SAT WRITING WORKBOOK
THE HEART OF THE TEST: MULTIPLE-CHOICE QUESTIONS
PROBLEMS IN STYLE AND EXPRESSION
Roughly 25 percent of the sentence-improvement questions on the SAT test your ability to pick out the best, clearest, and most cogently written sentences. To answer the questions you need to apply such basic principles of good writing as:
Omit needless words.
Choose precise words.
Use the natural order of English idiom.
Avoid awkward and clumsy expression.
In the pages that follow, common errors in style and expression are spelled out and illustrated. Read the material and answer the sample questions. And for more details turn to Part III, which fully discusses these and other principles of effective writing.
Sentences cluttered with unnecessary words are less effective than tightly written sentences in which every word matters. Some sentence-correction questions will contain words and phrases that needlessly repeat what has already been stated or implied. Look also for clauses that can be shortened to phrases and phrases that can be recast as single words.
Here are two examples:
1. During the months of July and August last summer, I had a wonderful summer vacation.
Because July and August are the names of months that occur in the summer, this sentence contains words that can be deleted:
Last July and August I had a wonderful vacation.
2. As you continue down the road a little further, you will be pleased and delighted with the beautiful and gorgeous views of the scenery that you’ll be seeing.
The sentence contains too many words. Revise it by reducing the initial clause to a phrase and eliminating the redundancies:
Continuing down this road, you’ll be delighted with the beautiful scenery.
Sample Questions Containing Wordiness
1. Among the many numerous threats in the contemporary world in which we live are both the threat of global warming and the threat of terrorism.
(A) Among the many numerous threats in the contemporary world in which we live are both the threat of global warming and the threat of terrorism
(B) Among the many threats we face in the contemporary world in which we live are global warming and the threat of terrorism
(C) Both global warming and terrorism are two of the many threats faced by today’s world
(D) Today’s world faces, among many other threats, global warming and terrorism
(E) We live in a contemporary world facing, among many other threats, the threats of global warming and terrorism
Choice A, in addition to repeating threat, contains two redundancies. The first is many and numerous; the second is contemporary world and in which we live. (After all, where else do we live except in the contemporary world?)
Choice B contains the redundant phrases contemporary world and in which we live. See choice A.
Choice C contains the redundant words both and two.
Choice D is free of excess words and redundancies. It is the best answer.
Choice E unnecessarily repeats threat and contains a variation of the redundancy in choice B.
2. Because of her gender was the reason why Emma felt she was deprived of a place playing on the varsity football team.
(A) Because of her gender was the reason why Emma felt she was deprived of a place playing on the varsity football team
(B) Emma felt that her gender kept her from playing on the varsity football team
(C) Because of her gender, Emma gave it as a reason why she was deprived of a place to play on the varsity football team
(D) Emma, a girl, feeling the reason why she was deprived of a place on the varsity football team
(E) As a girl, Emma, felt that she could not play on the varsity football team
Choice A contains the redundancy the reason why. Use either the reason or why, not both. In addition, the phrase place playing is awkwardly expressed.
Choice B economically expresses the idea of the original sentence. It is the best answer.
Choice C contains the wordy phrase of a place to play. Delete to play.
Choice D contains the same redundancy as choice A. In addition, the construction is a sentence fragment.
Choice E, while economically written, significantly alters the meaning of the original sentence.
Awkward and clumsy are vague words that cover a great many writing weaknesses, including poor grammar and flawed sentence structure. Most often, though, awkwardness occurs when the words sound peculiar, jarring, or out of tune. Awkwardness is difficult to define, but you know it when you hear it. Much of the time you must rely on your ear to detect odd and clumsily worded sentences because there are no specific rules that can explain their defects except that they fail to conform to standard English idiom.
Sample Questions Containing Awkward Construction
1. Inside the cave, Justin’s eyes did not adjust to the dark as quickly as Ellie’s did, this is being why she found the skull and not he.
(A) did, this is being why she found the skull and not he
(B) did, therefore Ellie and not him found the skull
(C) did; therefore she found the skull and not he
(D) did, which being the reason why she found the skull and not him
(E) did, being the reason why she found the skull and not him
Choice A contains this is being, an awkward, nonstandard usage.
Choice B uses him, an object pronoun, instead of he, a subject pronoun.
Choice C is standard usage and is properly punctuated. It is the best answer.
Choice D contains which being, an awkward, nonstandard usage. It also uses the pronoun him instead of he.
Choice E contains the redundancy the reason why. Use either the reason or why, but not both. Also him should be he.
2. Vertical take-off and landing aircraft get their fixed-wing capability from high-speed air pumped from slots in the trailing edges of their rotors, in which it increases the airflow over them to create lift.
(A) rotors, in which it increases the airflow
(B) rotors, which increases the airflow
(C) rotors, therefore it increases the airflow
(D) rotors, the end result being it increases the airflow
(E) rotors, consequently which increases the airflow
Choice A is awkwardly worded, partly because the pronoun it fails to refer to a specific noun or other pronoun.
Choice B eliminates the awkwardness and is concise. It is the best answer.
Choice C is not awkward but it contains a comma splice.
Choice D contains the redundancy end result and leaves the pronoun it without a specific referent.
Choice E is awkward and ungrammatical.
Faulty Word Choice
Problems in word choice occur when writers ignore word connotations, fail to draw fine distinctions between synonyms, or simply don’t know the precise meaning of words. For example:
The poem contains illusions to Greek mythology.
This sentence contains an error in diction because the writer meant allusions.
The boys ran a fowl of the law when they shoplifted the DVD.
Here the writer confused a fowl (a chicken or duck) with the word afoul.
Sample Questions Containing Faulty Word Choice
1. Marissa holded her father in disrespect by throwing a book at him during their argument last week over her curfew.
(A) Marissa holded her father in disrespect by
(B) Marissa showed disrespect for her father by
(C) Marissa disrespects her father by
(D) Disrespecting Marissa’s father by
(E) Having shown disrespect for her father by
Choice A uses the incorrect past tense of the verb to hold. Use held instead of holded.
Choice B uses the correct words in the correct order. It is the best answer.
Choice C uses the incorrect tense of the verb. Because the argument occurred last week, the past, not the present, tense of the verb must be used. Use disrespected instead of disrespects.
Choices D and E are sentence fragments.
2. Another quality common to fire fighters is their reliability on their fellow fire fighters.
(A) to fire fighters is their reliability on
(B) of fire fighters is to depend on
(C) to fire fighters is they must rely on
(D) to fire fighters is their reliance on
(E) to fire fighters is his reliability for
Choice A uses reliability instead of reliance, an example of faulty diction.
Choice B contains mismatched sentence parts; in standard usage a noun (quality) may not be defined with a verb (to depend ) but only with another noun.
Choice C contains mismatched sentence parts; in standard usage a noun (quality) may not be defined by a clause (they must rely …) but only with another noun.
Choice D correctly conveys the meaning of the sentence. It is the best answer.
Choice E contains faulty idiom. The phrase his reliability for is not standard English.
An idiom usually consists of a group of words that seems absurd if taken literally. When you “have a ball,” the experience has nothing to do with a spherical object used on the basketball court or soccer field. The expression “that’s cool” is not related to temperature, and so on. Such idioms often puzzle speakers of other languages, but to native speakers of English, they are as natural as breathing.
On the SAT, the word idiom refers not only to such expressions but also to idiomatic usage—that is, to the selection and sequence of words used to convey a meaning. The italicized words in the following sentence are examples of faulty idiom:
The general was unwilling to pay the price for victory.
Nancy has a negative opinion towards me.
As regards to her future, Tina said she’d go to college.
The meaning of each sentence is clear, but the italicized sections don’t conform to standard English idiom. Revised, the sentences would read:
The general was unwilling to pay the price of victory. Nancy has a negative opinion of me.
With regard to her future, Tina said she’d go to college.
Sample Questions Containing Faulty Idiom
1. Stopping at a dime is what the engineers were after when they designed brakes for the high-speed train.
(A) Stopping at a dime is what the engineers were after when
(B) To stop at a dime is what the engineers were after when
(C) Stopping at a dime is what the engineers sought
(D) Stopping on a dime is what the engineers sought as
(E) The engineers wanted to stop on a dime while
Choice A contains faulty idiom. The expression is on a dime, not at a dime.
Choices B and C use the same non-standard idiom.
Choice D uses the correct idiom. It is the best answer.
Choice E uses the correct idiom but changes the meaning by saying that the engineers, not the train, wanted to stop on a dime.
2. Einstein’s theory of relativity is, for most of us, one that is with difficult understanding.
(A) with difficult understanding
(B) difficult for understanding
(C) having difficulty being understood
(D) understood only by difficultly
(E) difficult to understand
Choices A, B, and D fail to adhere to standard English idiom.
Choice C is idiomatic but it fails to relate logically to the previous part of the sentence.
Choice E uses correct English idiom to convey the idea. It is the best answer.