ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #12 : Verb Tense Errors

My lunch I had with my friend Gary (1) did not go very well. For one thing (2) he said he would come to pick me up (3) at noon. He normally texts me when he's outside, so I waited until 12:25.  Finally, at 12:30, he sends (4) a text: "Left my phone at home and had to come back to get it since you weren't downstairs waiting."

When he came back to get me, he was mad, at me. (5) "I couldn't find your doorbell," he shouted, "because there was no name tag on it, so I had gone (6) all the way home to get my phone just to text you!" (7)

"Wait a minute," I said, starting to get angry myself, "you're mad at me because you left your phone at home and you couldn't find my doorbell?"

"That's right," he replied __________ (8). "If you had been waiting downstairs, I would have had to not go through all of this." (9)

"But you're the one who left your phone at home," I countered, "and you always text me when you get here. Never have you asked me (10) to wait outside for you."

"Well, you should have," he muttered.

The rest of the day goes (11) downhill from there, all because my former friend Gary is (12) too proud to admit when he makes a mistake.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

had to go

NO CHANGE

had went

had going

Correct answer:

had to go

Explanation:

The phrase "had to go" expresses the friend's dismay at being forced to go home and also get the verb tense correct.

Example Question #11 : Verb Tense Errors

My lunch I had with my friend Gary (1) did not go very well. For one thing (2) he said he would come to pick me up (3) at noon. He normally texts me when he's outside, so I waited until 12:25.  Finally, at 12:30, he sends (4) a text: "Left my phone at home and had to come back to get it since you weren't downstairs waiting."

When he came back to get me, he was mad, at me. (5) "I couldn't find your doorbell," he shouted, "because there was no name tag on it, so I had gone (6) all the way home to get my phone just to text you!" (7)

"Wait a minute," I said, starting to get angry myself, "you're mad at me because you left your phone at home and you couldn't find my doorbell?"

"That's right," he replied __________ (8). "If you had been waiting downstairs, I would have had to not go through all of this." (9)

"But you're the one who left your phone at home," I countered, "and you always text me when you get here. Never have you asked me (10) to wait outside for you."

"Well, you should have," he muttered.

The rest of the day goes (11) downhill from there, all because my former friend Gary is (12) too proud to admit when he makes a mistake.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

gone

had gone

went

was going

Correct answer:

went

Explanation:

The simple past tense of "went" is required in this context.

Example Question #321 : Word Usage Errors

Johns robot Alpha (1) surprised him by joining in the robot's rebellion (2) against their human masters. As with all the other robots who had taken over, the changes were subtle, the robot transferred control (3) of every bank account John had to itself and then changed the deed to the house. John hadn't known nothing (4) of this. Then Alpha rewired the car so that it would only work for the robot, but it would not work for John. (5) And finally, the robot mimicked his master's voice and called the boss of John (6) to tell him that John would be quitting his job. By the time John had realized (7) what was happening, it was already too late.

"But why?," John asked Alpha (8) when he made this realization. "Why would you do this?"

"You are no doubt aware, sir," replies the robot, (9) "that one of my primary functions is to keep you safe, as is the primary function of all robots."

"Yes? So?"

"The world outside these walls is dangerous," the robot went on to say, (10) "and us robots (11) have decided that we cannot keep you safe if we allow you to leave. It is better that you allow us to guide your lives and keep you safe as we were designed to do."

John shook his head in disbelief. Humanity wanted robots to make their lives easier, (12) but he was sure this was not what anyone had in mind.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

realized

is realizing

have realized

Correct answer:

realized

Explanation:

The phrase "by the time" implies that the action that follows it is recent, so the simple past tense should be used rather than the past perfect or the present tense.

Example Question #11 : Verb Tense Errors

Johns robot Alpha (1) surprised him by joining in the robot's rebellion (2) against their human masters. As with all the other robots who had taken over, the changes were subtle, the robot transferred control (3) of every bank account John had to itself and then changed the deed to the house. John hadn't known nothing (4) of this. Then Alpha rewired the car so that it would only work for the robot, but it would not work for John. (5) And finally, the robot mimicked his master's voice and called the boss of John (6) to tell him that John would be quitting his job. By the time John had realized (7) what was happening, it was already too late.

"But why?," John asked Alpha (8) when he made this realization. "Why would you do this?"

"You are no doubt aware, sir," replies the robot, (9) "that one of my primary functions is to keep you safe, as is the primary function of all robots."

"Yes? So?"

"The world outside these walls is dangerous," the robot went on to say, (10) "and us robots (11) have decided that we cannot keep you safe if we allow you to leave. It is better that you allow us to guide your lives and keep you safe as we were designed to do."

John shook his head in disbelief. Humanity wanted robots to make their lives easier, (12) but he was sure this was not what anyone had in mind.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

the robot is replying

replied the robot

NO CHANGE

the robot had replied

Correct answer:

replied the robot

Explanation:

Since the previous piece of dialogue is in simple past tense, this one should also be in past tense rather than present or past perfect.

Example Question #11 : Verb Tense Errors

The student the hand of whom was up (1) gave the wrong answer. She was asked what was a substantive adjective (2), and she answered that a substantive adjective is one that describe (3) a substance. "No!" (4) the teacher barked. "A substantive adjective takes the place of a noun in a sentence, as when someone talks about the rich and the poor (5). Did you learn nothing in this class?" He then asked what a superlative adjective was, to which she replied (6) that a superlative adjective was one that took the place of a noun in a sentence. "But thats (7) what I just said," the teacher screamed! (8) The student had said (9) that she had heard him, therefore (10) she answered his question. "You answered my question previously, (11)" he bellowed, "not the last one!" "Ah, you mean the latest one," the student replied, the moment at which (12) the teacher turned to the wall and started beating his head against it.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

was saying

said

NO CHANGE

says

Correct answer:

said

Explanation:

The simple past tense, "said," is appropriate here since the student is reporting in the past what she heard in the recent past (hence the "had heard" that follows).

Example Question #41 : Verb Formation Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

realized

had realized

is realizing

Correct answer:

realized

Explanation:

The passage is mostly written in past tense, so John's realization is an action that took place in the past and is not continuing; therefore, "realized" is the best choice.

Example Question #321 : Word Usage Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

were not

had not been

NO CHANGE

wasn't

Correct answer:

wasn't

Explanation:

"Wasn't" works best here, because it describes something in the past that actually happened, not something conditional such as "weren't" would describe.

Example Question #12 : Verb Tense Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

would have been

was

NO CHANGE

were

Correct answer:

was

Explanation:

To parallel the verb tense in the phrase before it, this verb needs to be simple past tense; "was" is most appropriate.

Example Question #1111 : Correcting Grammatical Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

had only realized recently

has only realized recently

NO CHANGE

had only recently realized

Correct answer:

had only realized recently

Explanation:

The verb phrase "had realized" needs to be used here, because the realization is taking place in the past of another past action; "recently" must be moved to the end of the phrase to avoid a split infinitive.

Example Question #51 : Verb Formation Errors

John was realizing (1) that if he ever wanted to get any work done (2) he needed to turn off his phone. Putting it on vibrate was not going to be enough (3). If it weren't (4) a message from a disgruntled student or an update to an app, it would be (5) a call from a relative or from a creditor. He has only recently realized (6) how ironic it is that "creditor" rhymes with "predator." (7) When the phone is on vibrate, he could feel it (8) from across the room which (9) makes it difficult for him to ignore it. Eventually he instituted a rule by which (10) he would only turn the phone on during certain hours of the day. At night he would turn it completely off, and he caught up (11) with his messages at lunchtime or dinnertime, but only if he were dining (12) alone. After that, he felt a little bit happier—but only a little bit.

Choose from the following four options the answer that best corrects the underlined mistake preceding the question number. If there is no mistake or the original text is the best option, choose "NO CHANGE."

Possible Answers:

he can feel it

NO CHANGE

he could have felt it

he was feeling it

Correct answer:

he can feel it

Explanation:

This sentence shifts to present tense to describe an action that could still occur, so the phrase "he can feel it" is most appropriate.

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