5 Basic ACT English Rules to Live By

ProfessorThe questions in the English section on the ACT measure your grammar, usage, and punctuation skills along with others. As you study for this part of the test, it’s a good idea to review the basic rules of grammar and create some practice sentences. Additionally, learn a few basic ACT English rules of thumb as you prep for the test to maximize your chances of a high score.

1) Look for Subject and Verb Agreement
Looking for agreement between the subject and verb in a sentence is one of the most important ACT grammar rules to remember. As an example, in the sentence, “The horse runs through the field,” “horse” is a singular subject and “runs” is a singular verb. You might also say, “The horses run through the field,” which would pair the plural subject “horses” with the plural verb “run.” If an underlined portion of a passage has a subject and verb that disagree, then it’s time to look to the answer options for a replacement.

2) Read the Entire Sentence Before Answering
The English section on the ACT consists of several passages, and each passage contains underlined words or sentences. Your task is to read the question connected with each underlined portion to find the best answer option. If you think the sentence is correct as is, you can also choose “no change.” You may be tempted to focus on the underlined portion of a passage while ignoring the rest of it, but this is a mistake. Make it a point to read the entire sentence as well as the paragraph. Examining the context in which the underlined word or phrase appears can help you recognize the best answer option.

3) Use the Answer Options to Your Advantage
One of the easiest ACT English rules to remember is to scan the answer options before reading the question. Do the answer options have anything in common? Perhaps all of the options look the same except for adjustments in punctuation or spelling. Does one answer option seem wordy while another is succinct? Scanning the answer options can help you determine the specific skill being tested. Once you know what the question is asking, you are more likely to end up with the correct answer.

4) Check for Agreement Between the Pronoun and Antecedent
Checking for agreement between the pronoun and antecedent is one of the most basic ACT grammar rules to keep in mind. As an example, consider the sentence, “Catherine read her report to the class.” In this sentence, “Catherine” is the antecedent and the word “her” is the pronoun. If a sentence has a plural antecedent, then the pronoun needs to be plural as well. These two parts of speech must agree for a sentence to be correct.

5) Look for Clear and Concise Sentences
As you practice ACT English questions, get into the habit of looking for clear, concise sentences. The creators of the ACT want to know if you can state ideas in a succinct way. For instance, you may see three answer options that all convey the same meaning, but one of those options is short and to the point while the other two seem to have unnecessary and redundant words thrown in. For example, “He made the decision to walk to work on account of the dozens of people already on the bus” is an idea that can be conveyed with fewer words: “He decided to walk to work because the bus was crowded.” Often, the correct answer option is the least complicated one.

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