McGraw-Hill Education ACT 2017 (2016)



Punctuation Rules

PunctuationStandard marks and signs in writing and printing to separate words into sentences, clauses, and phrases in order to clarify meaning.

A properly punctuated sentence will help the reader understand the organization of the writer’s ideas. The ACT English Test includes questions that address both the rules and usage of punctuation. You should be able to identify and correct errors involving the following punctuation marks:

1. Commas

2. Apostrophes

3. Colons and Semicolons

4. Parentheses and Dashes

5. Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points

Image   Commas

A comma is used to indicate a separation of ideas or elements within a sentence.

Use a comma with a coordinating conjunction to separate independent clauses within a sentence.

A coordinating conjunction connects words, phrases, or clauses that are of equal importance in the sentence.

Jenny sings in the choir, and she plays the guitar in a rock band.

Amanda enjoys her job, but she is looking forward to her vacation.

His mother doesn’t eat meat, nor does she eat dairy products.

Jordan will be playing football this year, for he made the team.

Frank earned a promotion, so we decided to celebrate.

I just completed my workout, yet I’m not tired.

Use a comma to separate elements that introduce and modify a sentence.

Yesterday, I painted the entire garage.

Before deciding on a major at college, Rana discussed her options with her parents.

Use commas before and after a parenthetical expression.

A parenthetical expression is a phrase that is inserted into the writer’s train of thought. Parenthetical expressions are most often set off with commas.

Stephanie’s decision, in my opinion, was not in her best interest.

The new park, of course, is a popular tourist destination.

Use commas before and after an appositive.

An appositive is a noun or phrase that renames the noun that precedes it.

My brother, a well-respected scientist, made an important discovery.

Mr. Smith, the fifth-grade math teacher, was a favorite among the students.

Use a comma to set off an interjection.

Well, it’s about time that you got here!

Say, did you pass your history test?

Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives.

If two adjectives modify a noun in the same way, they are called coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives can also be joined with and (without a comma).

We walked the long, dusty road to the abandoned farm.

OR—We walked the long and dusty road to the abandoned farm.

My cousin received a dedicated, signed copy of her favorite book.

OR—My cousin received a dedicated and signed copy of her favorite book.

Use commas to set off a nonrestrictive phrase or clause.

A nonrestrictive phrase or clause is one that can be omitted from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. Nonrestrictive clauses are useful because they serve to further describe the nouns that they follow.

My sister’s dog, forever annoying, barks at me whenever I visit.

Katie celebrated her birthday, which was in June, with a party and a chocolate cake.

Use a comma to separate items in a list or series.

Jill decided to purchase a leash, a collar, and a water dish for her dog.

Skippy packed his suitcase, put on his jacket, and left the house.

Please bring the following items to camp: pillow, blanket, toothbrush, and other personal hygiene products.

The so-called serial comma, the one preceding and or or before the last item in a series of three or more items, is considered standard for ACT English purposes. Nevertheless, this remains a disputed usage in the United States. The ACT uses the serial comma in every case that warrants it.

Use commas in dates, addresses, place names, numbers, and quotations.

Commas generally separate a quotation from its source.

Mary is leaving for Jamaica on January 7, 2004.

The Library of Congress is located at 101 Independence Avenue, Washington, D.C.

Annual tuition is currently $42,500.

“My sister is a nurse,” Becky said proudly.

Do not use a comma:

-to separate a subject from a verb.

The police officer walked down to the corner.

NOT—The police officer, walked down to the corner.

-to separate an adjective from the word it modifies.

The pretty girl sat in front of me on the bus.

NOT—The pretty, girl sat in front of me on the bus.

-before a coordinate conjunction and a phrase (NOT an independent clause with its own subject and a verb).

Jeff likes to relax on his couch and listen to music.

NOT—Jeff likes to relax on his couch, and listen to music.

-to separate two independent clauses; this is known as a comma splice.

I plan to attend a liberal arts college. My parents want me to get a well-rounded education.

NOT—I plan to attend a liberal arts college, my parents want me to get a well-rounded education.

Image   Apostrophes

An apostrophe is used to form possessives of nouns, to show the omission of letters in contractions, and to form plurals of letters and numbers with “s.”

Add an apostrophe and an “s” to form the possessive of singular nouns, plural nouns, or indefinite pronouns that do not end in “s”.

My friend’s house is at the end of the street.

The Women’s Society meets every Thursday at the high school.

Someone’s bicycle is leaning against the building.

Add an apostrophe to form the possessive of plural nouns ending in “s”.

The horses’ stalls were filled with straw.

I did not enjoy the two brothers’ rendition of my favorite song.

Add an apostrophe to the last noun to indicate joint possession.

Frank and Ruth’s anniversary is in September.

Add an apostrophe to all nouns to indicate individual possession.

Brian’s, Jason’s, and Michael’s computers were all stolen.

Add an apostrophe to indicate contractions.

It’s raining outside again.

We’re running against each other in the election.

If you’re going to the movie with me, we should leave now.

My cousin should’ve taken the bus.

Didn’t Kevin know that classes had begun?

Add an apostrophe to form the plural of letters and numbers.

Did you dot your i’s and cross your t’s?

There are a total of four 7’s in my phone number.

Do not use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun.

The car with the flat tire is ours.

NOT—The car with the flat tire is our’s.

Yours is the dog that barks all night.

NOT—Your’s is the dog that barks all night.

Image   Colons and Semicolons

A colon is used before a list or after an independent clause that is followed by information that directly modifies or adds to the clause. An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. A semicolon is used to join closely related independent clauses when a coordinate conjunction is not used, with conjunctive adverbs to join main clauses, to separate items in a series that contains commas, and to separate coordinate clauses when they are joined by transitional words or phrases.

Use a colon before a list.

We are required to bring the following items to camp: a sleeping bag, a pillow, an alarm clock, clothes, and personal-care items.

Use a colon after an independent clause that is followed by information that directly modifies or adds to the clause.

Jennifer encountered a problem that she had not anticipated: a broken Internet link.

My sister suggested a great location: the park down the street from our house.

Colons may also precede direct quotations and should be used in business salutations and titles.

Captain John Paul Jones said: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

Dear Mr. Smith:

Blaze: A Story of Courage

Use a semicolon to join closely related independent clauses when a coordinate conjunction is not used.

Jane starts a new job today; she is very excited.

I don’t understand the directions; my teacher must explain them to me.

Use a semicolon with conjunctive adverbs to join independent clauses.

Skippy is interested in taking the class; however, it does not fit in his schedule.

My brother seems short compared to his friends; nevertheless, he is the tallest person in our family.

Use a semicolon to separate items that contain commas and are arranged in series.

The art museum contained some beautiful, classically designed furniture; bronze, plaster, and marble statues; and colorful, abstract modern art pieces.

My first meal at college consisted of cold, dry toast; runny, undercooked eggs; and very strong, acidic coffee.

Use a semicolon to separate coordinate clauses when they are joined by transitional words or phrases.

When a sentence contains more than one clause, each of which is considered equally as important as the other, the clauses are called “coordinate clauses.” They are typically joined by a coordinating conjunction, such as and, but, or, so. When a coordinating conjunction is not used, a semicolon should be.

My sister and I enjoyed the play; afterward, we stopped for an ice cream cone.

OR—My sister and I enjoyed the play, and afterward, we stopped for an ice cream cone.

Betty often misplaces her keys; perhaps she should get a key locator.

OR—Betty often misplaces her keys, so perhaps she should get a key locator.

Image   Parentheses and Dashes

Parentheses are used to enclose supplemental information that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Dashes are used to place special emphasis on a certain word or phrase within a sentence.

Use parentheses to enclose explanatory or secondary supporting details.

In addition to serving as Class Treasurer (during her junior year), she was also a National Merit Scholar.

Alan visited the Football Hall of Fame (on a guided tour) during his summer vacation.

Use dashes in place of parentheses to place special emphasis on certain words or phrases.

Dr. Evans—a noted scientist and educator—spoke at our commencement ceremony.

The Homecoming float—cobbled together with wire and nails—teetered dangerously down the street.

Image   Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points

Periods, question marks, and exclamation points are considered “end punctuation” and should be used at the end of a sentence.

Use a period to end most sentences.

Scott enrolled in classes at the university.

Use a question mark to end a direct question.

Do you think it will rain today?

Use an exclamation point to end an emphatic statement.

Please don’t leave your vehicle unattended!

Grammar Rules

Grammar: The study and application of combining words to form sentences.

A well-formed sentence contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. The ACT English Test includes questions that will test your ability to identify and correct poorly written sentences. You should have a firm grasp of the following concepts:

Subject/Verb Agreement

Nouns and Pronouns

Verbs and Verb Forms

Image   Subject/Verb Agreement

A sentence has two essential parts: a subject and a verb. The subject is who or what the sentence is about. The verb tells you what the subject is doing, what is being done to the subject, or something about the state of being of the subject. The subject and verb must agree; that is, they must share the same person, number, and voice. In addition, verbs in successive clauses and sentences normally must match in voice and tense.


A verb must have the same person as the subject.

1st person: I am eating lunch.

2nd person: You are eating lunch.

3rd person: She is eating lunch.

In addition to person, subject and verb must agree in number, which is either singular or plural.


1st person, singular: I have a headache today.

2nd person, singular: You are my best friend in the entire world!

3rd person, singular: It/He/She was interesting today.

1st person, plural: We make amazing barbecue.

2nd person, plural: You are going to work in pairs for this assignment.

3rd person, plural: They enjoy suspense novels.


Active voice means that the subject is acting. In the following sentence, dog is the subject.

The dog licked my brother.

The ACT English Test is more likely to reward answer choices that are in the active voice. The graders on the Writing Test are also more likely to award points to essays that are in the active voice.

Passive voice means that the subject is being acted upon. In the following sentence, my brother is the subject.

My brother was licked by the dog.

Although some situations demand the passive voice, the vast majority of passive sentences can be effectively reworded to have active voice.


Verb tense provides you with information about when the action took place. Actions take place in the present, in the past, or in the future. The ACT English Test will not require you to recall the names of the tenses, but it will require you to recognize correct and incorrect uses of verb tense. While there are many classifications of verb tense, for the purpose of preparing for the ACT, you should remember the following tenses:

Simple past—the action took place in the past and is completed: Jenny worked a double shift at the mall yesterday.

Past progressive—the action was taking place in the past when some other action took place: Jenny was working at the mall last night when the fire alarm sounded.

Past perfect—the action took place before another specified point in time or action in the past: Jenny had worked at the mall before she went to college.

Simple present—the action takes place regularly or repeatedly: Jenny works at the mall after school. (She works there repeatedly.)

Present progressive—the action is taking place now: Jenny is working at the mall until 9 o’clock tonight.

Present perfect—the action began in the past and is ongoing: Jenny has worked at the mall for the last two years.

Future—the action will take place in the future: Jenny will work more hours at the mall next summer.

Future progressive—the action will be taking place in the future when some other action will take place: Jenny will be working at the mall when her friends begin gathering for her surprise party.

Future perfect—the action took place before another specified action or point in time in the future: Jenny will have worked over 3 years at the mall when she graduates next spring.

Some special verb tenses:

Habitual actions in the past using would and used to—the action took place on a regular basis in the past:

              When I was a boy, I would buy a root beer float every chance I could.
OR When I was a boy, I used to buy a root beer float every chance I could.

Near future with progressive tenses of go—the action is upcoming relative to past or present:

I was going to call you, but I could not find my phone.

The girls are going to have dinner before the movie tonight.

Image   Nouns and Pronouns

The English language contains two forms of nouns: proper nouns, which name a specific person, place, or object, and common nouns, which name a nonspecific person, place, or object. Proper nouns begin with an uppercase letter, and common nouns do not. Pronouns take the place of either a proper or a common noun. Generally, a pronoun begins with an uppercase letter only if the pronoun begins a sentence. The one notable exception is the personal pronoun I, which is always capitalized. A pronoun should be placed so that it clearly refers to a specific noun. One of the errors that the ACT commonly tests is a pronoun with an unclear antecedent. You should be able to select pronouns from the appropriate set, as follows:

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns come in several forms, including subject pronouns, possessive determiners, possessive pronouns, object pronouns, and reflexive pronouns. Each of these pronouns is discussed next.

Subject pronouns (renames nouns in subject position)


1st person: I

2nd person: you

3rd person:

Masculine (names males): he

Feminine (names females): she

Neuter (names nouns without gender): it


1st person: we

2nd person: you

3rd person: they

Consider the following example:

Mandy (singular, 3rd person, feminine) recently graduated from college; she (singular, 3rd person, feminine) now has a degree in nursing.

Possessive determiners (assigns possession)

These can also be called possessive adjectives.


1st person: my

2nd person: your

3rd person:

Masculine: his

Feminine: her

Neuter: its


1st person: our

2nd person: your

3rd person: their

Consider the following example:

That piece of paper is my boarding pass. (The boarding pass belongs to the speaker, who is singular and 1st person.)

Possessive pronouns (replace nouns and show possession)

These do not mark nouns, as the possessive determiners do; rather, they replace nouns.


1st person: mine

2nd person: yours

3rd person:

Masculine: his

Feminine: hers

Neuter does not exist.


1st person: ours

2nd person: yours

3rd person: theirs

Take note that no apostrophes are used in these pronouns, even though they indicate possession.

Consider the following example:

That boarding pass is hers. (The boarding pass belongs to a singular, 3rd person, female.)

Object pronouns (rename nouns in object position)

These are used as indirect and direct objects in verb phrases and as objects of prepositions.


1st person: me

2nd person: you

3rd person:

Masculine: him

Feminine: her

Neuter: it


1st person: us

2nd person: you

3rd person: them

Consider the following example:

John (singular, 3rd person, masculine) wondered why everyone kept staring at him (singular, 3rd person, masculine) during dinner. (The pronoun is the object of the preposition at.)

Reflexive pronouns (rename the subject in object position)

These are used when the subject is also the object of the verb.


1st person: myself

2nd person: yourself

3rd person:

Masculine: himself

Feminine: herself

Neuter: itself


1st person: ourselves

2nd person: yourselves

3rd person: themselves

Consider the following example:

If we (plural, 1st person) don’t win this game, boys, we’ll be kicking ourselves (plural, 1st person) tomorrow. (The subject group of boys represented by we is kicking the same group of boys.)

In addition, the ACT requires that you distinguish among the preceding personal pronouns, as well as relative and indefinite pronouns.

Common traps with personal pronouns

Following is a description of some common mistakes of pronoun use. Be especially cautious of these traps on the ACT.

Use subject pronouns in compound subjects (subjects with more than one noun)

Paul, you, and I will be Team A.

NOT: Paul, you, and me

She and Mark have been dating for years.

NOT: Mark and her

Use subject pronouns as subjects of clauses in comparative constructions (more…than, less…than, as…as, etc.) when the clause is not repeated. Add the missing clause back to reveal the subject position of the pronoun.

No one in the classroom was as surprised as I (was).

NOT: … as me.

He worked longer today than she (worked).

NOT: … than her.

Use possessive determiners before gerunds (-ing verb forms)

Her singing has often been admired.

The class was shocked by his studying for the exam.

Relative Pronouns

These are used to identify nouns at the beginning of relative clauses.


Non-human: which/that

Bob loves dogs that can catch Frisbees. (Dogs can catch Frisbees.)

Human: who

Jenny is looking for a mechanic who has experience with carburetors. (Some mechanic has experience with carburetors.)


Non-human: which/that

I finally got back the DVD that John borrowed. (John borrowed the DVD.)

Human: whom

Traci has not yet been paid by the client whom she billed last week. (Traci billed the client.)


Non-human or human: whose

Mrs. Peters loves Edgar Allan Poe, whose poems and stories give her chills. (Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and stories give her chills.)

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are used to represent an indefinite number of persons, places, or things. Following are some examples of indefinite pronouns:

1. Everyone gather around the campfire!

2. There will be a prize for each of the children.

3. One of my sisters always volunteers to drive me to school.

Be sure to maintain consistency in pronoun person and number.

It is not grammatically correct to use the plural pronoun their to represent neutral gender with singular nouns. This is an example of a major difference between standard written English and the English that we ordinarily use when speaking.

A small child should always be with his or her parent or guardian.

NOT—A small child should always be with their parent or guardian.

Image   Verbs and Verb Forms

verb describes the action that is taking place in the sentence. All verbs have four principle forms:

Simple Present: write

Simple Past: wrote

Present Participle: writing

Past Participle: written

Simple Past vs. Past Participle

The simple past and past participle forms of verbs can sometimes be confusing. Most past tenses are formed by adding -ed to the word.

Simple Present Tense—We move often.

Simple Past Tense—We moved again this year.

Some verbs have irregular past tense forms.

Simple Present Tense—I see my best friend every day.

Simple Past Tense—I saw my best friend yesterday.

Simple Present Tense—My little sister eats her breakfast quickly.

Simple Past Tense—My little sister ate her breakfast quickly.

Remember that the perfect tenses include a form of have, a so-called auxiliary verb, and a past participle.

Past Participle—I had seen my best friend the day before.

NOT—I had saw my best friend the day before.

Past Participle—My little sister has eaten her breakfast quickly.

NOT—My little sister has ate her breakfast quickly.

In most cases, be sure to maintain parallel verb forms throughout a sentence.

We rode to school on the bus and started our first class at 9:00 A.M.

NOT—We ride to school on the bus and started our first class at 9:00 A.M.

His brother walks to school and often arrives ahead of us.

NOT—His brother walks to school and often arrived ahead of us.

Some sentences follow a specific sequence of tenses. The order of the clauses is normally interchangeable.

Hypothetical/Conditional: These sentences usually use a clause with if and a subjunctive verb phrase (were to walk, for example) in one clause, and a conditional (would) verb construction in the second clause.

If I were to buy tickets for the game, would you go with me?

Mike would be shocked if he were to discover the truth.

If I were you, I’d get out of town as fast as you can.

(Notice the contraction I’d from I would.)

Simple past/past progressive

The accident occurred while the traffic light was changing.

Simple past/past perfect

The children had drunk all their milk before Ms. Thompson dismissed them for recess.

Simple past/simple present

In a recent poll, 7% of teens thought that Vietnam is in North America.

Simple present/future progressive

will be cleaning the house when you return from work.

Simple present/future perfect

By the time you awaken, Dr. Smythe will have finished stitching the incision.

Simple present/present progressive (suggests the future)

am watching a movie when John leaves the living room.

Simple present/present perfect

Martha knows that she has earned all of her promotions.

Future/simple past

Susie will cry if you lost her teddy bear.

Future/simple present

will buy you both lunch if you wash my car.

Future/present perfect

Sammy’s Pizza will close this week if quarterly profits have not improved.

Future perfect/present perfect (equivalent to future perfect/simple present)

Our cows will have moved toward the barn by the time the bobcat has entered the pasture.

Sentence Structure Rules

Sentence Structure: The grammatical arrangement of words and phrases in sentences.

It is important that a sentence be arranged so that the idea is expressed completely and clearly. The ACT will test your ability to recognize and correct errors involving the following:

Run-on Sentences

Sentence Fragments

Misplaced Modifiers


Image   Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence is a sentence that is composed of more than one main idea and that does not use proper punctuation or connectors. The ACT requires you to recognize run-on sentences, as well as avoid creating run-on sentences. The following are examples of run-on sentences along with suggested corrections:

Run-on Sentence—Jill is an actress she often appears in major network television shows.

Correct Sentence—Jill is an actress who often appears in major network television shows.

Run-on Sentence—My nephew loves to play football you can find him on the practice field almost every day.

Correct Sentences—My nephew loves to play football. You can find him on the practice field almost every day.

Run-on sentences are often created by substituting a comma for a semicolon or a period. This is called a comma splice, and it is incorrect. Following are examples of comma splices along with suggested corrections:

Comma Splice—Yesterday my mother prepared my favorite dinner, she even baked a cake.

Correct Sentence—Yesterday my mother prepared my favorite dinner; she even baked a cake.

Comma Splice—History is my favorite subject in school, I always get the highest grade.

Correct Sentences—History is my favorite subject in school. I always get the highest grade.

Image   Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a dependent clause, which must function as part of a complete sentence and cannot stand alone. (Fragments often lack a subject or a verb with tense. Sentence fragments are incorrectly punctuated as if they were complete sentences.) The following are examples of sentence fragments along with suggested corrections:

Sentence Fragment—My car is difficult to start in the winter. Because of the cold weather.

Correct Sentence—Because of the cold weather, my car is difficult to start in the winter.

Sentence Fragment—Michigan State University offers a variety of courses. Such as Psychology, Biology, Physics, and Music.

Correct Sentence—Michigan State University offers a variety of courses, such as Psychology, Biology, Physics, and Music.

Image   Misplaced Modifiers

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that provide description in sentences. Typically, a modifier is placed near the word or phrase that it modifies. A misplaced modifier creates confusion because it appears to modify some word or phrase other than the word or phrase it was intended to modify. The following are examples of misplaced modifiers along with suggested corrections:

1. Misplaced Modifier—Josh had trouble deciding which college to attend at first. (Does he plan to attend more than one college?)

2. Correct Sentence—At first, Josh had trouble deciding which college to attend.

3. Misplaced Modifier—The young girl was walking her dog in a raincoat. (Was her dog in a raincoat?)

4. Correct Sentence—The young girl in a raincoat was walking her dog.

Image   Parallelism

Parallelism, or parallel construction, enables you to show order and clarity in a sentence or a paragraph by putting grammatical elements that have the same function in the same form. For example, when two adjectives modify the same noun, the adjectives should have similar forms. When providing a list, each element of the list should have the same form. Also, when the first half of a sentence has a certain structure, the second half should maintain that structure. Following are examples of faulty parallel construction along with suggested corrections:

1. Faulty Parallel Construction—Amy enjoyed running and to ride horses.

2. Correct Sentence—Amy enjoyed running and horseback riding.

3. Faulty Parallel Construction—Our field trip included a visit to the art museum, talking to a local artist, and a workshop on oil-painting techniques.

4. Correct Sentence—Our field trip included visiting the art museum, talking to a local artist, and attending a workshop on oil-painting techniques.


There are certain words and phrases in the English language that are often misused and that often show up on the ACT English Test. We’ve included a list of commonly misused words here, along with definitions and examples of the proper use of the words.

Accept, Except

Accept is a verb that means “to agree to receive something.”

Example: Jenny did not accept my invitation to dinner.

Except is usually a preposition that means “excluding,” or more rarely a verb meaning “to omit or leave out.”

Example: The entire family except for my sister Jill attended the reunion.

Affect, Effect

Affect is usually a verb meaning “to influence.”

Example: His opinion will affect my decision.

Effect is usually a noun meaning “result” or “force.”

Example: His opinion had a great effect on my decision.

All ready, Already

All ready means “completely ready” or “everyone is ready.”

Example: The instructor asked the climber if he was all ready to begin.

Already means “by or before a specified time.”

Example: The students were already late for the bus.

Among, Between

Among is used with more than two items.

Example: The scientist is living among a group of native people.

Between is used with two items.

Example: The race between Amy and Jenny was very close.

Amount, Number

Amount is used to denote a quantity of something that cannot be divided into separate units.

Example: There was a small amount of water in the glass.

Number is used when the objects involved are discrete or can be counted.

Example: A large number of students participated in the festivities.

Assure, Ensure, Insure

Assure means “to convince,” or “to guarantee” and usually takes a direct object.

Example: I assure you that I will not be late.

Ensure means “to make certain.”

Example: Ensure that the door is locked when you leave.

Insure means “to guard against loss.”

Example: Please insure this package for $100.

Bring, Take

Bring should be used in situations where something is being moved toward you.

Example: Please bring me the book.

Take should be used in situations where something is being moved away from you.

Example: Did you take my book with you when you left?

Capital, Capitol

Capital refers to “the official seat of government of a state or nation.”

Example: The capital of Michigan is Lansing.

Capital can also be used to mean “wealth or money.”

Example: He needed to raise investment capital to start his company.

Capital, when used as an adjective, means “foremost,” or “excellent.”

Example: “That is a capital idea,” Steve said.

Capitol refers to the “building where government meets, or when capitalized, refers to the building in which the U.S. Congress is housed.”

Example: Some members of the legislature have their offices in the capitol building downtown.

Compare to, Compare with

Compare to means “assert a likeness.”

Example: My grandmother often compares me to my mother.

Compare with means “analyze for similarities and differences.”

Example: The detective compared the photograph with the drawing.

Complement, Compliment

Complement is a noun or verb that implies “something that completes or adds to” something else.

Example: The dessert was a tasty complement to my meal.

Compliment is a noun or verb that implies “flattery or praise.”

Example: Pam appreciated Mike’s compliment on her high test scores.

Eager, Anxious

Eager implies “an intense desire” and usually has a positive connotation.

Example: Carrie was eager to begin her new job.

Anxious indicates “worry or apprehension” and has a negative connotation.

Example: Fred waited anxiously for the plane to take off.

Farther, Further

Farther refers to distance.

Example: Matt traveled farther than all of the others.

Further indicates “additional degree, time, or quantity.”

Example: The airline representative told us to expect further delays.

Fewer, Less

Fewer refers to units or individuals.

Example: Fewer students went on the class trip this year.

Example: I weigh fewer pounds this year than I did last year.

Less refers to mass or bulk.

Example: There is less air in my bicycle’s front tire than in its rear tire.

Example: I weigh less this year than I did last year.

Imply, Infer

Imply means “to suggest.” The speaker or author “implies.”

Example: His pants and shirt colors imply that he is color blind.

Infer means “to deduce,” “to guess,” or “to conclude.” The listener or reader “infers.”

Example: He is not color blind, so we can infer that he simply has bad taste in clothes.

Its, It’s

The possessive form of it is its.

Example: The dog lost its collar.

The contraction of it is is it’s.

Example: It’s too bad that your dog ran away.

Lay, Lie

Lay means “to put” or “to place,” and takes a direct object.

Example: Please lay your scarf on the back of the chair.

Lie means “to recline, rest, or stay,” or “to take a position of rest.” This verb does not take a direct object.

Example: Carrie likes to lie down when she gets home from school.

Learn, Teach

Learn means to “gain knowledge.”

Example: I have always wanted to learn how to cook.

Teach means to “impart, or give knowledge.”

Example: My uncle agreed to teach me to cook.

Lend, Borrow

Lend means to “give or loan something” to someone else.

Example: Will you lend me your jacket for the evening?

Borrow means to “obtain or receive something temporarily” from someone else.

Example: May I borrow your jacket for the evening?

Precede, Proceed

Precede means “to go before.”

Example: Katie preceded Kahla as an intern at the law office.

Proceed means “to move forward.”

Example: Please proceed to the testing center in an orderly fashion.

Principal, Principle

Principal is a noun meaning “the head of a school or an organization.”

Example: Mr. Smith is the principal of our high school.

Principal can also mean “a sum of money.”

Example: Only part of the payment will be applied to the principal amount of the loan.

Principal can also be used as an adjective to mean “first,” or “leading.”

Example: Betty’s principal concern was that Gary would be late.

Principle is a noun meaning “a basic truth or law.”

Example: We learned the principles of democracy in class today.

Set, Sit

The verb set takes a direct object, while the verb sit does not.

Example: Please set the glass down on the table.

Example: Please sit in the chair next to mine.

Than, Then

Than is a conjunction used in comparative constructions.

Example: Jill would rather eat fruit than eat chocolate.

Then is an adverb denoting time.

Example: First, I will go for a run, then I will do my homework.

That, Which

That is used to introduce an essential clause in a sentence. Commas are not normally used before the word that.

Example: This is the book that Jenny recommended I read.

Which is best used to introduce a clause containing nonessential and descriptive information. Commas are required before the word which.

Example: That book, which is old and tattered, is a favorite of mine.

There, Their, They’re

There indicates location.

Example: My car is parked over there.

Their is a possessive determiner.

Example: Their car is parked next to mine.

They’re is a contraction of they are.

Example: They’re afraid of getting a ticket if the car is not moved.

To, Too, Two

To is a preposition.

Example: Send the check to my office.

Too is an adverb, and means alsoexcessively, or prohibitively.

Example: It is important that you read the textbook, too.

Example: John has been too sick to work this week.

Example: That silk scarf is too expensive for me to buy right now.

Two is a number.

Example: There are only two tickets remaining for the game.

Your, You’re

Your is a possessive determiner.

Example: Your brother is going to be late for school.

You’re is a contraction of you are.

Example: You’re going to be late as well.