So I was studying for the grammar (English) section of the ACT, and I discovered what seems to be a serious gap in my knowledge. In one particular section, there were 4 questions that I got wrong - all for essentially the same reason.

Examples speak louder than explanation, so:

Q: For centuries, scientists believed in the existence of planets beyond the solar system, but had no way of knowing how common they were or how similar they might be to better-known planets.

The objective of this question was to modify the statement to correct the grammar.


  • No change
  • system. But
  • system but
  • system but they

Now, for me, this question was unambiguously 'No change;' however, apparently not - the answer key says that the correct response is 'system but.'

This was not an isolated occurrence, I realized whilst checking my responses.

Q: The group was originally a four-person ensemble but has expanded to five-part harmonies, a sixth member acts as a sign-language interpreter.

My Ans: ensemble, but has expanded to five-part harmonies...

Correct Ans: ensemble but has expanded to five-part harmonies...


Q: The rings spread over hundreds of thousands of miles, they consist of billions of individual particles that create waves, turbulence and other effects.

My Ans: miles, and consist

Correct Ans: miles, and they consist

This question is slightly different, yes, but my original question still applies. Also note how the author leaves out the Oxford comma - something I would not do.


Q: I would live with a local family, and attend classes at a nearby high school.

My ans: No change

Correct ans: family and attend


  • 1
    Thank for the answer selected vote. If you ask another question might I suggest waiting 24 hours before selecting an answer as accepted? I don't mean to appear ungrateful but if people see an answer has been accepted they are less likely to give a different, better answer. Waiting 24 hours gives everybody a chance to wake up, go to work, and then spend all our work hours answering questions instead of doing our jobs. :) Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 5:14
  • Ahh good advice indeed. I shall re-select your vote soon if none better appear. I commend your virtuousness in suggesting this - I feel as though many would not do what you have, instead preferring to just take the selection and move on. I would upvote, but I do not have enough rep yet.
    – Equinox
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 5:22

1 Answer 1


Are you an American? Was the test written by a Briton? Examples 1, 2 and 4 are very much the distinction between the BrE and AmE. BrE typically excludes the comma when two independent clauses are conjoined.

As regards the third example, though I don't suppose it would have been amongst the answer options, also correct, in my opinion, would have been:

The rings spread over hundreds of thousands of miles and consist of billions of individual particles...

No pronoun or comma.

The answer you cite appears to me to be inconsistent and idiosyncratic. It appears the examiner has a rule that

  • a conjunction is required to join two independent clauses
  • and a comma does not precede this conjunction

but then adds to it

  • unless that conjunction precedes a pronoun referring to the first clause.
  • I am American, and to my knowledge, the writer of this was an American as well. Specifically, Erica Meltzer. She is a test writer and created these questions in preparation for the English ACT. The ACT is a standardized test not unlike the SAT. Are these questions representative of BrE? That surprises me considerably... I notice that in your analysis of the third question, you neglect the comma - are you British? Lastly, do these seem to be standard rules?
    – Equinox
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 4:37
  • @Equinox To the best of my knowledge, examples 1, 2 and 4 are typically British and I agree with the answers the examiner gave. But, they are more a matter of taste than of grammar. As I note in my answer, BrE tends to omit the commas but even so, unless I had a style guide to which to adhere, I would hesitate to mark them as wrong. Example 3 is simply awkward. I speak a mixture of American and British English caused by migration of my family and my elementary teachers. I prefer to say I omit rather than neglect the comma; I do it on purpose rather than through carelessness. :) Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 5:02
  • Ahh, thank you very much indeed. :) I shall take this all to note - hopefully I will not have to face such a deciding situation on the real test. As for your last sentence, I used 'neglect' with haste, and I apologise. In hindsight, I meant to use 'omit,' but the word did not immediately spring to mind. @ below, I might very well do that. I have noticed other errata throughout, repeated words, numbers etc, and a note to the editor suggesting corrections for the next edition would be useful. A note: this book, 2nd ed. 'The complete guide to the ACT English' is regarded as one of the best.
    – Equinox
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 5:06
  • If the publisher has a contact address, I would consider contacting them to see if they produce explanatory notes because a test written for an American reader should give typically American answers and they don't seem right to me. If I was doing the test I would have attempted to think American and so would have given the answers you gave to 1, 2 and 4. :) I was teasing you about omit/neglect. I knew what you meant. Please, no apology needed. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 5:06

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