ACT English : Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #1122 : Correcting Grammatical Errors

Adapted from The Discourse on Method by René Descartes (1637; 1899, ed. Eliot)

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be acquired, I was ardently desirously for instruction in them. But as soon as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of which it is customarily to be admitted into the order of the learned, I completely changed my opinion. I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors and was convinced that I had not advanced in all my attempts at learning. At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered. And yet, I was studying in one of the most celebrated Schools in Europe. I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such were anywhere to be found. I had been taught all that others learned there. However, not contented with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read all the books that had fallen into my hands, studying those branches that are judged to be the most curious and rare. I knew the judgment that others had formed of me. I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, although there were among them some whom were already marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself. Furthermore, I concluded that there was no science in existence that was of such a nature as I had previously been given to believe.

Which is the best form of the underlined selection "as soon as I had finished the entire course of study"?

Possible Answers:

as soon as I have finished the entire course of study

NO CHANGE

as soon as I was finishing the entire course of study

as soon as I finished the entire course of study

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

To see the correct answer, simplify the syntax of the sentence: "As soon as I had finished the entire course of study, . . . I completely changed my opinion." There is a temporal sequence indicated here. The author first finished his course of study, then he changed his opinion. (Although it happened immediately after finishing, it did happen after.) To express this temporal sequence in the past, you need to use the past perfect for the verb "finished"—"had finished."

Example Question #1123 : Correcting Grammatical Errors

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

As they entered, they saw Dorian Gray who was seated at the piano his back to them, turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann's "Forest Scenes." "You must lend me these, Basil," he cried. "I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming." "That entirely depends on how you sit to-day, Dorian."

"Oh, I am tired of sitting, and I don't want a life-sized portrait of myself," answered the lad, swinging round on the music-stool in a willful, petulant manner. When he caught sight of Lord Henry, a faint blush colored his cheeks for a moment, and he started up. "I beg your pardon, Basil. I did’nt know you had any one with you."

"This is Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian, an old Oxford friend of mine. I have just been telling him what a capital sitter you were, and now you have spoiled everything."

"You have not spoiled my pleasure in meeting you, Mr. Gray," said Lord Henry, stepping forward and extended his hand. "My aunt has often spoken to me about you. You are one of her favorites, and, I am afraid, one of her victims also."

"I am in Lady Agatha's black books at present," answered Dorian with a funny look of penitence. "I promised to go to a club in Whitechapel with her last Tuesday, and I really forgot all about it. We were to have played a duet together: three duets, I believe. I don't know what she will say to me. I am far too frightened to call."

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection, "and now you have spoiled everything"?

Possible Answers:

and, now, you do spoil everything

and now you had spoiled everything

and now you are spoiling everything

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

As written, there is no problem with the sentence. Although the speaker says that Dorian has "now" spoiled everything, the sense is, "At this time, it is true that you have [already] spoiled what I told him." The verb is a present perfect, indicating something that Dorian did at a point in the past. (It does not specify exactly when in the past he did it, but we can tell this by the context.)

Example Question #81 : Usage Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the best form of the underlined selection, "what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth"?

Possible Answers:

what biographic conditions does the sacred writers bring forth

NO CHANGE

what biographic conditions has the sacred writers bring forth

what biographic conditions do the sacred writers bring forth

Correct answer:

NO CHANGE

Explanation:

Two things can be considered in answering this question. First, the author clearly wishes to speak of the biblical writers in the past tense. He does this in the second question following this first one. Additionally, notice that "does" does not agree with the subject: "the sacred writers." Do not be fooled in sentences like this in which the subject is in an inverted position. This point aside, however, the main matter is the choice of tense.

Example Question #341 : Word Usage Errors

Which option is the BEST for the underlined portion of the passage?

To begin I should explain how it is that I am a sports-lover but lazy.  I have tried as many sports as have been possible in my life and I have enjoyed all of them.  I had competed in national gymnastics which is probably the most holistically challenging for ten years.  This sport has taken precedence in all of middle and high school for me.  

Possible Answers:

This sport have taken precedence

This sport has take precedence

This sport had taken precedence

This sport has took precedence

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

This sport had taken precedence

Explanation:

The sentence is in reference to something that began and ended sometime in the past.  The previous sentence had used the past-perfect with "had competed," so this sentence that is referring to the same time period should retain the same verb tense.

Example Question #341 : Word 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."

As Amad and Sarah walked down the street, they had found a penny lying on the concrete.

Possible Answers:

they had finding a penny

they were finding a penny

they find a penny

they found a penny

NO CHANGE

Correct answer:

they found a penny

Explanation:

The correct answer is the only one which matches the tense of the rest of the sentence. NO CHANGE would be correct if the tense were past progressive ("were walking"), but this is not the case.

Example Question #31 : Verb Tense Errors

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

Susan has went to the book store to buy the texts she needed for the semester.

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

gone

had went

went

goes

Correct answer:

went

Explanation:

The correct past tense of "go" is "went."

Example Question #32 : Verb Tense Errors

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

In the matter of religions, it is particularly easy distinguishing the too orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible are only a study of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected to much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various contributions to the holy volume? What had they exactly in their several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact, and one does not see how the answer to it can decide offhand the still further question: of what use should such a volume, with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual judgment as to the Bibles’ worth. Thus, if our theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it, must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of his fate, than the verdict would be much favorable. You see that the existential facts by itself are insufficient for determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differ.

What is the appropriate form of the underlined participle, "distinguishing"?

Possible Answers:

NO CHANGE

to distinguish

distinguished

distinction

Correct answer:

to distinguish

Explanation:

To see the issue with the sentence, slightly simplify the main clause: "It is easy . . . distinguishing the orders of the question." This is really not a proper place for a gerund. Given the context of the author's discussion later on, it should be clear that he wants to describe the act of distinguishing. Thus, it is better to use the infinitive "to distinguish" to describe what is easy.

Example Question #32 : Verb Tense Errors

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

My first task of the day was watch that black-and-white Italian film once again.

Possible Answers:

to watch

NO CHANGE

watched

will watch

having watched

Correct answer:

to watch

Explanation:

The “task” requires the infinitive of the verb in order to be grammatically correct. It helps to break down the sentence to its basics: “My first task was to watch.” 

Example Question #34 : Verb Tense Errors

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love. What is a magic-lantern without light? You have but too kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall; and, were love only to show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy, when, like mere children, we behold it, and are transported with the splendid phantoms. I have not been able to see Charlotte today. I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself. What was to be done? I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody today whom had been near her. Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return! Oh, the joy with which I welcomed him. I should certainly have caught him in my arms and kissed him, if I had not been ashamed.

It is said that the Bonona stone, when placed in the sun, attracts its rays and for a time appears luminous in the dark. So was it with me and this servant. The idea that Charlotte's eyes had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his very apparel, endeared it all inestimably to me so that, at that moment, I would not have parted from him for a thousand crowns. His presence made me so happy! Beware of laughing at me, Wilhelm. Can that be a delusion which makes us happy?

Which of the following is the best form of the underlined selection "You have but too kindle the flame within"?

Possible Answers:

You need only too kindle the flame within

You only need too kindle the flame within

NO CHANGE

You have but to kindle the flame within

Correct answer:

You have but to kindle the flame within

Explanation:

Although the sentence might seem a bit awkward because of the author's style, the main error is its misuse of the "too." In any of the wrong answers, "to kindle" still remains a verb. It therefore needs "to" and not "too." The latter means "also."

Example Question #81 : Usage 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 would be an acceptable replacement for the underlined selection, "Darius being killed"?

Possible Answers:

being killed by Darius

Darius killing

Darius having been killed

Darius been killed

Correct answer:

Darius having been killed

Explanation:

The participial phrase here states an action that has happened in the past, passively having occured to Darius. Though English does regularly use an "absolute phrase" as it is used in languages like Latin, you can state the fact that he had been killed by using the perfect passive participle "killed" with "having been." Thus, the sentence states that after the victory, since Darius was dead, the state remained securely in Alexander's power.

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