There are many pesky little grammar rules that you’ll be tested on as part of the ACT. Therefore, it’s important to not just know these grammar rules, but also how test questions are structured .
1. Avoid Punctuation before or after ‘Prepositions’
Prepositions are words that help us understand where something is in relation to something else. They connect nouns with other nouns or pronouns. Prepositions are usually part of a group of words that we call “prepositional phrases.” Some common prepositions are:
- in front of
Jon, an avid lover of all animals, decided to protest over the depiction of violence towards dogs, which is becoming increasingly common in feature films.
A. NO CHANGE
Solution: The verb “protest” always goes with the preposition “against” not “over.” Therefore, the phrase should be “protest against” not “protest over.” The correct answer is B.
In choosing between hummus, salsa, and guacamole as a dip to serve with pita chips, most people would say that pita chips are best served with hummus.
A. NO CHANGE
D. Delete the underline portion
Solution: “Between” is used to compare two items, while “among” should be used to compare three or more items. Given that three items (hummus, salsa, and guacamole) are being compared, “among” should be used instead of “between.” C is the correct answer.
One more IMPORTANT rule to remember: Do not use a comma before a preposition. On the ACT, a comma before a preposition is always wrong.
Wrong: The police, of the crime scene, didn’t turn up any clues.
Correct: The police of the crime scene didn’t turn up any clues.
Wrong: Andy Murray, of Great Britain, competed intensely, for the goal medal in tennis.
Correct: Andy Murray of Great Britain competed intensely for the goal medal in tennis.
The young all have bright blue lines, along their bodies and tails, which is how the lizard got its name.
A. NO CHANGE
B. lines along
C. lines along,
D. lines, along,
Solution: The correct answer is B because we are not supposed to use a comma before a preposition
You can always expect at least one idiom question on the ACT English Test. Examples of idioms include “at the drop of the hat,” “beat around the bush,” and “in over one’s head.”
The idioms used on the ACT will always include a prepositional phrase. When it comes to idioms, trust your ear to determine the correct answer.
Here’s how you do it: take an idiom’s “non-prepositional” word(s) and use it/them in a different sentence in your head, as fast as possible. You will find that your brain generally fills in the proper preposition for you.
It’s weird how well this works. Whenever you’re suspicious of a certain prepositional phrase, use this trick to determine which preposition you pair the word with.
Macbeth is often described for being Shakespeare’s most accomplished play, as it delivers an incredibly high amount of drama. No error
A. NO CHANGE
C. described to
D. described as
Solution: Did you use the trick? “Described” is typically followed by the preposition “as,” not “for.” Therefore, the correct answer is D.
The results of the experiment indicate that children prefer the voices of adults rather than those of other children.
A. NO CHANGE
B. rather then
Solution: It is incorrect to say that someone “prefers X rather than Y.” Instead, the correct form of the idiom is “prefer X to Y,” so the correct answer is D.
Immanuel Kant’s writings, while praised by many philosophers for their brilliance and consistency, are characterized by sentences so dense and convoluted as to pose a significant hurdle for many readers who study his works.
A. NO CHANGE
B. so dense and convoluted they posed
C. so dense and convoluted that they posed
D. dense and convoluted enough that they posed
Solution: You know that the structure of the common idiom is “so X as to Y.” Also, the past tense in answer choices C and B is wrong. Therefore, the correct answer is A.
List of ACT Idioms
The list on the next page shows the most commonly used idoms - it’s not practical to memorize every single idiom on this list. However, we do recommend that you review this list periodically.
Here’s my thorough list of idioms:
- Complain about
- Set (ab)out
- Think about
- Wonder about
- Worry about
- Known as/to be
- Recognized as
- Serve as
- Translate as
- Accompanied by
- Amazed by
- Assisted by
- Awed by
- Confused by
- Encouraged by
- Followed by
- Impressed by
- Obscured by
- Outraged by
- Perplexed by
- Puzzled by
- Shocked by
- Stunned by
- Surprised by
- Celebrated for
- Compensate for
- Criticize for
- Endure for
- Famous for
- Known for
- Last for
- Look (out) for
- Named for/after
- Necessary for
- Prized for
- Recognized for
- Responsible for
- Strive for
- Wait for
- Watch for
- Across from
- Apparent from
- Defend from
- Protect against
- Refrain from
- In itself
- Adept in/at
- Confident in
- Engage in/with
- Firm in
- Interested in
- Involved in
- Succeed in/at
- Take pride in
- Enter into
- Insight into
- A native of
- Appreciation of
- Aware of
- Characteristic of
- Command of
- Composed of
- Consist of
- Convinced of
- Devoid of
- (Dis)approve of
- Family of
- In recognition of
- In the hope(s) of
- (In)capable of
- Knowledge of
- Mastery of
- Offer of
- Principles of
- Proponent of
- Source of
- Suspicious of
- Take advantage of
- Typical of
- Understanding of
- Use of
- Based on
- Confer on
- Depend on
- Draw (up)on
- Dwell on
- Focus on
- Insist on
- Reflect on
- Rely on
- Control over
- Power over
- Central to
- Critical to
- Devoted to
- Explain to
- Exposed to
- In contrast to
- Listen to
- Native to
- Point to
- Prefer x to y
- Recommend x to y
- Relate to
- Similar to
- Threat(en) to
- Unique to
- Biased toward
- Tendency toward
- Take up
- Contrast with
- Correlate with
- Identify with
- (In)consistent with
- (Pre)occupied with
- Sympathize with
3. “Each” and “Everyone” Makes Everything Singular
The word “everyone” conjures up a large group of people. But when you use “everyone” in a sentence, the verbs used to describe “everyone’ must be singular, and NOT plural.
Everyone is angry - not everyone are angry.
The same goes for the word ‘each’ - this is even trickier.
‘Each’ makes things singular, but since it always draws things from a crowd, it’s easy to imagine plurals when the word is used.
Wrong: Each of the band members are angry.
Correct: Each of the members of the band is angry.
4. “And” makes everything plural
The word ‘and’ is the exact opposite of the words ‘each’ and ‘everyone.’ Whenever you see the word ‘and’, you should assume that everything in the sentence is now plural.
- Joe and Matt are hungry.
- My two favourite bands are The Beatles and The Jimi Hendrix experience.
- Included in the box set are the amazing toy and my new album.
These are much, much tougher to spot when the ‘and’ comes after the plural verb. One of the most common grammar traps looks like this:
Wrong: Part of the lecture is a talk from a notable professor and a new type of learning methodology introduced last year.
This error is incredibly tough for your brain to pick up on because it sees the short-term singular (...is a talk...) and assumes everything is okay. After all, the word ‘is’ is singular, “a talk” is singular, so it’s a match! But that’s not right.
Because ‘and’ is introduced later in the sentence, the sentence should be:
Correct: Part of the lecture are a talk from a notable professor and a new type of learning methodology introduced last year.
There are no exceptions to this rule. When you group two or more things with the word ‘and,’ regardless of whether they are individually singular or plural, the verbs used to describe them must now be plural.
5. Countable vs. Uncountable
Some nouns are countable, whereas others are not. If you are unsure as to whether something is countable or not, perform the counting test.
For hat: One hat, two hats, three hats. This works. Hat is countable.
For patience: One patience (?), two patiences (?), stop. That is wrong. Patience is not countable.
Wrong: There were LESS Numidian kings than Roman emperors.
Correct: There were FEWER Numidian kings than Roman emperors.
Remember that you must use comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs (better, worse, more, less) to compare two things or people, but you must use superlative forms (best, worst, most, least) to compare three or more things or people.
6. Where and When Are Taken Literally
On the ACT, the word ‘when’ must refer to an exact period of time, and the word ‘where’ must refer to an exact physical location. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Wrong: It was a bad incident, where nearly 70 people were injured.
Why? Because the word “where” refers to a location, but no location is mentioned.
Wrong: There’s a company that teaches people how to dance when they don’t know how to.
What time exactly am I referring to here?
Whenever you see the words ‘where’ and ‘when’ on the ACT, you should become incredibly suspicious. But, to make sure they’re being used correctly, all you need to do is ask:
When - is this referring to a precise period of time? If so, it’s good - if not, it’s wrong.
Where - is this referring to a precise location? If so, it’s good - if not, it’s wrong. ]
7. Or, Either…. Or, Neither... Nor
Occasionally, a subject may include a phrase such as “or, either... or, neither... nor”. Such phrases link two nouns. If one of the nouns is singular and the other noun is plural, what verb form should be used?
The answer is simple: find the noun nearest to the verb, and make sure that the verb agrees in number with this noun.
Correct: Neither the coach nor the players ARE going to the beach.
Correct: Neither the players nor the coach IS going to the beach.
In the first example, the plural subject “players” is nearest to the verb, so the verb takes the plural form “are.” In the second, the verb is singular due to the singular subject “coach.”
8. “Being” is almost always wrong
If the word “being” in an answer choice, or it’s underlined in a passage, it is wrong about 99/100 times. The word “being” is technically only supposed to describe the progressive state of embodying a characteristic. Here are correct uses:
- You are being weird.
- John is being annoying.
- Charlie was being a bit awkward yesterday.
In all of these cases, the word ‘being’ is actually the verb in the sentence and describes the act of embodying a characteristic for a sustained, progressive period of time. You can also say:
- I am being awarded tomorrow.
- I am being rewarded for my good behaviour.
- I am being punished for my bad cooking.
It’s okay to say “being ------ed” most of the time. But outside of these two instances, the word choice is almost always wrong.
We don’t want to get too deep into the grammatical rabbit hole here, so let’s just agree on something: If you see the word “being” in a sentence, remember it’s wrong about 99% of the time on the ACT unless used in the two exact ways mentioned above.
9. Would and Will
Rules about when to use “would” and “will” are quite broad, so it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
When to use Will - Will is used to form future simple tense, to describe something that takes place in the future and is completed in the future.
- I will be there
- You will arrive at the airport at 10:15am Thursday morning and escort the ambassador back to the royal palace
- Catalina will turn us in at the earliest opportunity
- I will sell my car when I can afford to buy a newer one
When to Use Would - Would is a past-tense form of will. If you are writing about past events, you can use would to indicate something that is/was supposed to happen.
- She said that she would visit me.
- I thought she would have visited me by now, but she hasn’t.
- I would love to see that movie.
- If I had a hammer, I would use it as often as possible.
Would is also a conditional verb. It indicates an action that would happen if certain circumstances were met.
For Example: Nissan said its new Chairman would be Mr. Saikawa, a company veteran who had served as Nissan’s CEO and had led its operations in North America.
10. Which vs That
The battle over whether to use “which” or “that” is a grammar rule many students struggle with. It’s also a popular ACT question! Use the following quick rule of thumb to get it right.
If the sentence doesn’t need the clause then use which” preceded by a comma.’ If the sentence does need the clause, use ‘that without a comma’.
Pretty easy to remember, isn’t it? Here are a couple of examples to further explain:
- Our office, which has two lunchrooms, is located in Cincinnati.
- Our office that has two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati.
These sentences are not the same, but both are correct. The first sentence tells us that you have just one office, and it’s located in Cincinnati. The clause “which has two lunchrooms” gives us additional information, but it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Remove the clause and the location of our one office would still be clear: Cincinnati.
The second sentence suggests that we have multiple offices and that the office with two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati. The phrase “that has two lunchrooms” has another part of the sentence (our office) depends on it. You can’t remove that clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.