Click here for last week’s installment, Tips for the SAT Writing Section: Part One

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: 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 single person, then we do not use “they” but rather something like “he or she”. “Everyone”, “someone”, and “anyone” are all singular. The subject “one” takes the pronoun “one”.

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.

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.


That’s all for identifying sentence errors!  I’ll be back two weeks from now with more on improving sentences.