ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #22 : Verb Tense Errors

The Wowzer 25 (or W25) was regarded to be the best (1) video game system of all time when it came out. Wowzer released the Wowzer 25 in America during the year 1996 (2) as a follow-up to their last system, the Superduper Wowzer that (3) was released (4) in America five years before. The W25 derives its name from its resolution being 25-bit (5) which is something no other console had done before. (6) With 25-bit resolution, a player could finally roam a 3-D world with Wowzer’s mascot WowMan. Being able to play in a 3-D world was groundbreaking; it was an experience gamers at the time would not forget. (7) The W25’s graphics were good and then became even better after Wowzer had released (8) an expansion pack that increased the W25’s RAM from 4 megabytes to 8. (9) As the console grew, the graphics were becoming (10) better and better since (11) developers became more comfortable developing their games for it. (12)

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 being released

had been released

have been released

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

had been released

Explanation:

The release of the older system occurs before the past event of the release of the latest system, and thus the past perfect tense ("had been released") is appropriate.

Example Question #1112 : Correcting Grammatical Errors

The Wowzer 25 (or W25) was regarded to be the best (1) video game system of all time when it came out. Wowzer released the Wowzer 25 in America during the year 1996 (2) as a follow-up to their last system, the Superduper Wowzer that (3) was released (4) in America five years before. The W25 derives its name from its resolution being 25-bit (5) which is something no other console had done before. (6) With 25-bit resolution, a player could finally roam a 3-D world with Wowzer’s mascot WowMan. Being able to play in a 3-D world was groundbreaking; it was an experience gamers at the time would not forget. (7) The W25’s graphics were good and then became even better after Wowzer had released (8) an expansion pack that increased the W25’s RAM from 4 megabytes to 8. (9) As the console grew, the graphics were becoming (10) better and better since (11) developers became more comfortable developing their games for it. (12)

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 releasing

NO CHANGED

has released

released

Correct answer:

released

Explanation:

The sentence describes a single event that occurred in the past, so the appropriate verb is "released."

Example Question #22 : Verb Tense Errors

The Wowzer 25 (or W25) was regarded to be the best (1) video game system of all time when it came out. Wowzer released the Wowzer 25 in America during the year 1996 (2) as a follow-up to their last system, the Superduper Wowzer that (3) was released (4) in America five years before. The W25 derives its name from its resolution being 25-bit (5) which is something no other console had done before. (6) With 25-bit resolution, a player could finally roam a 3-D world with Wowzer’s mascot WowMan. Being able to play in a 3-D world was groundbreaking; it was an experience gamers at the time would not forget. (7) The W25’s graphics were good and then became even better after Wowzer had released (8) an expansion pack that increased the W25’s RAM from 4 megabytes to 8. (9) As the console grew, the graphics were becoming (10) better and better since (11) developers became more comfortable developing their games for it. (12)

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:

became

had become

would become

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

became

Explanation:

To parallel the verb tense of "grew," the verb tense in this part of the sentence should be "became."

Example Question #23 : Verb Tense Errors

Adapted from "The Ephemera: An Emblem of Human Life" by Benjamin Franklin (1778)

You may remember, my dear friend, that when we lately spent that happy day in the delightful garden and sweet society of the Moulin Joly, I stopped a little in one of our walks, and stay some time behind the company. We had been shown numberless skeletons of a kind of little fly, called an ephemera, whose successive generations, we were told, were bred and expired within the day. I happened to see a living company of them on a leaf, who appeared to be engaged in conversation. You know I understand all the inferior animal tongues. My too great application to the study of them is the best excuse I can give for the little progress I have made in your charming language. I listened through curiosity to the discourse of these little creatures; but as they, in their national vivacity, spoke three or four together, I could make but little of their conversation. I found however by some broken expressions that I heard now and then, they were disputing warmly on the merit of two foreign musicians, one a "cousin," the other a "moscheto": in which dispute they spent their time, seemingly as regardless of the shortness of life as if they had been sure of living a month. Happy people! thought I; you are certainly under a wise just and mild government, since you have no public grievances to complain of, nor any subject of contention but the perfections and imperfections of foreign music. I turned my head from them to an old gray-headed one, who was single on another leaf, and talking to himself. Being amused with his soliloquy, I put it down in writing, in hopes it will likewise amuse her to who I am so much indebted for the most pleasing of all amusements, her delicious company and heavenly harmony.

Which is the best form of the underlined section "walks, and stay"?

Possible Answers:

walks, and stayed

walks: and stay

walks; and stay

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

walks, and stayed

Explanation:

The rest of the sentence uses past tense verbs like "spent" and "stopped" to describe the visit, so "stay," a present tense verb, is incorrect. "Stay" needs to be changed to the past tense "stayed" to match the tense of the other verbs in the sentence describing the visit. So, "walks, and stayed" is the correct answer.

Example Question #22 : Verb Tense Errors

Thomas placed his quill on the parchment, looking toward the mantel upon which, earlier that morning, he saw the painting of the old monastic saint, Benedict of Nursia. To his surprise, the mantel was empty, not having any items on it’s narrow flat surface. As the image had been a gift from his old schoolmaster; he was concerned at the absence of the item.

He asked himself “Where could it have went?” Then, he gathered together his work and decided to ask one of his officemates about the cherished image. Leaving the room, he entered the foyer and turning to the secretary asked about the whereabouts of the others’.

The secretary looked at Thomas’ imposing figure and answered, “A group of the professors departed earlier for a University meeting. However, I cant recall exactly when they departed.” Although Thomas was not known for being passionate, the young secretary could see that he was agitated than usual.

The older man did not wish to worry his younger coworker. Smiling slightly, he said, “Don’t worry, Reginald. I seem to have misplaced my image of Benedict, though I know not how.” He continued by telling the younger man the chronology of events. Suddenly, the detailed recounting jogged the latters’ memory. He forgot an obvious detail that he only now remembered.

Looking at Thomas in embarrassment, Reginald, said, “Earlier this afternoon, I came in to your working area take the painting. Bonaventure had come to visit and asked to borrow it. You were so engrossed by you’re work that I did not want to disturb you. He will be stopping by to see you and I later today, so we can ask him to return it.”

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "He forgot an obvious detail"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

He was forgetting an obvious detail

He forgot an obvious detail,

He had forgotten an obvious detail

Correct answer:

He had forgotten an obvious detail

Explanation:

As written, the problem with the sentence is the tense of the verb "forgot." The action in the sentence indicates that ealier Reginald had forgotten something that he remembered only at that time. The voice of narration has placed the general events of the narrative in the past. (While describing the remembering, the author uses "remembered.") In order to place "forgot" further back into the past, it is necessary to use the past perfect form, which uses the past tense of the helper verb "to have" (i.e., here, "had") and the perfect passive participle (i.e., here, "forgotten").

Example Question #331 : Word 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 tense of the verb “did not attain”?

Possible Answers:

simple past

past perfect

past continuous

present

Correct answer:

simple past

Explanation:

The form "did . . . attain" is a form of the past tense, indicating that something occurred in the past and was finished at that time. This use of the past tense is called the "simple past," since it neither indicates a continuous action nor does it assert that an activity happened before another one in the past (as, for example, in the case of "had attained").

Example Question #71 : Usage Errors

Adapted from “The Fisherman and His Wife" in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

The next morning, when Dame Ilsabill had awoke, it was broad daylight, and she jogged her husband, the fisherman, with her elbow, and said, "Get up husband and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, “why should we wish to be king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said she.

"But, wife," said the fisherman, "how can you be king? The fish cannot make you a king."

“Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time, the sea looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges of foam as he cried out, “O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill will have her own will, and hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what would she have now," said the fish?

"Alas!" said the poor man, 'my wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish, “for she is king already."

Then, the fisherman had went home. As he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. When he went in, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head. On each side of she stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. 

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "had awoke"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

had been awoken

awoke

had awoken

Correct answer:

awoke

Explanation:

There are two errors in the text, only one of which needs to be corrected. As written, the sentence improperly forms the past perfect. The form "awoke" is the past tense of the verb awake, but you need to use the perfect passive participle to form the past perfect. (Here, that would be "had awoken.") However, there is no need to indicate an "early past action" (which is what the past perfect does). The sentence merely states that when—meaning at the same time—she woke, it was daylight.

Example Question #24 : Verb Tense Errors

Adapted from “The Fisherman and His Wife" in German Fairy Tales and Popular Stories by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (trans. Taylor, ed. 1864)

The next morning, when Dame Ilsabill had awoke, it was broad daylight, and she jogged her husband, the fisherman, with her elbow, and said, "Get up husband and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, “why should we wish to be king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said she.

"But, wife," said the fisherman, "how can you be king? The fish cannot make you a king."

“Husband," said she, "say no more about it; instead, go and try! I will be king." So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time, the sea looked a dark gray color, and was overspread with curling waves and ridges of foam as he cried out, “O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill will have her own will, and hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what would she have now," said the fish?

"Alas!" said the poor man, 'my wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish, “for she is king already."

Then, the fisherman had went home. As he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. When he went in, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head. On each side of she stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. 

What is the appropriate form for the underlined verb "had went"?

Possible Answers:

went

goes

NO CHANGE

had gone

Correct answer:

went

Explanation:

As written, there is a general syntactic error with the underlined verb, namely the use of the past tense "went" with the helping verb "had." This is an attempt to form the past perfect tense in the wrong manner. To form such a composite tense, you must use the perfect passive participle, "gone." However, there is no justification for the use of the past perfect in this sentence. The past perfect is used when you indicate that one action precedes another in the past: e.g. "Alex ate his food after he had prepared it."  Here, the sentence merely makes the simple declaration: "the fishermen went home." Although this does precede the other actions, in the sentence itself, it is merely the statement of a simple fact, not related to any other verbs in the given sentence. (There are no other verbs in the simple sentence.)

Example Question #53 : Verb Formation Errors

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 is the best form of the underlined selection, "first began"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

was beginning

had first began

had first begun

Correct answer:

had first begun

Explanation:

Notice the sequence of events in the sentence: (1) First, the soldier dressed as a doctor began to meddle with the nose. Then, (2) it was bigger, even after that meddling. To express the fact that (1) was earlier in the past, you need to use the past perfect tense. This is formed by using "had" with the perfect passive participle "begun." (Note, that this participle is "begun" and not "began.")

Example Question #1121 : Correcting Grammatical Errors

An adapted selection from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

Now, if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the kingdom of the Turk. Therefore it was only necessarily for Alexander, first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After this victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure in Alexander’s power, for the reasons noted earlier. If his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there was no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves. However, it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Roman’s in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these latter states, of which the Romans always held an insecure possession; however, with the power and long continuance of the empire, the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. When fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered, no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia or at the difficulties that others have had to keep an acquisition. This is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror but, instead, by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Which of the following best replaces the underlined selection, "and the family of the former lord being exterminated"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

and, after the family of the former lord had been exterminated,

and, after the family of the former lord was being exterminated,

and, after the family of the former lord was exterminated,

Correct answer:

and, after the family of the former lord had been exterminated,

Explanation:

The underlined selection is a type of "absolute" expression, though it does not use its participles in a completely correct manner. If we were following the completely proper usages for this kind of expression, we would say, "And, with the family of the former lord having been exterminated." This is very awkward, however. (The general use of absolute expressions can be awkward in English. It is far more common in Latin and some authors import it into English from Latin because of their familiarity with Latin.) The idea expressed here is: (1) first, the family of the former lord is exterminated, and (2) after that, Roman authority is acknowledged. To express this sense of (1) being "further in the past," it is necessary to use the past perfect tense.

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