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The SAT: Writing


 
 

Multiple-Choice Questions: Identifying Sentence Errors

Identifying Sentence Errors questions ask you to identify and fix problems (grammar, word choice, diction, and so on) in individual sentences. Nearly every error in Identifying Sentence Errors questions will stem from one of seven major grammatical mistakes:

 

1. Pronouns

  • Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns (words for people, places, and things). Common pronouns include she, her, hers, he, him, his, they, their, it, its, that, and which.

  • Every pronoun you use must agree in number with the noun for which it stands:

    • Incorrect: Every girl at the party tried to look their best.

    • Correct: Every girl at the party tried to look her best.

 
 

2. Subject-Verb Agreement

  • If a sentence has a singular subject, it must have a singular verb; if it has a plural subject, it must have a plural verb. This rule is fundamental to all subject-verb relationships.

    • Incorrect: Of all the students in my class, nobody—not even me—are excited about the new teacher.

    • Correct: Of all the students in my class, nobody—not even me—is excited about the new teacher.

 
 

3. Tenses

  • Illogical tense switches: Tense must always remain consistent. It may shift over the course of a sentence, but only if it does so in a logical manner.

    • Incorrect: Last summer, the heat will have brought hundreds of people to the ocean.

    • Correct: Last summer, the heat brought hundreds of people to the ocean.

  • Conditional tense: Sentences that feature the conditional tense often contain the words “if” or “would.” You can always be sure to conjugate verbs correctly if you memorize the simple formula “If . . . were . . . would.”

    • Incorrect: If I was to see a movie with Mom and Dad, I would risk my reputation.

    • Correct: If I were to see a movie with Mom and Dad, I would risk my reputation.

 
 

4. Parallelism

  • The components of a sentence should remain parallel, or consistent, throughout. In other words, every sentence should start, continue, and end in the same way.

    • Incorrect: Jack never liked bathing the dog, feeding the llamas, or to ride the roller coaster.

    • Correct: Jack never liked bathing the dog, feeding the llamas, or riding the roller coaster.

 
 

5. Adverb-Adjective Confusion

  • Adverbs are words used to describe verbs or other adverbs. Adverbs often end in the letters –ly: “I ate lunch quickly.”

  • Adjectives are words used to describe nouns: “I ate my delicious lunch.”

  • Many grammatical errors stem from confusion of adverbs and adjectives:

    • Because the verb ate is being modified, it needs an adverb like quickly:

      • Incorrect: I ate my dinner quick.

      • Correct: I ate my dinner quickly.

    • Well is an adverb; good is an adjective. In order to describe the verb going, you need to use the adverb well:

      • Incorrect: This paper’s going pretty good.

      • Correct: This paper’s going pretty well.

    • In this sentence, the adjective careful is used improperly to describe the verb drive. Because a verb is being described, careful should be the adverb carefully:

      • Incorrect: No matter how careful you drive, you still may have an accident.

      • Correct: No matter how carefully you drive, you still may have an accident.

 
 

6. Gerunds

  • A gerund is a verb form that ends in –ing, such as prancing, divulging, or stuffing.

  • The Identifying Sentence Errors section may test your understanding of gerunds through questions that use the infinitive (“to __________”) form of a verb, such as to prance, to divulge, or to stuff.

    • Incorrect: In my family, Thanksgiving dinner usually causes two or more family members to engage in a screaming match, thus preventing the meal to be completed.

    • Correct: In my family, Thanksgiving dinner usually causes two or more family members to engage in a screaming match, thus preventing the meal from being completed.

 
 

7. Idioms

  • An idiom is a specific expression or structural or grammatical form that is peculiar to a certain language.

  • Some questions require you to rely on your familiarity with standard idioms in American English. For example, the sentence below does not contain a grammatical error but is incorrect because it does not follow standard usage:

    • Incorrect: Emily moved to a new house in 12th Street.

    • Correct: Emily moved to a new house on 12th Street.

 
 

Strategies

  • To identify sentence errors:

    • Read the sentence and try to hear the error.

    • Eliminate underlined choices that you know are correct.

    • Check for errors among the remaining answer choices

    • If all else fails, go with answer E, No error.

 
 

Sample Identifying Sentence Error Questions

  • Even though the sentence mentions two people (Jason and Sandra) who don’t measure up to Carrie, both of those people are singular nouns, and they are linked by the word nor, not and. Therefore, the verb must be singular—measures rather than measure. The answer is C.

  • This sample has a compound subject: her and her friend. You know her and her friend must be the subject because they are the ones who perform the action of the sentence—like. Whenever you have a compound subject, separate out each individual subject and try it out with the rest of the sentence. Doing so in this case gives you the sentences:

    Her likes to stay. . .

    Her friend likes to stay . . .

    You should immediately be able to hear that the first of these new sentences is wrong. Suddenly it seems clear that the first part of the original sentence should read She and her friend like to stay. The answer is A.