ACT English Practice: Verb Tense and Subject-Verb Agreement

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  • 0:03 Verb Trouble
  • 1:23 Question 1
  • 3:13 Question 2
  • 4:48 Question 3
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Watch this video lesson to get some practice with two types of verb questions on the ACT English test: verb tense errors and subject-verb disagreement.

Verb Trouble

Being able to time travel could turn out really well, if you ended up somewhere cool. After all, it might be neat to meet Abraham Lincoln in the flesh or watch a dinosaur fight live. But you wouldn't want to time travel by accident, especially not in your writing!

Unfortunately, that's what you'll do if you wind up making a tense error. In grammar, the tense of a verb is the time that the action occurs - for example, the present, past, or future. In a tense error, the tense of a verb doesn't make sense in context, so it accidentally takes your reader for a jaunt into the past or the future when you didn't intend to.

As well as having a mismatch between the tense of the verb and the tense of the sentence, you can also have a mismatch between the subject and verb. The subject is the person or thing doing the action described in the verb. For example, in the sentence 'Jon travels back in time,' 'Jon' is the subject because he's doing the action (traveling). If your subject is just one person, the verb has to be singular; if the subject is more than one person, the verb has to be plural.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to keep everything in your sentences when it belongs and that the right people are doing the right things! We'll go through three practice questions, and then you'll test yourself independently in the quiz.

Question 1

We'll start with the story of a young student excited to get going on a very special adventure. Choose the best replacement for the underlined portion of the passage:

I had always wanted to meet the people I read about in my history books, so when I was 16, I decided to experiment with time travel. Studying theoretical perspectives for four months, by the end of July, I was finally ready to do my first practical test; could I skip back five minutes?

(A) (As it is now)

(B) I studied

(C) Having studied

(D) I would study

To help you figure out the tense error here, let's make a timeline of everything going on in that sentence. Here's the first part:

Relative to 'I was finally ready,' when did the studying happen? Was it before or after? Before, right? You have to study theory before you're ready for the practice. So we could put the studying on the timeline like this.

But there's a problem here: the studying clearly has to happen before being ready, but in the sentence, the present participle 'studying' implies that they're both happening at the same time. That's no good! So, how can we change this to make it clear that the studying comes before being ready?

You might be tempted to pick (B) because 'I studied' is in the past tense, but this creates a comma splice later in the sentence, where two complete thoughts are connected only with a comma. So (B) doesn't work.

Choice (D) doesn't make sense either: 'I would study' is referring to something hypothetical, and there's no sign in this sentence that the studying is just a possibility. In choice (C), 'having studied' changes the verb to a past participle, which makes it clear that the studying took place first, so (C) is correct.

Question 2

Ready for another question? Let's try one with subject-verb agreement this time:

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