ACT English Test *45 minutes to read 5 passages and answer 75multiple choice questions *Question types fall into four categories: Sentence Structure, Punctuation, Grammar and Usage, Rhetorical Skills Sentence Structure There are four main types of errors in sentence structure: Sentence fragments Run-ons and comma splices Misplaced Modifiers Parallel construction Sentence Fragments A complete sentence must have a subject and a verb, and stand alone. In other words it must be, or contain, an independent clause (independent = it can stand alone). Melissa picked her nose. We can change the above independent clause (complete sentence) into a dependent clause (incomplete sentence) by adding just one word: When Melissa picked her nose. Even though it still has a subject and a verb, the clause above can no longer stand alone. It is now waiting for an independent clause to finish the sentence. When Melissa picked her nose, she wiped it under the desk. You can turn any independent clause into a dependent clause by adding one of these words (subordinating conjunctions) to the beginning of it: when, where, why, how, if, as, because, although, while, despite, that, who, since By the same token, you can turn most dependent clauses into independent clauses by taking away the subordinating conjunction. ***On ACT, you have the option to fix a fragment by taking away the subordinating conjunction or adding an independent clause. Comma Splices and Run-Ons These errors occur when two independent clauses (or complete sentences) are jammed together into one sentence with only a comma or nothing to hold them together: The anteaters had terrible manners, they just ate and ran. (comma splice) The anteaters had terrible manners they just ate and ran. (run-on) There are several ways to fix the error. The easiest way is to break it up into two sentences. The anteaters had terrible manners. They just ate and ran. You can also fix it by putting a comma and conjunction (and, but, or) in between. The anteaters had terrible manners, and they just ate and ran. If there is a strong connection between the two clauses, you can break up the two thoughts with a semicolon instead of a period. The anteaters had terrible manners; they just ate and ran. Finally, you can make one part of the sentence dependent by adding a subordinating conjunction. Since the anteaters had terrible manners, they just ate and ran. NOTE: If the dependent clause is placed second (after the independent clause), no comma is needed. The anteaters just ate and ran since they had terrible table manners. ***You have to carefully read all of the answer choices to see which option they give. Misplaced Modifiers A describing (modifying) phrase needs to be near what it is describing. If it gets too far away, it can get misplaced: Frightened by the thunder and lightning, the bed Michael was sleeping in became wet suddenly. As written, this sentence gives the impression that the bed was frightened. Or you might just notice that it is weirdly worded and the answer choices are giving you other wording options. When a sentence begins with a describing phrase, the noun being described must be right next to that phrase. Who was frightened? Michael, of course. The correct version of this sentence would be: Frightened by the thunder and lightning, Michael wet the bed. Need another example – Snarling and snapping, Jessie attempted to control her turtle. (incorrect) Snarling and snapping, the turtle resisted Jessie’s attempts to control it. (correct) OR Jessie attempted to control her turtle, which snarled and snapped. (correct) ***On the ACT, you know it is this type of question because the word order is changed in the answer choices. Parallel Construction There are two major types of parallel construction errors on the ACT. They both involve some kind of list. You might see a list of verbs: When Julius Caesar speaks of his victory, he does not say, “I came, I see, I will conquer some day.” What a lame statement that would be, especially because it is non-parallel and grammatically incorrect. The quotation above is wrong because all of the items on the list must be in the same verb tense. The first verb (came) is in past tense, the second verb (see) is in present tense, and the third verb (will conquer) is in future tense. The correct sentence should read: I came, I saw, I conquered.” You also might see a list of nouns that are not parallel: Three explanations for Sid’s locking himself in his room were a desire to do his homework, a sense that he needed to hone his college essays, and hating his brother Tom, who always gets away with murder. The sentence above is wrong because while “a desire” and “a sense” are both nouns, “hating” is functioning as a verb. The sentence is not parallel. Here’s the corrected version: Three explanations for Sid’s locking himself in his room were a desire to do his homework, a sense that he needed to hone his college essays, and a hatred for his brother Tom, who always gets away with murder. The lists do not have to have three nouns or three verbs. Sometimes there are only two: To eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts is experiencing perfection. This is wrong because if the first half of the sentence begins one way, the second half of the sentence must do the same thing: To eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts is to experience perfection. OR Eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts is experiencing perfection. Grammar and Usage Agreement Pronouns and verbs must always agree with the noun they relate to. Try to spot the error below. Any person who has taken several language classes might think they are fluent. The sentence is incorrect because the subject is any person (singular), so the pronoun and verb must agree. Any person who has taken several language classes might think he is fluent. ***The trick is to isolate the subject, the pronoun, and the verb. ACT will place other words in between which make it seem more confusing. Indefinite pronouns can also be tricky… Neither of the two girls expressed their thoughts on the subject. (incorrect) The above sentence is incorrect because the subject is neither (singular…neither one), so the pronoun must be singular. Neither of the two girls expressed her thoughts on the subject. (correct) ***A good rule of thumb…if you can place a one or a body after the word, it is always singular. The following indefinite pronouns are all singular: neither, either, each, any, anyone, no one, everyone, everybody, somebody, anybody Who/Whom Who takes the place of a subject; whom takes the place of an object. He/she likes to listen to jazz music. Who likes to listen to jazz music? The slurpee belongs to him/her. The slurpee belongs to whom? (whom almost always follows a preposition – for whom, about whom, with whom, to whom) Punctuation Comma Rules *Between each item in a series, including before the conjunction I ate a ham sandwich, a falafel, and a chimichanga for lunch. * To separate two or more adjectives preceding a noun The tasty, tangy tamale was for dessert. *After introductory phrases and clauses In the morning, I need several cups of coffee to face the day. *To set off non-essential clauses and phrases within a sentence My grandfather, who snores like a truck driver, is always there for me when I need him. *Before and, but, or, nor, for, and yet joining two independent clauses (sentences) The ACT is challenging, but you are smarter than the test. Semicolons *You must have a complete sentence on each side of a semicolon Hamsters are excellent pets; they provide hours of cheap entertainment. Colons *You must have a complete sentence, then a colon, then a list (even if it is a list of one). There is only one course of action: surrender. I had much to accomplish before my vacation: shopping, packing, banking, and cleaning. Dashes *Dashes indicate an abrupt break in the sentence, almost like an aside in a play. I tried to express my gratitude – not that any words could be adequate – but she just nodded and walked away. Apostrophes *indicate possession Peter’s car is extremely expensive. (singular nouns – add an ‘s) The girls’ room will be renovated soon. (plural nouns that already end in s, add ‘) Women’s issues will be important in the next election. (some plural nouns in English are irregular and don’t end in s, simply add ‘s) *contractions it’s = it is its = possessive its’ is a trick as there is no such word ***Note: Sometimes you need no punctuation at all; sometimes the word is simply plural. Be sure you have a reason to use an apostrophe. Rhetorical Skills Strategy Writing strategy questions focus on the choices a writer makes when composing or revising an essay. These questions may ask you to make decisions about the purpose, audience, unity, or focus of an essay. Many of the strategy questions concern transitions. A transition is sometimes needed at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph, as the writer attempts to move smoothly from one thought to the next. There are really only three main kinds of sentence connectors: but, also, and thus. but (contradiction) - however, quite the contrary, despite, rather, notwithstanding, conversely, contrarily, on the other hand, on the contrary, although, yet, nevertheless thus (cause and effect/concluding) – hence, and so, therefore, consequently, for these reasons, as a result, because of, due to, finally, in conclusion also (in addition) – in addition, for example, furthermore, another, first, second, moreover, by the same token, besides, aside from, so too, in addition, similarly ***You must read the sentence/paragraph carefully to see which type of transition you need and rule out answer choices that have the same meaning. Other strategy questions read as if they have been lifted from the reading comprehension section of the ACT: Which of the following answers best summarizes the main point of the passage? If the passage were revised to present conflicting viewpoints, which of the following changes would best represent the other side of the author’s argument? The writer is considering placing the following sentence into the paragraph. Should he do so? The writer is considering placing the following sentence into the paragraph. Where should it be placed? (Look for transitions and links to answer this question.) These are content questions, and difficult to talk about without the passage they came from. As you are under time pressure, read each response carefully, and go with your immediate gut feeling about the answer. Style The largest number of style errors stems from redundancy. Put simply, redundancy means saying the same thing twice. Cheap and inexpensive gifts can be found in the shopping district. Weak and without strength, the old car could not make it up the hill. In both of the examples above, two adjectives are saying the exact same thing. Since there is no need for both, the best way to correct the sentences would be to remove one of the superfluous adjectives: Inexpensive gifts can be found in the shopping district. The weak, old car could not make it up the hill. ***On the ACT, the shortest answer is often the best answer.