SAT Grammar Errors and Improvement

The Grammar Section of the SAT Test will ask you to identify errors in several question types. Before you take the SAT Writing Test, thoroughly study basic grammar rules. It will help you recognize errors quickly.

Part 1: Sentence Correction

This section asks you to read a sentence. A portion of the sentence will be underlined. It is your job to find the error in the underlined portion and replace it with a better answer, if necessary. Note that option a. is always “no error” or “I accept the sentence as it is presented in the question.” About 20% of your answers will be option a. or “no error.”

There will be about 24-26 questions of this type, in two different sections.

Let’s try a few:

1. When asked about his exam score, his parents realized that the test had been too hard for Billy, who was quiet.

  1. his parents realized that the test had been too hard for Billy, who was quiet.
  2. the test proved too hard for Billy, his parents realized, when he was too quiet.
  3. Billy did not do well on the test, his parents realized when he was too quiet.
  4. his parents knew the test had been too hard; Billy remained quiet.
  5. Billy was quiet; his parents realized that the test had proved too hard for him.

This question is testing your ability to spot a misplaced modifier. “When asked about HIS exam score….” Whose exam score? The parents? No. The test? No. So, any answer that starts with “his parents” or “the test” are wrong. It has to be “Billy,” which leaves us with answers c. and e. Answer e. makes a much better sentence.

2. When seeing her baby boy for the first time, Lakshmi cried out with a mixture of happiness, excitement, and she was relieved.

  1. a mixture of happiness, excitement, and she was relieved.
  2. both a mixture of happiness and some excitement and relief as well.
  3. a mixture of happiness, excitement, and relief.
  4. happiness, excitement, relief, and a mixture of the three.
  5. a mixture of both happiness and excitement, and she was relieved as well.

This question is testing your ability to spot the break in parallelism. The phrase “a mixture of happiness, excitement, and…” must continue with another noun, i.e. the word “relief.” This will give the sentence parallelism. Answer c is correct.

Answer c. also provides the most clean, uncluttered phrasing. The SAT Test Writers want you to be able to spot repetitiveness and words that do not add anything important to the sentence, so watch out for extra, empty words.

3. Although Dan Quayle was a well-regarded senator and vice president until he famously misspelled the word “potato” at an elementary school spelling bee.

  1. Although Dan Quayle was a well-regarded senator and vice president
  2. Dan Quayle, although a well-regarded senator and vice president,
  3. Dan Quayle, a well regarded senator and vice president,
  4. Dan Quayle was a well-regarded senator and vice president
  5. Despite the fact that Dan Quayle was a well-regarded senator and vice president,

Question 3. is testing to see if you can distinguish between similar phrases to determine which one fits best with the second part of the sentence.

The word “until” is very important here. You have to find which option works with “until” and still makes a complete sentence. Only option d. can make it work. Option c. looks okay, until you realize that it lacks a verb, leaving you with a sentence fragment.


Part 2: Grammar and Usage Errors

Grammar and Usage Errors asks you to find the error in a sentence. Several words and phrases will be underlined and you must pinpoint the letter which is underneath the incorrect one. Again, there is a “no error” option, which is always answer e.

There will be 16-19 questions of this type in one section.

Here are a few for practice:

1. PerhapsAthe most famousBattack of the American Civil War beingCPickett’s ill-fatedDcharge at the Battle of Gettysburg. No error.E

This question is seeing if you can find the misuse of the verb “to be” in the word “being,” option c. “Being” should be “is” or “was.” Using the word “being” makes this a sentence fragment.


2. Garlic Mustard is an aggressive, invasiveAplant species which can be foundBcovering the ground in forestsCall over the eastern halfDof the United States. No Error.E

Look at each underlined phrase. Do you see anything wrong? No? Then, the correct answer is E, no error.


3. Dominic consideredA Caleb hisBbest friend, whichChe couldDcall any time for help. No Error.E

The word “which” here is wrong. “Which” can only be used to describe an object. People are referred to as who or whom, (whom, in this case because it is the object, not the subject, of the phrase… “He could call whom”).

Other tricky questions of the SAT:

The SAT will often switch in the middle of the question, switching plurals to singulars, switching tenses, and switching point of view.

For example:

1. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, boasting world class museums and five star restaurants, are best known for its horse-racing facility, Churchill Downs.

2. If you expect to understand how to write an essay, whether for school or work, he or she must first understand structure.

Do you see the switches?

The SAT will also be vague:

3. Despite the fact that Jonah and Seth were the smallest players on the teams, he was able to score the most points in the tournament.

Do you see the error?

The SAT will set up wrong comparisons:

4. Although I love Chinese food of any kind, I’ve found that the restaurants in San Francisco are much better than any other city.

Do you see the two elements that are wrongly being compared?

Can’t figure these out? For answers to these questions, see the bottom of the page.


Part 3: Essay Improvement

Essay Improvement can be most difficult part of the SAT Writing Section, especially if you are not confident in your writing skills. It asks you to read a poorly written essay and make improvements. The Essay Improvement Section is always last in the long grammar section, so you must leave yourself time to do it. It tends to be time consuming. Again, if you are finding yourself stuck, or you are facing a question with very long answer choices, skip the question and come back to it later. You will need to read one essay and answer 6-8 questions.

First, read the essay quickly to get the basic idea. Here’s an example of an essay.

(1) Edouard Manet was a famous and influential French painter. (2) He shouldn’t be confused with Claude Monet, who painted Water Lilies. (3) Water Lilies is one of my favorite paintings. (4) Manet painted art in many different styles and about many different subjects. (5) He is known for combining the two styles of Realism and Impressionism.

(6) Edouard Manet was born in 1832 and lived most of his life in Paris. (7) He tried to join the navy, but couldn’t pass the examination, for one reason or another. (8) After attending art school, he opened his own gallery. (9) Displaying his works of art which mainly featured regular people around town, in cafes, or on the street. (10) His painting style resembled that of photographs, which was a recent French invention. (11) He used a lot of black in his paintings.

(12) Later in life, Manet switched to more Impressionistic painting, he was influenced by the other painters of his day. (13) But he never stopped painting regular people and he never stopped using his favorite color, black.

Here are some questions that might be asked.

1. Which sentence should be omitted from the essay?

  1. Sentence 7
  2. Sentence 3
  3. Sentence 6
  4. Sentence 13
  5. Sentence 10

Answer b. is correct. The fact that the author enjoys a painting by another painter is the MOST irrelevant to the essay.

2. In context, which is the best way to fix sentence 12?

  1. (as it is now)
  2. Later in life, Manet switched to Impressionistic painting, consequently because he was influenced by the other painters of his day.
  3. Later in life, Manet experimented with Impressionistic painting, which was rising in popularity.
  4. When he got older, Manet, finding that he was moving toward Impressionistic painting, and finding that he was influenced by other popular painters.
  5. Later in life, Manet leaned toward Impressionism, he was influenced by other painters.

Answer a. is a run-on sentence, answer b. is wordy (“consequently because?”), answer d. is a sentence fragment, and e. is a run-on sentence. Only answer c. is correct, succinct, and makes the point.

3. Which sentence would be the best addition after sentence 11?

  1. The use of black sets his paintings apart from his contemporaries, the Impressionists, who were using mostly pastels.
  2. Manet painted a series of large canvasses depicting the execution of Emperor Maxmilian of Mexico.
  3. Although Manet is noted for painting the activities of regular townspeople, he also painted the upper classes.
  4. Black paint is often used as a defining paint which can be used for creating density, shadows, and outlines.
  5. Many of Manet’s paintings were considered scandalous.

The correct answer is a. It is the sentence which connects the end of the second paragraph with the beginning of third paragraph. Answers b., c., and e., are correct statements, but they do not make for a cohesive essay when placed after sentence 11. Answer d. is also true, but is irrelevant to the essay.

Answers to Other Tricky Questions of the SAT

  1. City is singuar, so the verb must be singular as well. So “are” should be “is.”
  2. Since the sentence starts with “you,” it must continue with this point of view. Therefore, “he or she” should be “you.”
  3. Which player scored the most points? Seth or Jonah? The word “he” needs to be more specific.
  4. This sentence is comparing restaurants to “any other city.” It needs to read “are much better than those of any other city.”

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