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Kristin Fracchia

TuesdACT Video: Red Book English Test 1 #57 – Punctuation


ACT English Punctuation Questions and an Explanation for The Real ACT Prep Guide “Red Book” Test 1 Question 57

This week I’m tackling another frequently-missed question from the The Official ACT Prep Guide, aka the “Red Book.” (I’m looking at you, Practice Test 1, English Question 57, Page 160!)

Check out the video for why this punctuation question is a bit tricky and for helpful tips on semicolons and commas on the test!

Here’s the sentence in question:

But in pinball, you have three factors to consider: you, the machine, and chance, which is sometimes your enemy sometimes your ally.

  2. enemy,
  3. enemy;
  4. enemy, and,

This sentence is a little more sophisticated in its phrasing than most of the sentences on the ACT English test, which is why it might catch you off guard.

Here we have a rather elegant pairing of two opposite phrases: “sometimes your enemy” and “sometimes your ally,” which are modifying the word “chance.”

Because ACT test-takers are so accustomed to attacking comma splices, it’s really easy to slip up here and think answer choice B is a comma splice. A comma splice, as you may remember is when a writer incorrectly joins together two complete sentences with only a comma. It’s a bad grammar mistake that the ACT tests over and over again.

But this case is actually not a comma splice. “Sometimes your enemy” and “sometimes your ally” are not complete sentences, so it would not be an error to put just a comma between the phrases. Because they are not complete sentences that can stand alone, we also cannot use a ; or a “, and” to join them (making C and D incorrect).

But we DO need a break between the two phrases; we don’t want to just run them together as answer choice A does. Therefore, this question is an excellent example of how we use commas to create pauses. We need a pause here, so we need a comma, and our answer is B, “enemy,”.

About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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