SAT WRITING WORKBOOK

PART V

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THE HEART OF THE TEST: MULTIPLE-CHOICE QUESTIONS

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SAMPLE SENTENCE IMPROVEMENT QUESTIONS

Type 1: Sentences Containing Errors
in Grammar or Usage

Because Lucy was furious, she speaks loudly.

(A)   she speaks

(B)   and speaking

(C)   and she spoke

(D)   as she spoke

(E)   she spoke

The underlined segment of the sentence contains the subject of the sentence, she, and the verb speaks. By using speaks, a verb in the present tense, rather than spoke (past tense), or will speak (future tense), or some other tense of the verb, the writer is saying that the action is taking place at the present time.

A basic rule of English grammar is that the tense of verbs in a sentence must remain logically consistent. For example, it is nonsense, to say Mike walked to school after he gets out of bed, but it is perfectly acceptable to say Mike walked to school after he got out of bed.

Choice A uses speaks, a present tense verb. The sentence, however, begins in the past tense, saying that Lucy was furious. The shift from past to present tense makes the sentence incorrect. Choice A, therefore, is not a good answer.

In choice B, the phrase and speaking makes little sense because it has no grammatical connection to the words Because Lucy was furious.

Choice C has another kind of problem. The words Because Lucy was furious suggests that the rest of the sentence will explain what happened as a result of Lucy’s anger. But the words and she spoke fail to do that.

Choice D is wrong because it has the same problem as choice C. In addition, as she spoke turns the construction into a sentence fragment—an incomplete sentence.

Choice E is the best answer because the verbs was and spoke are both in the past tense, and she spoke loudly accurately describes what happened when Lucy lost her cool.

Type 2: Sentences Containing Errors
in Style or Expression

Great enjoyment was experienced by me at the wedding of my sister.

(A)   Great enjoyment was experienced by me at the wedding of my sister

(B)   The experience of my sister’s wedding was greatly enjoyed

(C)   Being at my sister’s wedding was an experience of great enjoyment

(D)   I greatly enjoyed my sister’s wedding

(E)   A greatly enjoyable experience for me was the wedding of my sister

Here the whole sentence is underlined. Because the original and all the choices are grammatically correct, you must analyze the writing style. Effective writing should be clear and brief its ideas gracefully expressed. Of the five choices, only choice D has those qualities.

Choice A is a passive sentence, one in which the subject of the sentence is the receiver of the action. Because enjoyment is the subject of this sentence, it receives the primary emphasis, leaving me in a secondary, or passive, role.

Choice B leaves the reader uncertain about who had enjoyed the wedding.

Choice C includes the awkwardly-worded phrase an experience of great enjoyment.

Choice E contains many more words than are necessary. Compare it to the correct answer, choice D, which expresses the idea succinctly.

(For help in making informed decisions about effective style and expression, read “Problems in Style and Expression”.)

Type 3: Sentences Containing Errors
in Standard English Usage

Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy shortly after JFK was assassinated, its original name was given back to it ten years later.

(A)   was assassinated, its original name was given back to it ten years later

(B)   was assassinated and it got back its original name ten years later

(C)   was assassinated; its original name was restored ten years later

(D)   was assassinated, it was restored to its original name ten years later

(E)   was assassinated; however, with the restoration of its original name ten years later

The underlined text of the original sentence has three problems. The first is punctuation. A comma improperly separates two individual sentences. To avoid this so-called comma splice, use (1) a semicolon, or (2) a period and a capital letter for the second sentence. A third option is to keep the comma and add an appropriate conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, or so).

The second problem is wordiness. The underlined text, which contains thirteen words, is less concise than any of the other choices.

And the third problem is awkwardness. The phrase was given back to it has a decidedly ungraceful sound.

Which, then, is the best choice?

Choice A repeats the original. Reject it.

Choice B adds the conjunction and but omits the comma ordinarily placed between the two parts of a compound sentence. In addition, it got back its original name is awkward, due in part to the use of it and its in the same phrase.

Choice C avoids the problems of the other choices. It is the best answer.

Choice D contains a comma splice. Also, like choice B, it awkwardly repeats the pronoun it.

Choice E contains a sentence fragment. That is, the construction beginning with however is an incomplete sentence.

It probably took you a few minutes to read the explanations of the three sample sentences. On the SAT, under the pressure of time, you are expected to do a similar but far quicker analysis. Some questions will have definite right and wrong answers; others require judgment. Sometimes two or more choices may be grammatically correct, but the best answer will be the most graceful and effectively expressed sentence. Some items may contain multiple errors, others just one. Some assess your knowledge of standard English usage. Others test your understanding of sentence structure and writing style.

In short, sentence-correction questions deal with dozens of writing problems. The majority, however, relate to one of the following:

Problems in Style and Expression

Wordiness

Awkwardness

Faulty word choice

Faulty idiom

Problems in Sentence Structure

Sentence fragments

Run-on sentences

Semicolon errors

Comma splices

Mismatched sentence parts

   Faulty coordination

   Faulty subordination

   Faulty parallelism

Mixed construction

   Shifts in grammatical subject

   Shifts in verb tense

   Shifts from active to passive construction

Misplaced modifiers

   Dangling modifiers

Problems in Standard English Usage

Subject–verb agreement

Faulty verb forms

Use of pronouns

   Faulty pronoun case

   Shift in pronoun person

   Pronoun–antecedent agreement

   Faulty pronoun reference

Faulty comparisons