SAT: Sentence Correction Questions

You will have a total of about 24 to 26 sentence correction questions. These questions test your ability to recognize and correct errors in standard written English. Knowledge of some basic grammar, usage, and punctuation will help in this section. Review the rules of correct grammar, usage, and punctuation that have been emphasized in your high school English classes.

Directions

The following questions test correctness and effective expression. In selecting the answer, pay attention to grammar, diction, sentence structure, and punctuation. In the following questions, part or all of each sentence is underlined. The A answer repeats the underlined portion of the original sentence, while the next four offer alternatives. Choose the answer that best expresses the meaning of the original sentence and at the same time is grammatically correct and stylistically superior. The correct choice should be clear, unambiguous, and concise.

Analysis of Directions

  1. This question type presents a single sentence with all or part of it underlined.

  2. The five lettered choices present five possible versions of the underlined part.

  3. The rest of the sentence that is not underlined cannot be changed and must be used to determine which of the five answers is the best.

  4. The first choice, A, repeats the original version, while the next four make changes.

  5. Sometimes the original sentence is better than the four proposed alternatives. If you find no error and you feel the original sentence is best, select choice A.

  6. Note that the correct choice should be clear, unambiguous, and concise.

Suggested Approaches with Samples

The sentences in this section of the test may have one or more of the same kind of errors found in the Identifying Sentence Errors (Usage) section. The following are errors that are tested most frequently in the Improving Sentences section of the exam.

Misplaced Modifier Errors, Dangling Phrases

Since a misplaced part is often awkward but not, strictly speaking, a grammatical error, the questions testing for misplaced parts will usually ask you to select the sentence that is not only grammatically correct, but also clear and exact and free from awkwardness and ambiguity. Watch for sentences that seem odd or have unnatural word order. Also watch for phrases that have nothing to modify; they are called "dangling modifiers."

SAMPLE QUESTION: When she was only five, Janet's mother married for the third time.

  1. When she was only five, Janet's mother married for the third time.

  2. When only five, Janet's mother married for the third time.

  3. When Janet was only five, her mother married for the third time.

  4. When Janet's mother married for the third time, she was only five.

  5. Janet's mother married, when Janet was only five, for the third time.

The major problem in this sentence is the uncertainty about whom the "when she was only five" clause modifies — Janet or her mother. In choices A and D, the "she" appears to refer to the mother, while choice B, though the pronoun is missing, also seems to make the marrying mother five years old. Both C and E remove the ambiguity. In the choice between these two sentences, C is preferable, since E places the phrase "for the third time" awkwardly away from the verb "married," which it modifies. The correct answer is C.

Parallel Construction Errors

Be especially careful with sentences that use correlatives (both . . . and; no . . . but; not only . . . but also; not . . . but; either . . . or; and others). Make sure that the construction that follows the second of the correlative conjunctions is like the construction that follows the first.

SAMPLE QUESTION: After he graduated from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and sent him on a trip around the world.

  1. After he graduated from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and sent him on a

  2. After he graduated from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and a

  3. After graduating from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and a

  4. After he had graduated from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and sent him on a

  5. After graduating from college, his parents gave him a new car, ten thousand dollars, and sent him on a

The problem in the original sentence is parallelism. The verb "gave" begins a series with nouns as objects ("car," "dollars"), but the third part of the series ("and sent him on") interrupts the series. Choices B and C correct this error by making "trip" a third object of "gave." Choice C cannot be right because it begins with a dangling participle; it appears that the parents are graduating from college. The correct answer is B.

Pronoun Agreement Errors

Watch for change of pronoun subjects. If the pronoun "one" is used in a sentence, then the pronoun "you" should not be used (sometimes called parallel construction errors). Also make sure that the pronoun agrees in number (singular, plural) with the noun it represents.

SAMPLE QUESTION: When one reaches the first plateau, it does not guarantee that you will complete the climb to the summit.

  1. When one reaches the first plateau, it

  2. Because one reaches the first plateau, it

  3. One's reaching the first plateau

  4. That you have reached the first plateau

  5. Reaching the first plateau

There is an inconsistency in the pronouns in this sentence. The part that cannot be changed uses "you," but the underlined section uses "one." A right answer will either use "you" or get rid of the pronoun altogether. Choices A, B, and C cannot be right, but D and E are both grammatically correct. In this case, E is preferable because it is more direct.

Verb Errors

There are many types of verb errors. Verb tense errors, verb sequence errors, change of voice errors, and subject-verb agreement errors are a few to watch for.

SAMPLE QUESTION: Four financial analysts prepare a summary of stock market activity each week, and it is broadcast by them on public radio.

  1. each week, and it is broadcast by them

  2. each week, and then it is broadcast

  3. each week and it is broadcast by them

  4. each week, and they broadcast it

  5. broadcasting each week

The first clause of the sentence uses a verb in the active voice ("prepare"), but the second clause uses a passive ("is broadcast"). Choice D uses active verbs in both parts of the sentence, while A, B, and C keep the passive. C is also a run-on sentence. E is briefer but it loses some of the meaning of the sentence. The correct answer is D.

Connective Errors

Read two-part sentences carefully to be sure that the one or two words that connect the two parts (words like "but" or "and") indicate the relationship of the parts clearly.

SAMPLE QUESTION: According to the critics, the MTV awards ceremony was tasteless, according to the audience, it was better than ever.

  1. was tasteless, according to

  2. was tasteless according to

  3. was tasteless, and according to

  4. was tasteless, but according to

  5. was tasteless but to

There are two independent clauses here. They can be two separate sentences, or one sentence with either a semicolon or a conjunction and a comma. A and B leave the conjunction out, and E leaves out the comma. The punctuation is correct in C and D, but D is a better choice, since the two halves of the sentence contrast, and "but" denotes a contrary idea to follow. The correct answer is D.

Punctuation Errors

Look carefully at the punctuation. Before you begin, be sure to know the proper use of the comma and semicolon.

SAMPLE QUESTION: Each year, about fifty thousand books are published in Great Britain, that is as many as in the four-times-larger United States.

  1. published in Great Britain, that is as many as in

  2. published in Great Britain; that is as many as in       

  3. published in Great Britain; as many as in

  4. published in Great Britain; which is as many as in

  5. published in Great Britain as many as in

The error in the original sentence is the comma splice — joining the two independent clauses (or complete sentences) with just a comma. Correct the error by using a period, a comma with a conjunction, or, as here, a semicolon. Though C and D use semicolons, they no longer have independent second clauses, while E, which has made the second clause dependent, omits the comma. The correct answer is B.

Idiom Errors

Idiom errors are most likely to occur in sentences that require a choice between an infinitive and a gerund; "reluctant to speak" and "suspected of lying" are correct idioms. Most of the items testing idioms will usually involve preposition choice.

SAMPLE QUESTION: Exercising without proper warm-ups can be as harmful to the body as if you didn't exercise at all.

  1. as if you didn't exercise at all.

  2. as no exercise at all.

  3. than not exercising at all.

  4. than no exercise.

  5. as your not getting any exercise at all.

The idiom to use with the construction "as-adjective-... " is "as-adjective-as." B is better than A because it is shorter and does not change from a third person to a second person subject ("exercising" to "you"). The correct answer is B.

Wordiness

Sometimes, after eliminating three of the choices that are wrong, you will be left with two grammatically correct sentences. In this case, look for wordiness in one of the two and choose the other one.

SAMPLE QUESTION: The Prado museum in Madrid has the largest collection of great Spanish paintings in the whole world.

  1. The Prado museum in Madrid has the largest collection of great Spanish paintings in the whole world.

  2. The Prado museum in Madrid has the world's largest collection of great Spanish paintings.

  3. It is the Prado museum in Madrid that has the largest collection of the world's great Spanish paintings.

  4. The greatest collection of Spanish paintings in the world is held by the Prado museum in Madrid.

  5. In Madrid, it is the Prado museum that holds the world's largest collection of great Spanish paintings.

Although the original version is not ungrammatical, B is less wordy, replacing "in the whole world" with the more economical "the world's." C and E add the unnecessary "it is," while D uses the passive voice, always more wordy than the active. The correct answer is B.

Sentences with More than One Error

Many of the questions in this section of the test have several errors. The usual strategy in the answers is to give one choice that keeps both errors, and two others that correct only one of the two mistakes. Sometimes a choice will introduce a new kind of error. Be sure the answer you choose is grammatical, clear, and like the original in meaning.

SAMPLE QUESTION: The strike cannot be settled until the growers agree to improve health-care benefits and improving the workers' housing.

  1. and improving the workers' housing.

  2. and improving worker housing as well.

  3. and to improve the workers' housing.

  4. and the workers' housing.

  5. and also to the improvement of the housing of the workers.

The phrases "to improve health-care benefits" and "improving the workers' housing" are repetitive and not parallel. Choice B is wordy and not parallel. Choice C corrects the parallelism error, but not the repetition. Choice E is wordy. Choice D is brief and grammatical. The correct answer is D.

Sentences with No Errors

If you carefully read the original sentence a few times and just can't spot an error, there might not be one. Don't be afraid to select no error (choice A), if the original seems correct.

SAMPLE QUESTION: When swimming for Northwestern, Debbie Holm set records that lasted for ten years.

  1. Debbie Holm set records that lasted for ten years.

  2. the records Debbie Holm set lasted ten years.

  3. ten-year records were set by Debbie Holm.

  4. the records of Debbie Holm lasted ten years.

  5. Debbie Holm's records lasted ten years.

The phrase that begins this sentence has an understood but unwritten subject — the person who was swimming at Northwestern. The phrase will dangle unless this subject follows the comma. Only A puts the understood subject immediately after this phrase. Choices B, C, D, and E all make it look as if the "records" were the swimmers. The correct answer is A.