Identifying sentence errors – tips, examples, and explanations

S.A.T. Writing consists of four components: improving sentences, identifying sentence errors, improving paragraphs, and writing an essay. Let’s synthesize a logical order and begin with the identifying of sentence errors. When we are able to effectively recognize problems with usage, we will, hopefully, be able to fix them, and will thus naturally improve our ability to better sentences and paragraphs.

This section asks that you find the component of a given sentence that causes a grammatical problem. In order to be able to do that, you need to retain a firm understanding of common grammatical errors. You should be able to recognize the error in a sentence without reading that sentence aloud.  CollegeBoard, an excellent resource for S.A.T. practice questions, suggests that you read the sentence “carefully but quickly”. You can do that when these come to you fluidly – until then, I would suggest exercising caution. People are social creatures, quick to adapt to conventional English and displace standard usage. You may consistently exercise an error in your writing that people will not alert you to; this may be just the error that you’re expected to correct on the test.

So, let’s go through the practice questions for this section. I’ll try to avoid using jargon – in its place, I’ll simply try to explain the concepts.
Anything underlined may be selected as an error. Ideally, you should be able to point out the error without observing whether a given portion is underlined or not.

Tip #1: There’s a point in the sentence at which the dependent component ends. Ensure that the words being utilized at this point complete the sentence as is conventional.

“The students have discovered that they can address issues more effectively through letter-writing campaigns and not through public demonstrations.”

So, according to the first tip, locate the point where the dependent component ends. By “dependent component”, I mean that part of the sentence that leaves an uncertainty to be dealt with in the future. Firstly, if you were given that component only, then your sentence would be incomplete; secondly, and more simply, the fragment wouldn’t make sense. In this case, the dependent component is “The students have discovered that they can address issues more effectively through letter-writing campaigns.” Okay, they can address issues more effectively through letter writing. That’s not a complete idea. Whilst many people utilize words like “more”, “less”, “fewer”, and “greater” in sentences that don’t involve a comparison, this should not be done. You can only know that one method (in this case, letter writing) is more effective if you’ve tried another that was less effective. Logical, right?
Looking at the whole sentence, our prediction was correct – a comparison is being made.
“The students have discovered that they can address issues more effectively through letter-writing campaigns and not through public demonstrations.”
Which word do we first learn to utilize in making comparisons? “Than”! And hey, it’s missing; for some reason unknown to humanity, there’s an “and not” where a “than” should be. There’s your error. This is a common colloquialism; don’t fall prey to it.

Pay attention to the natural progression of the sentence; focus your attention on each separate possible instance of error in context.

Tip #2: Do not transform an object into a person simply because it involves people or consists of them. It is still an object. Watch for singular and plural forms in this context.

After hours of futile debate, the committee has decided to postpone further discussion of the resolution until their next meeting.”

I won’t launch into a great rant here – we’re speaking of a committee in the sentence, right? The “their” should be an “its” – a committee, whilst it consists of people, is an item. In order to employ “their” here, “the committee has” would have to become “the committee members have”.

Tip #3: Watch for agreement in any form. Do not treat people and their actions as interchangeable items where grammar is concerned.

“At the music recital, Alexandra enjoyed listening to her friend Mohammed’s insightful interpretation, which she thought was more sophisticated than the other performers.”

This one, again, is brief – Alexandra enjoyed listening to her friend’s insightful interpretation. Careful. It wasn’t stated that Alexandra enjoyed listening to Mohammed – she enjoyed listening to his interpretation, as supported by there being a “which” at the beginning of the next clause. If we were talking about Mohammed, then we would have utilized a “who”; furthermore, we might not have mentioned his interpretation at all. We need, then, to complete this sentence with a comment about the interpretation and not Mohammed – that’s the error. She thought his interpretation more sophisticated, but the sentence currently speaks of people.
A correct sentence might read: “At the music recital, Alexandra enjoyed listening to her friend Mohammed’s insightful interpretation, which she thought was more sophisticated than those of the other performers.”

Tip #4: Learn to distinguish between accepted idioms and non-standard colloquialisms. Trust your instincts where idioms are concerned.

“Originally a protest on conventional painting, the Pre-Raphaelite movement exerted great influence on the art of its time.”

Okay, when one reads this, something should just seem wrong. If you ever sense something strange about a given sentence, read it aloud, or try having an unrelated conversation on the topic. Your doing so should be greeted with a cringe this time around. Unless a protest was held on a conventional painting*, our error lies in the first underlined portion. You protest against something, not on it.

*Even then, we’d be missing an article!

Tip #5: Watch for agreement across singulars and plurals.

“The board reviewing the courses offered by the college found that the quality of academic programs were generally good but somewhat uneven.”

This is one of the most common grammatical errors that people consistently make. Ask yourself what the board found out about. Evidently, it found out about the quality of academic programs. Careful. The quality of the academic programs. That’s a singular noun. We’re describing the quality, not the programs, so the “were” should be a “was”.

Tip #6: Do not underestimate the importance of a single word. Additionally, adjectives are not adverbs.

“Maude Adams, after her spectacular triumph as the original Peter Pan, went about heavy veiled and was accessible to only a handful of intimate friends.”

Quite simply, you go about heavily veiled, not “heavy veiled”. Though a word may appear as a noun far more often than it does as a verb, it can still be a verb in a certain context. Try asking yourself something like “How did Maude Adams go about?”
“She went about veiled – heavily veiled.”

Tip #7: Agree, agree, agree. If we’re speaking of many people, then we use “they”. If we’re speaking of a person, then we do not use “they”, and in its place use something like “he or she”. “Everyone”, “someone”, and “anyone” all utilize “he or she” – note that they’re all speaking of some one person. “One” utilizes “one” – it may sound repetitive, but that’s fine.

Tip #8: Read over the whole sentence first. You may be tempted to think that the first questionable item you see is an error; upon reading further, you’ll realize that it wasn’t a problem.

“All states impose severe penalties on drivers who do not stop when he or she is involved in accidents.”

As the eighth tip predicts, “penalties on” may suddenly seem suspicious; that phrasing is perfectly idiomatic.  Read on!

As the seventh tip suggests, the error is the final portion – the error is using “he or she” to describe “drivers”. This should not be done – “they are involved” is the correct piece.

Here are some examples of this phenomenon:

1. If one understands how to exercise care in preparing specimens, then one shouldn’t experience too many problems with the purification protocol.
2. Everyone knows that he or she should remain stationary until we call.
3. The author will transport the reader into a world from which he or she will not want to depart.

The commonly-made error occurs with the third sentence – people might often say the following:
“The author will transport the reader into a world from which they will not want to depart.”
Yes, it’s quick, but it’s incorrect.

I hope that may’ve granted someone a little dose of relief – in tomorrow’s post, I will attempt to aid you in learning how to remove sentence errors and effectively heal the debilitated phrases. When I finish with explanations of the reading and writing components, I’ll take to featuring a question and its explanation towards the end of each post that I make, however unrelated to English and standardized tests it is. Thank you for reading!

This entry was posted in English Language, Literature, & My Writing, Standardized Testing Prep.. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Identifying sentence errors – tips, examples, and explanations

  1. Joniel Joseph Montesa says:

    I’ve got learned something for my College Review! Thanks!!!

  2. Marj says:

    Thanks for this!

  3. THANKS A LOT FOR THIS. Helped me out. SAT’ers should definitely take a look at this.

  4. anulaksha says:

    it is very very helpful pl. send more articles on “sentence error finding” problems

  5. mikee peña says:

    Thank You very much 🙂
    its very helpful to me 🙂

  6. tessamar argallon says:

    tnx 4 dz…

  7. samrawit solomon says:

    it is interesting but try to add more examples tanxs

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