majority passed the new law.

The new law is passed by a two-thirds majority.

A two-thirds majority passes the new law. 

NO CHANGE

The new law was passing by a two-thirds majority. 

Correct answer:

A two-thirds majority passed the new law.

Explanation:

In passive voice, the object is acted upon ("The new law was passed"). In active voice, the subject performs an action ("A two-thirds majority passed"). Passive voice typically uses "to be" helping verbs (in this case, "was"). Thus, in order to rewrite the sentence in active voice, it is important to ensure that the subject performs an action and to eliminate "to be" helping verbs, but there is no need to eliminate the past tense. In fact, eliminating the past tense alters the timeline of the action, and is therefore wrong. "The new law passed by a two-thirds majority" changes the subject of the sentence from "a two-thirds majority" to "the new law," which should be the object of the action, so this sentence is not the BEST choice.

Example Question #22 : Usage Errors

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?”

What is the voice of the underlined verb "was formulated"?

Possible Answers:

passive

subjunctive

indicative

active

Correct answer:

passive

Explanation:

The voice of a verb refers to the relationship of activity between the subject and the verb of the sentence. It is divided only into the options "active" and "passive." In this sentence, the subject "it" stands for "the question." It is not the question that is "doing the asking"—as when one says, "Peter asks the question." Instead, the question "is being asked." It is passive—being done by someone else. 

Example Question #1 : Verb Voice Errors

Adapted from The Autobiography of John Adams (ed. 1856)

Here I will interrupt the narration for a moment to observe that, from all I have read of the history of Greece and Rome, England and France, and all I have observed at home and abroad, articulate eloquence in public assemblies is not the surest road to fame or preferment, at least, unless it be used with caution, very rarely, and with great reserve. The examples of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson is enough to show that silence and reserve in public is more efficacious than argumentation or oratory. A public speaker who inserts himself, or is urged by others, into the conduct of affairs, by daily exertions to justify his measures, and answer the objections of opponents, makes himself too familiar with the public and unavoidably makes himself enemies. Few persons can bear to be outdone in reasoning or declamation or wit or sarcasm or repartee or satire, and all these things that are very apt to grow out of public debate. In this way, in a course of years, a nation becomes full of a man’s enemies, or at least, of such as have been galled in some controversy and take a secret pleasure in assisting to humble and mortify him. So much for this digression. We will now return to our memoirs.

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:

could be urged

is urging

might have been urged

NO CHANGE

was urged

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The sentence is correct as it is written and needs no changed made to it in order to be grammatically correct. You can tell that the present verb "is urged" is in the correct tense because the verb "inserts" that precedes it in the sentence refers to the same subject, "A public speaker," and is also in the present tense. The mood of the verb is also correct as it is written for the same reason; "inserts" is in the indicative mood, so no modals are needed.

Example Question #1 : Verb Voice 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.

What is the best form of the boldfaced and underlined section?

Possible Answers:

was placing

has been placing

might be placing

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

The correct answer is "is placed," because this way of expressing means that the plant or animal is receiving the action of being placed. (Something or someone else is placing it into a new environment.) Such "received action" is expressed by means of the passive voice. A verb in the active voice would state, "The scientist places," or something akin to that. However, the plant is being placed, not doing the placing, so "is placed," the only answer choice that employs the passive voice, is the correct answer.

Example Question #23 : Usage 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:

that a standardized, national test be proposed by Lindquist developed

NO CHANGE

that a standardized, national test be developed proposed Lindquist

the development of a standardized, national test was proposed by Lindquist

Lindquist proposed that a standardized, national test be developed

Correct answer:

Lindquist proposed that a standardized, national test be developed

Explanation:

The original sentence is confusing, so we know it needs to be revised. "That a standardized, national test be proposed by Lindquist developed" is even more confusing, so it cannot be the correct answer. The same is true of "that a standardized, national test be developed proposed Lindquist." Thus, we are left with two options: "Lindquist proposed that a standardized, national test be developed" and "the development of a standardized, national test was proposed by Lindquist." When given the choice, we should avoid passive voice and opt for active voice. When passive voice is used, an action is performed on an object by the subject. In this case, the development of a test (object) is being proposed (action) by Lindquist (subject). When possible, we maintain active voice by placing the subject first so that the subject performs the action on the object. Thus, "Lindquist proposed that a standardized, national test be developed" is the correct answer because the subject (Lindquist) is performing the action (proposed) on the object (the development of a test).

Example Question #24 : Usage Errors

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:

Tarski solved hundreds of mathematical problems

NO CHANGE

Mathematical problems—hundreds of them—were solved by Tarski

Hundreds of problems, all of them mathematical, were solved by Tarski

Correct answer:

Tarski solved hundreds of mathematical problems

Explanation:

The ACT prefers the active voice over the passive voice. We know that the sentence "Hundreds of mathematical problems were solved by Tarski." contains the passive because it has a form of the verb "to be" (i.e. "were") followed by a past participle (i.e. "solved"). 

The correct way to express the sentence in active voice is "Tarski solved hundreds of mathematical problems."

Each of the other answer choices contains a passive construction and is therefore incorrect.

Example Question #1 : Verb Voice Errors

Communist rule in Poland ended in 1989 and the following year proved disastrous for the Polish economy. Prices rapidly ballooned while incomes dropped. Attempting to find a solution, the Balcerowicz Plan was implemented by Polish officials. The plan liberalized the economy by abolishing price controls, exposing markets to international competition, and it discontinued most industrial subsidiesIn the time of the years following these efforts, economic growth has increased steady

After years of negotiations and economic and political reforms, Poland became a member of The European Union on May 1, 2004. Soon after, Polish officials voted in favor for laws that would eventually mend the unemployment problem in Poland significantly. In fact, the unemployment rate improved for the first time in five years immediately following Poland's membership. The involvement of Poland in the Eastern Bloc is currently greater than the Czech Republic. The passage of two policies regarding energy credits from foreign countries provide evidence of the emergence of Poland in the global economy.

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:

the Balcerowicz Plan, which Polish officials implemented

NO CHANGE

the Balcerowicz Plan implemented

Polish officials implemented the Balcerowicz Plan

Correct answer:

Polish officials implemented the Balcerowicz Plan

Explanation:

A modifier that begins a sentence must modify the element immediately following it. In this case, the modifier is the gerund phrase "Attempting to find a solution," but the element immediately following it is "the Balcerowicz Plan." Logically speaking, the Polish officials were the ones attempting to find a solution, not the Balcerowicz Plan, so the element immediately following "Attempting to find a solution" must be "Polish officials" and not "the Balcerowicz Plan." The correct was to phrase the sentence is "Attempting to find a solution, Polish officials implemented the Balcerowicz Plan."

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors