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Identifying Sentence Errors

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A part of the SAT English section that many students find hard to deal with is identifying sentence errors. This style of question tests the student’s knowledge of grammatical and writing rules by application. The general layout of the question will be a sentence with multiple words or phrases underlined. The student must then determine whether or not the underlined parts needs correction, or if the sentence requires no changes. A typical question will look like this:

The union insistedA on an increase in theirB members’C starting pay, and threatened to call a strike if the company refused toD meet the demand. No errorE.

1. A

2. B

3. C

4. D

5. E

I have done these types of questions with students many times, so I came up with a list of helpful suggestions on what to look for when you see these types of questions. A fair warning though, this list does not contain everything and should not be used as a guide to SAT but as a helpful reminder when studying for the SAT.


– The subject will never be the object of a prepositional phrase.

  • Commonly used prepositions are “of, to, in, around, except”

– If the subjects are separated by the words “or, nor”, then the verb will agree with the one closer to the verb.

  • Eg. The cook or the waiters have already taken their break .
    • The verb “have taken” agrees with “waiters” and not “cook”

Verb – Look for:

– Subject/verb agreements

  • Whether or not the subject is plural or singular
  • To find the subject, use the verb and ask “What?” or “Who?”

– Tenses

  • Look for surrounding verbs and check their tenses

– Parallel structure

  • Verbs should be in the same structure within the same sentence.
    • Eg. I was eating a sandwich, reading a book, and drank coffee.
    • Drank must be changed to “drinking” since all previous verbs used “–ing” endings

– Singular verbs usually end in –s; plural verbs usually don’t.

Pronouns – Look for:

– Their antecedents (the noun that the pronoun replaces)

  • Is there an antecedent? – There must be a noun before a pronoun can be used
  • Are we using the right pronoun? – plural vs singular
  • Are there multiple things that the pronoun CAN replace?
    • If so, this is called ambiguity, and must be clarified.

– “Who” is used as a subject; “Whom” is used as an object

– Either/Neither/Everyone/Anyone/Someone are pronouns that are always singular.


– Are we using them correctly? Can we use other conjunctions to make it better?

– Are two sentences being connected correctly?

  • Two complete sentences must be connected by a semi-colon or a comma and a conjunction.

General Comment

– Words to look out for:

  • Fewer (countable items) – Less (not countable items)
  • Many (countable items) – Much ( not countable items)

– Be wary of redundancy. This is not a grammar mistake but a writing error.

– If punctuation is underlined, the error will most likely be with the punctuation and not the word that is also underlined with it.

This article was written for you by Samuel, one of the tutors with Test Prep Academy.

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