ACT Study Guide/English
For the English section, you are given 45 minutes to read five selections and then answer a total of 75 multiple-choice questions about them. This gives you an average of nine minutes per passage and 15 questions. These questions are broken down into two subcategories. The first subcategory usage and mechanics. This covers punctuation, grammar, etc. The second subcategory is rhetorical skills, which covers the areas of sentence order, style, etc. There are 40 usage and mechanics questions and 35 rhetorical skills questions. Spelling and vocabulary are not tested directly, but there are some questions that ask you to figure words out by the context. Obviously, these questions are a lot easier if you already know the word ahead of time, but you don't have to. After you read the passage, you can go back and re-read it as you answer the questions.
One tip that deals specifically with the English section is that after you choose your answer, read through the sentence or paragraph with your answer choice and see if it sounds good. If it does, you know you've made the right choice.
Usage and Mechanics
These questions always refer back to an underlined sentence, phrase, or word. Most of the u/m questions that you see will have an answer choice of NO CHANGE. If you pick that answer, it means that you think the sentence or phrase is fine as written. You will also be given three other choices.
Commas are used:
To separate items in a series
- I bought bananas, oranges, and apples.
If all of the items are separated by conjunctions, then no commas are used
- I bought bananas and oranges and apples.
To set off appositives
- I asked the coach, Alan Freeman, if I could miss practice because of my hurt knee.
If the appositive is a one-word familial relationship, no comma is used.
- My cousin Bob is in the Army.
To separate words used as a direct address
- Albert, bring me that bucket.
To set off parenthetical expressions
- By the way, I don't think he should have done it.
To separate two numbers
- After day 26, 75 people were still missing.
To separate out-of-place modifiers
- The players, exhausted and sore, piled onto the bus.
To separate titles or degrees from the rest of the sentence
- Harold Whitman, J.D., is the new law professor.
No commas is used between the name and a roman numeral showing generations
- Henry VIII had a total of six wives.
Wherever needed to keep you from misreading the sentence
- Below, the water shined.
Apostrophes are used:
To form the singular possessive, add an apostrophe and then an s.
- Mother's dress
- The mouse's cheese
To form the plural possessive, add an apostrophe if the plural ends in an s. If the plural does not end in an s, add and apostrophe and then an s.
- The mothers' dresses
- The mice's cheese collection
If the possessive is hard to pronounce when written correctly, you can drop the s and just leave the apostrophe, unless the singular is just one syllable. Then you have to keep the s.
- In Jesus' name we pray... (Loberger 174)
To omit parts of a date
- The war ended in '45.
To form contractions
To form plurals of numbers, letters, and words that are used as nouns
- I got six 100's on my tests.
- I put six m's where there should have been n's.
To indicate worth or work
- A penny's worth
- A hard day's work
Colons are used:
Before lists introduced by the following or any other phrase used to demonstrate what is
- You are accused of the following: stealing, bribery, and robbery.
- Of the sisters, I knew four: Bertha, Roberta, Andrea, and Joyce.
Before a long statement
- To the jury, the lawyer said: "The last four things I want to share with you..."
Before a second clause explaining or restating the first clause
Verbs are not to be used:
- After a form of to be or a linking verb
- After a preposition
Hyphens are used:
For words joined as a modifier
- The sixty-third runner
- The out-of-date records
A hyphen should not be used for a verb phrase modifying a noun
- The quickly disappearing land
Fractions used as a modifier
- Six-tenths of the nation
Numbers from 21-99 (Excluding multiples of ten)
Anywhere when needed to prevent misreading
- The re-creation vs. the recreation
Semicolons are used:
To separate main clauses not joined by and, or, for, nor, but, so, or yet (Loberger 165)
- I have reason to believe that you cheated; nevertheless, I must let you go because I don't have evidence to corroborate my argument.
To separate main clauses that are joined by and, or, for, nor, but, so, or yet, but have a comma in one or both of the main clauses
- I, Mr. Jones, own a Porsche; and I also own a Ferrari.
To separate items in a list when one or more of the items have commas in them
Parentheses are used:
With question marks to show historical uncertainty
- Harriet Tubman lived from 1820(?) to 1913.
Around parenthetical remarks
- The painting (which I thought was ugly) was in a plastic case.
Around numbers after the number is spelled out
- There are three-hundred sixty-five (365) days in a year.
Question marks are used:
To show historical uncertainty
- Harriet Tubman lived from 1820(?) to 1913.
After each part in a series of incomplete questions
- Did you travel by boat? By car? By plane?
- Incorrect: He run the race.
- Correct: He ran the race.
Singular pronouns should replace singular nouns. Each, every, someone, and many are all commonly confused. They are all singular and should be used with singular nouns
- Incorrect: Each person took their share.
- Correct: Each person took his share.
Some pronouns are also commonly replaced by other words that are not pronouns.
- Their vs. There
- Who's vs. Whose
Sometimes the object pronoun is used and the subject pronoun and vice versa.
- Incorrect: The present was for Carol and I.
- Correct: The present was for Carol and me.
The first example sounds more sophisticated, but it uses I (subject form) as the object of a preposition.
e.g. Snuggled in the basement with my family, the hurricane was stronger than ever. This makes it sound like the hurricane is in the basement with your family. Instead, you could rewrite it as "I was snuggled in the basement with my family. The hurricane outside was stronger than ever."
- Incorrect: I had a lot of fun I hope you did too.
- Correct: I had a lot of fun. I hope you did too.
Phrases need to have verbs to be a sentence.
Commonly Confused Words and Contractions
- its and it's
- who's and whose
- their, there, and they're
This covers the less rule-bound areas of writing and includes strategy, organization, and style.
- Topic Sentences
- Paragraph Transition
- Adding Information
- How the Passage Fits Together
- Word Choice
- Getting Rid of Unnecessary Words
- How You Phrase Things