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David Recine

ACT English Grammar Rules: Verb Formation

In ACT English grammar, it’s especially important to pay attention to verbs. The ACT likes to focus on verbs because high school and first-year college students often make verb-related mistakes in their own writing. ACT English tests those mistakes, and your score will show schools whether you are below or above average when it comes to skills in written grammar. Below are a few verb-related grammar rules that can help you score well in ACT English and demonstrate your English ability to prospective universities.



ACT Verb Tip 1: Verb Tenses in a Passage Should Show Parallelism

Unless there is a specific reason to change the tenses of verbs in a passage (such as a shift form describing past events to describing present or future ones), verb tense should be consistent in an ACT English passage. Be prepared to spot and correct mistakes such as “The noodles are produced on a large automated assembly line and then were put into boxes.” Are is present tense, were is past tense, and the verbs need to be changed to just one tense so that the structure is parallel. Which verb you choose to change depends on the greater context in the passage.

For verbs as well as other grammatical forms, parallelism is quite important in ACT English. For more advice on this feature of writing and how it relates to the forms of words, check out Kristin’s parallelism post here on the blog.


ACT Verb Tip 2: Singular Verbs Are Formed Differently Than Plural Verbs

If a subject is singular, than the verb describing the subject’s action will have singular form. You probably already know that this usually means adding an “s” to the end of the verb. So for example the singular verb for know is knows, as in “he knows about that.” Also, the plural verb of “know” would be the bare form of the verb, with no added ­“s”, as in “they know about that.” For verbs with certain consonant endings, an “es” is added (catch/catches, splash/splashes) but the basic principle is the same.

For past-tense verbs, there aren’t alternate singular and plural forms. You’d use the same form for “he knew that already” and “they knew that already.” The same goes for future tense verbs. You can say “they will know something” or “he will know something.” Bear this in mind as you scan for plural/singular verb errors in ACT English, if you’re dealing with past or future tense verbs you don’t need to check for those kinds of mistakes. Unless you’re dealing with forms of the root verb to be.

The plural and singular forms of the root verb to be are all irregular, and there are different singular and plural forms in the past tense (were/was) as well as present tense (am/is). The “bare” form be is used in future tense with no plural/singular variations, so you can still ignore future tense for to be when you are scanning for proper singular and plural verb forms.

Plural and singular verb forms are tested extensively in ACT English. You can find additional rules about this kind of verb formation here (ACT English Grammar Rules: Singular and Plural Forms).


About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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