Grammar Basics

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
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In this Magoosh ACT English lesson we are going to talk about grammar basics. Now don't be fooled, even though we're gonna talk about two very fundamental concepts about the English language, they're really important for you to know for the ACT for reasons I will point out. So stay with me here, it's gonna seem basic at first. You're gonna think, oh I learned this in kindergarten.

But I'm going to tell you why it's important in more complex scenarios that you are going to face on the ACT. All right, so first of all, what makes a sentence? A lot of you probably already know this, but it is a subject and a verb. So if we just have "the dog" that is not a sentence, that would just be a noun. Or a subject, barked, also not a sentence, that would just be the verb.

But the dog barked is a sentence, we have a subject here, the dog, and we have a verb, barked. Now what about the sentence the dog barking, is that a sentence? Well it's actually not because what we've done here is we've taken that verb 'bark' and we've used the gerund form of it. You don't need to necessarily know what that's called but you need to know how to recognize it.

It's the ing form of a verb. Like dancing, or singing, or running. And on it's own, the gerund doesn't really act like a verb so that is not a sentence. But, if we give it a little helping verb here like is. The dog is barking. The dog was barking, the dog had been barking.

Then, it becomes progressive tense and that is a verb. So, be careful that you don't just automatically assume a gerund is a verb even though you've seen it used as part of a verb many times, but that is always with a helping verb like is or has or was or had been. Those helping verbs show that action is progressing over time, so the dog is barking is a sentence.

A dog that is barking. Now what about this? Is this a sentence? Well, it's not because we've inserted this word, that, here. So what is that? This trips up a lot of students in more complex examples on the test because there'll be a lot of extra words around it.

You say, well there's a subject here and there's a verb here so this must be a sentence. But this word, that, makes it not a sentence. Why does it ruin it? That here is a definite article, it's like that girl is sitting in the front row. Okay, so again, you don't need to know what definite articles are, that's getting a little bit sophisticated for the English test, but you do need to know that adding something like that, or which is going to ruin the sentence.

Now the whole thing has become what's called a noun phrase. A dog that is barking. So if we had this sentence, the girl is walking with a dog that is barking. This is a sentence. Now we have this noun phrase here. It could be the girl is walking with an umbrella.

The girl is walking with her grandmother, but it is a dog that is barking. So that is a noun phrase and here we have a subject and we have a verb in progressive tense. So that works there. So be careful you don't just assume just because you see something that looks like a subject and something that looks like a verb, that it is a sentence.

All right. Here is the second point that's really important to know on the test, and that is English is what is called an SVO language. That means it is a subject verb object language. There are some, there are some languages out there that don't have that order. Greek is one of them.

If you've studied Spanish for example, you might know that sometimes you can do subject and verb and sometimes the verb can come first and it can be reordered that way. But generally speaking the clearest way to make a statement in English is to have the subject and the verb and then the object. So for example.

The woman, a subject, built, verb, a sandcastle, so an object receives the action of that verb. I eat cereal. I is our subject, eat is our verb, cereal is the object. It's what we are eating. My sister is a subject, loves is a verb, watching TV is an object.

Okay? So this could be a sentence. My sister loves watching TV. And then we have what I'm calling other stuff here. Technically it's a prepositional phrase. But the reason I'm just calling it other stuff here is because often when you are writing a sentence in English, the clearest way to do it is to have subject and then verb, and then the object, if there is one.

There isn't always an object. But definitely subject and verb and then other stuff. Now sometimes you are going to see Introductory phrases or modifiers. This sentence could be written after she finishes her homework, my sister loves watching TV. And that would be fine, but if you have a good choice on the test, you want to pick the structure that goes subject, verb, other stuff or object.

All right, let me show you how this works in a couple test-like examples. The fitness industry, therefore, burgeoning, and this means that health clubs and fad workout centers will be popping up on every block. Here are our answer choices. So, right now we have this gerund here, burgeoning, but we don't have our helper verb here to make that a sentence, and so that is a big clue.

It could be the fitness industry, therefore is burgeoning, but there's other ways to fix this. So you might have that instinct, but we want to take a look at our answer choices first of all. So it's not no change because this does not have a verb, at least in the first part.

This is a compound sentence. The second part has a sentence with a subject and a verb. So, B is Therefore, the fitness industry burgeoning. So what this did is it just moved therefore to the beginning. You might think, oh well, that's clearer. Just get rid of that therefore at the beginning.

But we still don't have our helper verb. We still don't have that is. C. The fitness industry, therefore, is burgeoning. That is what we said would fix this sentence, adding that helper verb there. And then D, The burgeoning fitness industry, comma, therefore.

And this means, but again, we're missing a verb here. So in this case, that gerund's been put before fitness industry, and now it would be acting as an adjective. And you might think hey, that sounds better. I like how that sounds but we're still missing a verb. We need a verb.

And so that would be incorrect as well too. And C is our answer. Now sometimes on the test you're going to be looking for the clearest way to express an idea. And this is where that subject verb object, or subject verb other stuff structure becomes really important.

So let's take a look at this example. Convincing him to prod deeper into the underlying causes behind the discrepancies in his findings, Smith's mentor was instrumental. Sounded a little awkward to me so let's go ahead and look at our alternatives. B, Smith's mentor convinced him to prod deeper into the underlying causes behind the discrepancies in his findings.

So note here we have a subject here, the mentor or Smith's mentor. We have a verb and we have an object, him, and then we have our other stuff. So that is a pretty clear structure. Let's make sure it's the clearest though. C, To prod deeper into the underlying causes behind the discrepancies in his findings was what Smith was convinced to do by his mentor.

That sounds a little wordy, a little awkward to have this passive tense going on here, which generally we want to try to avoid, and speak in active tense with an active verb, Smith's mentor convinced him. So we're gonna cross that one out. D, convinced by his mentor, Smith prodded deeper into the underlying causes Behind the discrepancies in his findings.

Now, I put this answer choice in here for a very important reason. There's nothing really wrong with this sentence. I get what it means, Smith was convinced by his mentor, so we do have that subject here, we have a verb, we have other stuff, and we have this introductory modifier, Smith was convinced by his mentor. But if you see something like this on the test, and you're choosing between B and D choose B because that is always our clearest structure.

So if there's a comma in there that doesn't seem necessary, if you can write the sentence, and it will be clear without creating extra verbs or parenthetical information, which is when we have information set by commas, then choose that option, that is always going to be the clearest sentence. Okay, so just quick recap. You want to know what makes a sentence?

A subject and a verb. Watch out for gerunds, those ING words that do not have a helping verb with them. And watch out for phrases that throw in something like that. A dog that is barking. Because that will ruin the sentence and make it not a sentence. And pay attention to be looking out for subject, verb, other stuff structure when you are being asked to find the clearest way to state a phrase in English.

And remembering these two grammar basics are gonna help you out so much on the test.

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Grammar and Usage