ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Verb Voice Errors

Adapted from “The Fear of the Past” in What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton (1910)

The last few decades have marked by a special cultivation of the romance of the future. We seem to have made up our minds to misunderstand what has happened; and we turn, with a sort of relief, to stating what will happen—which is (apparently) more easy. The modern man no longer presents the memoirs of his great grandfather; but is engaged in writing a detailed and authoritative biography of his great-grandson. Instead of trembling before the specters of the dead, we shudder abject under the shadow of the babe unborn. This spirit is apparent everywhere, even to the creation of a form of futurist romance. Sir Walter Scott stands at the dawn of the nineteenth century for the novel of the past; Mr. H. G. Wells stands at the beginning of the twentieth century for the novel of the future. The old story, we know, was supposed to begin: "Late on a winter's evening two horsemen might have been seen . . ." The new story has to begin: "Late on a winter's evening two aviators will be seen . . ." The movement is not without its elements of charm; theres something spirited, if eccentric, in the sight of so many people fighting over again the fights that have not yet happened; of people still aglow with the memory of tomorrow morning. A man in advance of the age is a familiar phrase enough. An age in advance of the age is really rather odd.

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 last few decades marked by

The last few decades have been marked by

The last few decades are being marked by

The last few decades had marked by

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

The last few decades have been marked by

Explanation:

Reading the sentence as written, you likely stumbled over your words—and for good reason! The selection does not properly use the voice of the verb in conjunction with the action of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is "decades." This subject is not performing the action—as is indicated by the prepositional phrase beginning with "by." The verb must be passive. By looking to the rest of the passage's context, you will note that it needs to be in the past tense, that is, "have been marked" instead of "are being marked."

Example Question #2 : Verb Voice Errors

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.

What is the voice of the bolded verb "has locked up"?

Possible Answers:

subjunctive

active

indicative

passive

Correct answer:

active

Explanation:

Remember, voice is a matter of being active or passive. (The other two options pertain to mood, not voice.) In this subordinate clause, the verb "has locked up" describes an action being done by "mamma" to the "sweet things." The subject is active with respect to the direct object.

Example Question #2 : Correcting Verb Voice Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Scenes from daily life were painted by the French Impressionists, in a break with their predecessors.

Possible Answers:

Scenes from daily life were painted by the French Impressionists, in a break with their predecessors.

The French Impressionists’ scenes from daily life were painted in a break with their predecessors.

Breaking from their predecessors, scenes from daily life were painted by the French Impressionists.

In a break with their predecessors, the French Impressionists painted scenes from daily life.

The French Impressionists broke from their predecessors who painted scenes from daily life.

Correct answer:

In a break with their predecessors, the French Impressionists painted scenes from daily life.

Explanation:

The initial sentence is in passive voice. The correct answer conveys the proper meaning while changing it to active voice.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Verb Voice Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Very few animals in the world were actually able to domesticate by human beings.

Possible Answers:

to domesticated

to domesticate

to be domesticated

to be domesticating

to domesticating

Correct answer:

to be domesticated

Explanation:

The central problem with the underlined words in the sentence is that the animals seem to be the ones doing the domesticating—at least until the reader gets to the phrase "by human beings," and the sentence becomes confusing. The underlined words need to convey that human beings are the ones doing the domesticating, and that the animals are the objects of that domestication. Since "Very few animals in the world" is the subject of the sentence and cannot be changed here, we need to use the passive voice to describe that domestication is the thing being done to the animals. "To be domesticated" is the correct answer choice, as it is the only answer that correctly uses passive voice and avoids introducing additional errors (like "to be domesticating," which uses present progressive tense unnecessarily and doesn't agree with the previous past-tense verb "were . . . able."

Example Question #1 : Correcting Verb Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The nation’s economy was growing rapidly for reasons having to do with booming foreign investment following the discovery of vast natural resources.

Possible Answers:

as a result of booming foreign investment following the discovery of vast natural resources.

because the discovery of vast natural resources led to a boom in foreign investment.

for reasons having to do with booming foreign investment following the discovery of vast natural resources.

since the discovery of vast natural resources is what can cause a boom in foreign investment.

because a boom in foreign investment was what followed the discovery of vast natural resources.

Correct answer:

because the discovery of vast natural resources led to a boom in foreign investment.

Explanation:

The initial sentence is wordy and in passive voice. The correct answer is concise and active.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Verb Voice Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

For his service in the war, the soldier was giving the country's highest honor by the President.

Possible Answers:

the soldier was giving that country's highest honor

the soldier was given the country's highest honor

the soldier was giving the country's highest honor

the soldier was given the countries highest honor

the soldier is giving the country's highest honor

Correct answer:

the soldier was given the country's highest honor

Explanation:

The soldier would have trouble "giving" an award "by the President." The use of the final prepositional phrase "by the President" indicates that the soldier is receiving the award. The only answer choice that clarifies this point is "the soldier was given the country's highest honor," making it the correct answer choice.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Verb Errors

Select the answer that produces the most effective sentence, one that is clear and exact, without awkwardness or ambiguity.

Hearing about the crisis in the developing country, a campaign was organized by the class president and raised $5,000.

Possible Answers:

the class president organized a campaign, which raised $5,000.

the class president organized a campaign raising $5000.

a campaign that raised $5,000 was organized by the class president.

a campaign was organized by the class president and raised $5,000.

an organized campaign by the class president raised $5,000.

Correct answer:

the class president organized a campaign, which raised $5,000.

Explanation:

Figure out who is the subject of the first part of the sentence—the class president, rather than the campaign itself, heard about the crisis. Also, avoid passive voice ("the campaign was organized").

Example Question #2 : Correcting Verb Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

After the novelist threw the draft into the trash, the crumpled paper was retrieved by his concerned assistant.

Possible Answers:

the crumpled paper had been retrieved by his concerned assistant.

retrieved by his concerned assistant, who crumpled the paper.

the crumpled paper was retrieved by his concerned assistant.

his concerned assistant, retrieving the crumpled paper.

his concerned assistant retrieved the crumpled paper.

Correct answer:

his concerned assistant retrieved the crumpled paper.

Explanation:

Avoid the passive voice of the original ("the crumbled paper was retrieved") and choose the simplest answer that preserves the original meaning of the text.

Example Question #11 : Verb Voice Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The new boss was eagerly anticipating by the employees, because no one in the office knew what to expect.

Possible Answers:

was anticipating eagerly

was eager anticipation

eagerly anticipated

was eagerly anticipating

was eagerly anticipated

Correct answer:

was eagerly anticipated

Explanation:

The context of the underlined phrase show it is actually a use of the passive voice, with the anticipation done "by the employees," not the new boss. Thus, the correct answer must feature a passive construction. "Was eagerly anticipated" is the best choice among the answers.

Example Question #11 : Correcting Verb Voice Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The ancient texts are often confused to people who do not understand their full context.

Possible Answers:

are often confusing

are often confused

often are confused

are confused often

confusing often are

Correct answer:

are often confusing

Explanation:

The sentence is written as to make the texts be "confused," when the latter part of the sentence makes clear the people reading them are "confused." The word needs to be changed to a form that properly conveys this. "Are often confusing" is the best choice among the answers.

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