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.
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.
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.
Ready for another question? Let's try one with subject-verb agreement this time:
Unfortunately, my '5-minute' jump didn't quite work as planned. I found myself staring at row after row of men in wigs and breeches. At the front of the room, a speaker was talking: 'In view of George III's indefensible behavior, the members of this Congress has pledged to fight for...' He abruptly stopped talking, and I realized everyone in the room was staring at the teenager who had just appeared out of nowhere, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and holding a smartphone.
(A) (As it is now)
(C) they pledge
(D) have pledged
What's the subject of 'has pledged?' You might think it's 'Congress,' which would call for a singular verb. But if you look closely, you'll notice that it's the members who are pledging. 'Of this Congress' is a prepositional phrase describing the members, not the subject of the verb. And saying 'members has pledged' doesn't work because now there's a mismatch between the singular subject and the plural verb.
Can you pick the answer that eliminates this confusion?
If you picked choice (D), you got it! Choice (D) just changes the verb to the plural form. (B) doesn't work because the sentence needs a main verb here, not just a participle. And (C) unnecessarily repeats the subject of the sentence: 'the members of this Congress they pledge' is redundant. So, (D) is correct.
Now for the grand finale, let's go for both at once: a question about tense and subject-verb matching. The Founding Fathers were naturally a little suspicious of our intrepid time traveler, but in the end, they warmed up to him:
Finally, Mr. Madison spoke up: This Congress has decided that you are not a spy.
(A) (As it is now)
(B) This Congress have decided
(C) This Congress decides
(D) This Congress, deciding
Can you spot the answer?
If you picked (A), you got it right. This sentence is correct as is. 'Has decided' is singular to go with Congress, which is the subject. And 'has decided' has the correct tense to use for a completed action. There's nothing wrong here, so no need to change anything.
In this lesson, you got some practice problems focusing on tense and subject-verb errors. Remember, the tenses in a sentence have to accurately describe the order of events; there's nothing wrong with drawing a timeline to make sure. For subject-verb agreement, remember that the verb has to match the subject or the person doing the action, not just the nearest noun!
Ready for more? Try your hand at the quiz questions to get some independent practice.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to select the correct answers to ACT English questions pertaining to verb tense and subject-verb agreement.