ACT English: Clause and Effect

By  Layton Funk

Published on  October 25, 2019


What Is This Section?

The ACT English section contains 5 passages with 75 total questions (15 each) to be completed in 45 minutes.  These passages will be about any kind of subject – science, social studies, literary narrative, etc. Topics covered in this section are merely vessels in which questions are carried; you do not need to know anything about the actual subjects put before you – only knowledge about written English.  The main purpose of the passages is to test your knowledge of grammar, punctuation, word usage, and structure and skills involving organization, style, and editing. This is done by accompanying the passages with questions as one reads along, with underlined and numbered words, phrases, or sentences being the focal point for said questions.  Some questions even ask about a paragraph or passage as a whole, so reading the entirety or at least getting the gist of each passage might be required. Simply skimming over the passage is recommended, because the English section has the tightest timing requirements out of all the sections in the ACT or the SAT – 36 seconds per question – not even including reading the passages.  However, reading the sentence containing the question, as well as the sentences around it, is often necessary to get the context to answer the question correctly.

English Writing Skills

  • Comprehending what a sentence is, what it’s made of, and how to construct one
  • Able to create and dissect sentences and the relationships within them including:
    • Agreement between subject and verb
    • Agreement between pronoun and antecedent
    • Agreement between modifiers and the word modified
  • Knowing what tense to use, what pronouns to use, and forming comparative and superlative adjectives 
  • Understanding how each punctuation works and how to use them appropriately
  • Being concise, clear, and critical when constructing a sentence/thought
  • Organizing thoughts into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into a complete passage
  • Transitioning between sentences and paragraphs with appropriate transition words
  • Utilizing easy to understand flows of thoughts (don’t be confusing or interrupt ideas!)
  • Developing a given topic by choosing words and phrases that match an essay’s audience and purpose
  • Editing a paragraph or passage by selecting where a sentence or paragraph ought to be located, considering the flow and progression of ideas
  • Keeping the author’s tone and the passage’s meaning in mind
  • Having a wide and (relatively) comprehensive vocabulary
  • Spelling words correctly – knowing the difference between similar words

Why Are These Skills Important?

The benefit of having English skills is much more tangible than other subjects in the ACT.  Obviously, being able to write and speak in a “correct” way is extremely useful in everyday life, as well as in school and work.  You could be writing an essay, interviewing for a job, completing a report, or taking an exam. All of these scenarios and more are made better through the implementation of proper grammar, word usage, syntax, and – in written/typed matters – punctuation.  Talking or writing to family, friends, colleagues, bosses, and even strangers also becomes much easier and gives you more credibility and respectability. Besides all that, understanding any language at a deeper level will give you not only the ability to read and speak and write that language more effectively, but will also give you a greater appreciation for the craft that goes into writing.  Learning the ins and outs of English allows you to gain a greater attention to detail, more precise critical thinking, and a higher intellectual aptitude. Clear and careful consideration of one’s words and how they form sentences is not only a tool for jobs and school, but for life as well.

A Breakdown of Standard English Conventions

Sentence Structure

  • Clause – a group of words that includes a subject and a verb
  • Independent clause – can express a complete thought and be a standalone sentence
  • Dependent clause – a supporting part of a sentence and cannot stand by itself. Typically, these start with words/phrases implying they are dependent on another clause such as:
    • but, even though, after, who, which, unless, that
  • Subject-verb agreement – the verb and noun must agree with one another in terms of them being singular or plural. There are a myriad of rules regarding plurality in English
  • Modifier-word agreement – the modifier must agree with the word it is modifying logically and in terms of plurality. 
  • Pronoun-antecedent agreement – an antecedent is a noun that a pronoun is referring to. 
    • For example: Billy ran to the store that he wanted to shop at.
  • Parallel structure – using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance or usage.
    • For example: Brittany likes hiking, bicycling, and swimming.


A word modifying, or adding meaning to, another word.

  • Adjective – modify nouns and pronouns (How many? What kind? Which one?)
  • Adverb – modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs (How? When? Where?)


Used to connect clauses/sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause.

  • Coordinating – connects words, phrases, and independent clauses together
    • and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so
  • Subordinating – joins a dependent clause to an independent clause
    • after, because, though, as, in order to, whenever, while, since, until, rather than
  • Correlative – work in pairs to join words and phrases of equal weight in a sentence
    • either… or, neither… nor, as much… as, not only… but, whether… or, both… and


  • Period – full stop, used to mark the end of a declarative sentence (independent clause)
  • Comma – a separator, pointing out information that needs to be set apart (see page 8)
  • Semicolon – separate (like a period) two closely related independent clauses 
  • Colon – used to explain, list examples of, or define a word or phrase stated beforehand
  • Apostrophe – shows possession in a noun (Allen’s books) or used in contractions (y’all)
  • Parentheses – used to offset parenthetical, or extra, material or information. The info in parentheses must not be integral for the sentence to be complete. Always used in pairs
  • Dash – used to offset extra information – like parentheses – or to introduce an explanation – like a colon. Used in pairs if the sentence doesn’t end with the included information
  • Hyphen – joins words together like: play-by-play, one-year-old, brother-in-law

Verb Tense

The time in which actions happen is important and verbs will reflect that on a word-to-word basis and per the event.

  • Past – describe things that already happened (-ed, was, were, had)
  • Present – describe things happening right now or continuous (base form, am, is, have)
  • Future – describe things that haven’t happened yet (will, will be, will have)

English Verb Tense Chart

Transition Word

A word/phrase (also called a conjunctive adverb) used to clarify the relationship between sentences.  Divided into categories based on function:

  • Agreement/Addition – express agreement with the preceding thoughts
    • also, furthermore, moreover, not to mention, additionally, similarly, likewise, as a matter of fact, first, second, third, besides
  • Contrast/Contradiction – shows evidence to the contrary or show alternative ideas
    • however, conversely, otherwise, nevertheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on the other hand, of course… but, even though, regardless
  • Consequence – used to illustrate that after a time, there was an effect
    • therefore, because of this, for this reason, consequently, as a result, thus, hence, in that case, then, so, in that event
  • Example/Support – introduce examples to support an idea more clearly
    • in other words, in fact, for example, to clarify, specifically, for this reason, with this in mind, notably, in particular, particularly
  • Restatement/Summary – restate or conclude ideas into a general statement
    • all in all, altogether, overall, in conclusion, after all, obviously, in any event, generally speaking, all things considered


A word that functions as a noun phrase, referring to a subject or an object of a clause.

  • Personal – replace nouns that represent people or personified things
    • I, you, he, she, we, they, who, it, us
  • Possessive – used to show possession as adjectives
    • my, your, their, our, his, her, its
  • Demonstrative – used to demonstrate or indicate a specific thing or idea
    • this, those, that, these
  • Indefinite – used to indicate non-specific ideas or things
    • somebody, several, anyone, nobody, each, few, none, all, any, some, both, either
  • Interrogative – used in questions
    • who, what, where, when, whose, which
  • Relative – used to add information to a sentence or phrase
    • where, that, who, whom, whose, which
  • Reciprocal – used to express actions or feelings that are reciprocated (give and receive)
    • one another, each other
  • Reflexive – refers back to a noun or pronoun in a sentence
    • myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, themselves, yourselves
  • Intensive – refers back to a noun or pronoun to emphasize it
    • All the same as reflexive, but are not essential to a sentence to understand it

Point of View and Plurality Chart

Types of Questions

  • Standard English Conventions
    • Sentence structure and usage
    • Punctuation
    • Grammar
    • Verb tense
    • Pronoun choice
    • Singular/plural
    • Subject-verb agreements
    • Modifiers: adjectives and adverbs
    • Point of view: first, second, and third person
    • Transition words
    • Conjunctions
    • Parallel structure
  • Production of Writing
    • Identify purposes of parts of text
    • Expression of ideas
    • Evaluation of material relevance
    • Organization, unity, and cohesion of text
    • Flow of thoughts and ideas
    • Conciseness
    • Command of evidence
    • Author’s intent
  • Knowledge of Language – ensure precision in word choice 
    • Word meaning
    • Idioms
    • Syntax
    • Style
    • Tone

General Exam Tips

  • Be aware of the writing style used in each passage
  • Utilize process of elimination
  • Often, the shortest answer is the correct one (be concise)
  • Justify every answer with context, there is a right choice!
  • Read questions and their answers carefully and completely
  • Be aware of questions with no underlined portions – these are about a section of a passage or the passage as a whole
  • Find what your weakness is – rhetorical skills or editing
  • Do you struggle with timing? Start studying by taking English section after English section, timing yourself
  • Keep track of the time, but don’t rush! Nothing wastes more time than hurrying
  • Don’t move on from a passage until you finish it
  • Be careful with “No Change” answers. If you don’t know the rules well enough, you won’t find anything wrong with a sentence using incorrect English
  • Don’t leave any questions blank
  • If there is a question you’re not sure about, mark it and come back to it. No sense dwelling on a question for an overly long time
  • Stay on top of bubbling – if you skip around, make sure you bubble the right questions!
  • Expand your vocabulary before the exam, including knowing common English idioms
  • Start typing/writing/texting using proper grammar and punctuation. Sure, you’ll seem like a nerd, but it helps you get ready for the exam!
  • Practice, practice, practice


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