Subject–Verb Agreement

Sentence-improvement questions on the SAT always include items that test your command of the following rule: Subjects and verbs must agree in number. A singular subject must have a singular verb, and a plural subject must be accompanied by a plural verb. That’s easy enough to remember, but in the following circumstances it is not so easy to apply.

1.   When intervening words obscure the relationship between the subject and verb, as in:

Delivery (singular subject) of today’s newspapers and magazines have been (plural verb) delayed.

The prepositional phrase of today’s newspapers and magazines blurs the relationship between subject and verb. The plural noun magazines can mislead the writer into using a plural verb. With a singular subject and verb properly matched, the sentence reads:

Delivery of today’s newspapers and magazines has been delayed.

Or with matched plural subject and verb:

Deliveries of today’s newspapers and magazines have been delayed.

A writer can also err when words and phrases such as including, in addition to, along with, and as well as come between the subject and verb.

One of his paintings, in addition to several photos, is on display at the library.
The bulk of English poetry, including the plays of Shakespeare, is written in iambic pentameter.

2.    When subjects are composed of more than one noun or pronoun. For example,

a.     Nouns, both singular and plural, when joined by and, are called compound subjects, which need plural verbs.

The picture and the text (compound subject) fit (plural verb) inside this box.
Several locust trees and a green mailbox stand outside the house.

b.    Compound subjects thought of as a unit need singular verbs.

Green eggs and ham (compound subject as a unit) is (singular verb) Sam’s favorite breakfast.
The parents’ pride and joy over the birth of their baby is self-evident.

c.    Singular nouns joined by or or nor need singular verbs.

A Coke or a Pepsi (two nouns joined by oris (singular verb) what I thirst for.
Neither my history teacher nor my economics teacher plans to discuss the crisis.

d.     When a subject consists of a singular noun and a plural noun joined by or or nor, the number of the verb is determined by the noun closer to the verb.

Either one pineapple or a few oranges were on the table.
Neither the linemen nor the quarterback was aware of the tricky play.

e.     When a subject contains a pronoun that differs in person from a noun or another pronoun, the verb must agree with the closer subject word.

Neither Meredith nor you are expected to finish the work today.
Either he or I am planning to work late on Saturday.

f.     When the subject is singular and the predicate noun is plural, or vice-versa, the number of the verb is determined by the subject.

The extent of Wilkinson’s work is two novels and a collection of stories.
Two novels and a story are the extent of Wilkinson’s work.

3.   When singular subjects contain words that sound plural, use singular verbs. The names of books, countries, organizations, certain diseases, course titles, and other singular nouns may sound like plurals because they end in –s, but most of the time—although not always—they require a singular verb.

The news is good.

Measles is going around the school.

4.   When the subject is sometimes singular and sometimes plural, the number of the verb depends on the context. Collective nouns sound singular but may be plural. A family, for example, is singular. But if you are referring to separate individuals, family takes a plural verb.

The family (members) are arriving for the wedding at different times.

Other collective nouns include group, crowd, team, jury, audience, herd, public, dozen, class, band, flock, majority, committee, heap, and lot. Other words and expressions governed by the same rule are units of time, money, weight, measurement, and all fractions.

The jury is going to decide today.

The jury are returning to their homes tomorrow.

5.   When the subject word is an indefinite pronoun, such as everyone, both, and any, choosing the correct verb poses a special problem. Some indefinite pronouns must be matched with singular verbs, some with plural verbs, and some with one or the other, depending on the sense of the sentence. There’s no getting around the fact that you need to know which number applies to which pronoun.

a.     These words, although they sound plural, get singular verbs: each, either, neither, the “ones” (anyone, no one, everyone, someone), and the “bodies” (anybody, everybody, nobody, somebody).

Each man and woman in the room gets only one vote.
Everyone who works hard is going to earn an “A.”

b.     These words get plural verbs: both, many, few, several.

In spite of rumors to the contrary, both are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Several in the band are not going on the trip to Boston.

c.     The following words get singular verbs when they refer to singular nouns and plural verbs when they refer to plural nouns: any, none, some, all, most.

Some of the collection is valuable.

In this sentence, some is singular because it refers to collection, a singular noun.

Some of the bracelets are fake.

Here some is plural because it refers to bracelets, a plural noun.

6.   When the subject comes after the verb. When the subject of a sentence follows the verb, the verb takes its number from the subject, as usual.

Behind the building was an alley (singular subject).

Behind the building were an alley and a vacant lot (compound subject).

Sample Questions Containing an Error in Subject–Verb Agreement

1.   After thinking it over, the solution to most people’s problems with unwanted phone calls are stricter laws and Caller ID.

(A)   the solution to most people’s problems with unwanted phone calls are

(B)   people’s problems with unwanted phone calls can be solved with

(C)   people’s problems with unwanted phone calls are to be solved by

(D)   I believe that the solution to most people’s problems with unwanted phone calls is

(E)   I think that the solution to most people’s problems with unwanted phone calls are

Choice A is incorrect because the subject solution is singular and the verb are is plural.

Choices B and C are wrong because they contain dangling modifiers. In each sentence thinking it over lacks an appropriate noun or pronoun to modify.

Choice D contains a singular subject and verb and is grammatically correct. It is the best answer.

Choice E has the same problem as choice A.

2.   In some of the big state universities the problem of giving scholarships and other rewards to good athletes have gotten out of hand.

(A)   of giving scholarships and other rewards to good athletes have gotten out of hand

(B)   of giving scholarships and granting rewards for good athletic ability have gotten out of hand

(C)   of scholarships and other rewards for good athletes has gotten out of hand

(D)   has become out of hand when scholarships and rewards for good athletes

(E)   of rewarding good athletes with scholarships are out of hand

Choice A is wrong because it uses a plural verb, have, that fails to agree with the singular subject, problem.

Choice B is a variation of A.

Choice C contains a verb that agrees in number with the subject. It is the best answer.

Choice D is an incomplete construction.

Choice E is wrong because it uses a plural verb, are, that doesn’t agree in number with the singular subject, problem.

Practice in Establishing Noun–Verb Agreement

Directions: In some of the following sentences, nouns and verbs do not agree. Locate the error and write the corrected version in the space provided. Some sentences may be correct.

1.   Tucker’s talent in chess and weight lifting, two of our school’s most popular teams, prove his mental and physical strength.


2.   The book told stories of thirteen young heroes, each a member of a firefighting team, who dies fighting forest fires.


3.   At the end of the season, the team, regardless of whether they win the championship, are splitting up.


4.   Either Don or you is going to lead the class discussion on Tuesday.


5.   Jane and Mark, who began their yard cleanup business last spring, have decided to hire two new helpers.


6.   There is many levels on which a reader will be able to enjoy this book.


7.   Admission proceeds from the concert is going toward rebuilding the gazebo, burned down by vandals during the summer.


8.   The newspaper reports that a rescue team experienced in climbing rugged mountains are expected to arrive at the site of the crash tomorrow morning.


9.   Before they were laid off by the company, neither the assistant managers nor Mr. McCallum were told that their jobs were in danger.


10.   Many Democratic senators contend that reforms in the tax system has not brought about the economic growth that had been predicted.


11.   Learning to read the daily box scores printed in the newspaper is a desirable thing to do by any fan who expect to develop a deep understanding of baseball.


12.   Politics on both the national and local level have always been one of Dave’s passions.


13.   Charles Darwin, along with his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, are among the most impressive figures in nineteenth-century history.


14.   Katie Green, one of the hottest jazz pianists in town and known for something she calls “3-D playing,” and her accompanist Lenny is planning to tour the South in May.


15.   Nancy, along with her friend Sluggo, appear to be coming down the escalator.


16.   The sale of computers in a market that has nearly a billion potential customers have created enormous hope for the company’s future.


17.   Here’s the two statutes to which the defense lawyer referred during the trial.


18.   The commissioner’s insistence on high ethical standards are transforming the city’s police force.


19.   No one in the drum corps, in spite of how they all feel about the issue, want to participate in the rally.


20.   According to school policy, there is to be two security guards stationed in the playground during recess to protect the children.


Faulty Verb Forms

Verb tenses convey information about when an action occurs. To express past action, add -ed to the present form: walk/walked, cry/cried, type/typed. To express future action, add will before the present tense: will walk, will cry, will type. For present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect forms, add have, has, had, or will have, as in have walked, has cried, had typed, and will have arrived.

A problem arises, however, with irregular verbs—those verbs that don’t follow the usual pattern. The verb to choose, for example, is choose in the present, chose in the past, and chosen in its participle, or “perfect” form. Sentence errors occur when the wrong form is used.

Another error—usually a sentence fragment—occurs when a writer tries to use an -ing form of a verb as a sentence’s main verb, as in:

Julie, at the box office, selling movie tickets to the 7:00 show.

The problem is that the –ing form cannot be used as the main verb unless accompanied by a helping verb, as in:

Julie, at the box office, has been selling movie tickets to the 7:00 show.

The addition of the helping verb has been corrects the error. Other helping verbs include is, was, will be, and other forms of the verb to be.

Sample Questions Containing Faulty Verb Forms

1.   In spite of the cold and discomfort of the journey, Max was glad to have underwent the experience of seeing the northern lights.

(A)   to have underwent the experience of seeing

(B)   having underwent the experience of seeing

(C)   to have undergone the experience of seeing

(D)   to see during the experience of

(E)   undergoing the experience of seeing

Choice A is wrong because it uses have underwent, a nonstandard form of the verb to undergo. Use have undergone instead.

Choice B is a variation of choice A.

Choice C uses the verb in its proper form. It is the best answer.

Choice D uses faulty idiom and makes little sense.

Choice E improperly uses an –ing form of a verb without a helping verb.

2.   Brian Williams, the TV anchor man, skillfully probing his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, but showing great tact because he didn’t want to jeopardize his chance for a news scoop.

(A)   skillfully probing his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, but showing

(B)   who skillfully probed his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, but showing

(C)   skillfully probed his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, showed

(D)   he was skilled in probing his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, and showed

(E)   skillfully probing his guest’s knowledge of the scandal, showed

Choices A and B are sentence fragments. Neither has a main verb.

Choice C is an incomplete construction. It lacks a conjunction before the verb showed.

Choice D is a mixed construction. The construction he was skilled lacks a grammatical relationship to the earlier part of the sentence.

Choice E is free of grammatical errors. It is the best answer.

Still other errors involving verbs occur when the writer uses the wrong tense.

Use of Pronouns

A dozen common English pronouns—I, me, he, she, him, her, it, they, them, we, us, and you—cause more trouble than almost any other words in the language. Almost as troublesome—but not quite—are the possessive pronouns my, mine, his, her, hers, your, yours, our, ours, their, and theirs.

Faulty usage results most often:

•   When pronouns in the wrong “case” are chosen

•   When pronouns in the wrong “person” are chosen

•   When pronouns fail to agree in number or gender with their antecedents

•   When the pronoun reference is unclear or ambiguous


Most of the time you can probably depend on your ear to tell you what’s right and wrong. For example, you’d never say to the bus driver, “Let I off at the corner.” But when you can’t depend on the sound of the words, it helps to know that those twelve pronouns fall into two groups.

Group 1

Group 2















In grammatical terms, the pronouns in Group 1 are in the nominative case (sometimes called subjective case); pronouns in Group 2 are in the objective case.

Remember that you mustn’t mix pronouns from different cases in the same phrase. You may not, for example, use such pairs as she and them or they and us. Any time you need a pair of pronouns and you know that one of them is correct, you can easily pick the other from the same group. If you’re not sure of either pronoun, though, substitute I or me for one of the pronouns. If I seems to fit, you’re in Group 1; if me fits better, use Group 2.

Elvis asked that (he, him) and (she, her) practice handstands.

If you insert me in place of one of the pronouns, you’ll get:

Elvis asked that me practice handstands.

Because no one would say that seriously, I must be the word that fits. So the pronouns you need come from Group 1, and the sentence should read:

Elvis asked that he and she practice handstands.

Now, if you can remember a few more rules, you’ll be well prepared to deal with pronoun errors on the SAT.

1.   Use nominative case pronouns for the subject of sentences and for predicate nominatives.
The term predicate nominative refers to words not in the subject of the sentence that identify, define, or mean the same as the subject.
Then he and I went home. (he and I = subject) The instructors in the course were Donald and he. (instructors = subject; Donald and he = predicate nominative)

2.   Use objective case pronouns in phrases that begin with prepositions, as in:

between you and me
to Sherry and her
among us women
at us
from her and him
with me and you

3.   Use objective case pronouns when the pronoun refers to a person to whom something is being done:

Terry invited him to the prom.
The waiter gave her and me a piece of cake.

4.   To find the correct pronoun in a comparison, complete the comparison using the verb that would follow naturally:

Jackie runs faster than she (runs).
My brother has bigger feet than I (do).
Carol is as tough as he (is).
A woman such as I (am) could solve the problem.

5.   When a pronoun appears side by side with a noun (we boys, us women), deleting the noun will help you pick the correct pronoun:

(We, Us) seniors decided to take a day off from school in late May. (Deleting seniors leaves We decided to … ).

This award was presented to (we, us) students by the faculty. (Deleting students leaves award was presented to us by the … ).

6.   Use possessive pronouns (my, our, your, his, her, their) before a gerund, a noun that looks like a verb because of its –ing ending.

Her asking the question shows that she is alert. (Asking is a gerund.)
Mother was upset about your opening the presents too soon. (Opening is a gerund.)

TIP images

What Is a Gerund?

A gerund is a verb form that ends in -ing and is used as a noun.

Fishing is my grandpa’s favorite pastime.
He started fishing as a boy in North Carolina.
As a result of all that fishing, he hates to eat fish.

In all three sentences the gerund is derived from the verb to fish. Don’t confuse gerunds with the participle form of verbs, as in:

Participle:          Fishing from the bank of the river, my Grandpa caught a catfish.

Gerund:              Fishing from the bank of a river is my Grandpa’s greatest pleasure.

Not every noun with an –ing ending is a gerund. Sometimes it’s just a noun, as in thing, ring, spring. At other times, –ing words are verbs, in particular, they’re participles that modify pronouns in the objective case.

I hope you don’t mind my intruding on your conversation. (Here intruding is a gerund.)
I hope you don’t mind me intruding on your conversation. (Here intruding is a participle.)

Sample Question Containing Faulty Pronoun Choice (Case)

The registration fee in New York is higher than the amount paid by Rosemary and I in Vermont.

(A)   than the amount paid by Rosemary and I

(B)   in comparison to the fee paid by Rosemary and I

(C)   than that which Rosemary and me pay

(D)   than the fee Rosemary and me paid

(E)   than the one Rosemary and I paid

Choices A and B are incorrect because each contains a phrase beginning with the preposition by, which calls for pronouns in the objective case. Use me instead of I.

Choices C and D call for pronouns in the nominative case. Use I instead of me.

Choice E uses the proper pronoun. It is the best answer.

Practice in Choosing the Case of Pronouns

Directions: Circle the correct pronoun in each of the following sentences.

1.   Judith took my sister and (I, me) to the magic show last night.

2.   We thought that Matilda and Jorge would be there, and sure enough, we saw (she, her) and (he, him) sitting in the front row.

3.   During the intermission, Jorge came over and asked my sister and (I, me) to go out after the show.

4.   Between you and (I, me) the magician was terrible.

5.   It must also have been a bad evening for (he, him) and his assistant, Roxanne.

6.   Trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat, Roxanne and (he, him) knocked over the table.

7.   When he asked for audience participation, my sister and (I, me) volunteered to go on stage.

8.   He said that in my pocket I would find $10 in change to split between (I, me) and my sister.

9.   When the coins fell out of his sleeve, the audience laughed even harder than (we, us).

10.   If I were (he, him), I’d practice for a long time before the next performance.


Pronouns are categorized by person:

First-person pronouns: I, we, me, us, mine, our, ours
Second-person pronouns: you, your, yours
Third-person pronouns: she, he, it, one, they, him, her, them, his, hers, its, their, theirs, ours

Indefinite pronouns such as all, any, anyone, each, none, nothing, one, several, and many are also considered to be in the third person.

Pronouns must be in the same person as their antecedents—the words they refer to. When a sentence is cast in, say, the first person, it should stay in the first person throughout. Consistency is the key.

Inconsistent:     When you (second person) walk your (second person) dog in that park, I (first person) must carry a pooper-scooper.

Consistent:        When you (second person) walk your (second person) dog in that park, you (second person) must carry a pooper-scooper.

The need to be consistent applies also to the use of indefinite pronouns, particularly when a writer switches from singular to plural pronouns in mid-sentence:

Inconsistent:      If someone tries to write a persuasive essay, they should at least include a convincing argument.

Consistent:         If one tries to write a persuasive essay, one should at least include a convincing argument.

Sample Questions Containing Switch in Pronoun Person

The more you travel around the country, the more our horizons and outlook expand.

(A)   The more you travel around the country

(B)   The more we travel around the country

(C)   The more one travels around the country

(D)   As more traveling is done around the country

(E)   As they travel more around the country

Choice A is incorrect because the second-person pronoun you shifts to the first-person pronoun our in the second clause.

Choice B consistently uses two plural pronouns in the first person. It is the best answer.

Choice C switches from the singular pronoun one to the plural pronoun our in the second clause.

Choice D uses the pronoun our that fails to refer to a specific noun or other pronoun.

Choice E improperly uses the third-person pronoun they to refer to the first-person pronoun our.


Singular pronouns must have singular antecedents; plural pronouns, plural antecedents. Errors occur when antecedents are indefinite, as in each, neither, everyone (also no one, someone, anyone), and everybody (also nobody, somebody, and anybody). Note the problem of pronoun-antecedent agreement in these sentences:

Everybody is sticking to their side of the story.
Anybody can pass this course if they study hard.
Neither teacher plans to change their policy regarding late papers.

Properly stated, the sentences should read:

Everybody is sticking to his side of the story.
Anybody can pass this course if she studies hard.
Neither teacher plans to change his policy regarding late papers.

Some people, objecting to the use of specific gender pronouns, prefer the cumbersome and tacky phrase “he or she,” but most good writers avoid using it.

Still other words may sound singular but are plural in certain contexts:

The audience showed its respect for the queen by withholding applause until the end of her speech.
The audience was asked to turn off their cell phones during the performance.

The senior class posed for its picture.
The senior class had their portraits taken for the yearbook.

Sample Question Containing Faulty Pronoun–
Antecedent Agreement

The Army, which paid soldiers large bonuses to re-enlist when their tours of duty were over, changed this policy beginning when their budget was cut.

(A)   changed this policy beginning when their budget was cut

(B)   begins to change this policy when their budget was cut

(C)   began to change this policy when its budget was cut

(D)   it changed this policy when their budget was cut

(E)   beginning to change its policy, the budget was cut

Choice A is wrong because it uses the plural pronoun their to refer to the singular noun Army.

Choice B contains a shift in verb tense from past to present.

Choice C uses the singular pronoun it to refer to the singular noun Army. It is the best answer.

Choice D contains a comma splice.

Choice E contains two parts that lack both a grammatical and a logical relation to each other.

Practice in Recognizing Pronoun Shift
and Pronoun Agreement

Directions: Some of the following sentences contain shifts in pronoun person or errors in agreement between pronouns and antecedents. Make all appropriate corrections in the spaces provided. Alter only those sentences that contain errors.

1.   The English teacher announced that everyone in the class must turn in their term papers no later than Friday.


2.   When you are fired from a job, a person collects unemployment.


3.   The library put their collection of rare books on display.


4.   Each of my sisters own their own car.


5.   In that class, our teacher held conferences with us once a week.


6.   In order to keep yourself in shape, one should work out every day.


7.   The teacher dictates a sentence in French, and each of the students write it down in English and hand it in.


8.   Each horse in the procession followed their riders down to the creek.


9.   The school’s chess team has just won their first match.


10.   When one is visiting the park and you can’t find a restroom, they should ask a park ranger.



Sentences in which a pronoun fails to refer specifically to a noun or another pronoun, called an antecedent, can cause confusion or fail to convey the writer’s intention. Some references are ambiguous because the pronoun seems to refer to one or more antecedents:

The teacher, Ms. Taylor, told Karen that it was her responsibility to hand out composition paper.

Who is responsible? The teacher or Karen? It’s impossible to tell because the pronoun her may refer to either of them. Revised, the sentence might read:

Ms. Taylor told Karen that it was her responsibility as the teacher to hand out composition paper.

A sentence containing two or more pronouns with ambiguous references can be especially troublesome and unclear:

Mike became a good friend of Mark’s after he helped him repair his car.

Whose car needed fixing? Who helped whom? To answer these questions, the sentence needs to be rewritten:

Mike and Mark became good friends after Mark helped Mike repair his car.

This version is better, but it’s still uncertain who owned the car. One way to set the meaning straight is to use more than one sentence:

When Mark needed to repair his car, Mike helped him do the job. Afterwards, Mike and Mark became good friends.

To be correct, a pronoun should refer directly and clearly to a specific noun or another pronoun, or it should refer by implication to an idea. Such implied references frequently involve the pronouns itthey, and you, and the relative pronouns whichthat, and this, and cause trouble mostly when the pronoun is used to refer to rather general or ambiguous ideas, as in:

Homeless people allege that the mayor is indifferent to their plight, which has been disproved.

What has been disproved? That an allegation was made? That the mayor is indifferent? The intended meaning is unclear because which has no distinct antecedent. To clear up the uncertainty, the sentence might read:

Homeless people allege that the mayor is indifferent to their plight, but the allegation has been disproved.

Sample Question Containing an Ambiguous
Pronoun Reference

Ricky, Marti, and Steve were driving nonstop from New York to Chicago when, falling asleep at the wheel, he drove the car off the road.

(A)   when, falling asleep at the wheel, he drove the car off the road

(B)   and then he drove the car off the road after falling asleep at the wheel

(C)   when Ricky drove the car off the road after falling asleep at the wheel

(D)   when Ricky drove the car off the road, since he fell asleep at the wheel

(E)   and, since Ricky has fallen asleep at the wheel, he drove the car off the road

Choices A and B are incorrect because in each sentence the pronoun he fails to refer to a specific noun or other pronoun.

Choice C avoids the pronoun-reference problem by using the Ricky instead of he. It is the best answer.

Choice D contains an error in verb tense. Because Ricky had fallen asleep before he drove the car off the road, use had fallen instead of fell.

Choice E, a compound sentence, would be more effectively expressed with one independent clause and two subordinate clauses.

Practice in Identifying Faulty Pronoun Reference

Directions: Each of the following sentences suffers from a pronoun problem. Please eliminate the problem by revising each sentence. Use the blank spaces to write your answers.

1.   When we teenagers loiter outside the theater on Friday night, they give you a hard time.


2.   I answered the test questions, collected my pencils and pens, and handed them in.


3.   Barbara told Ken that she wanted only a short wedding trip to Florida, which lies at the root of their problem.


4.   His father let him know that he had only an hour to get to the airport.


5.   During Dr. Rice’s tenure in office, she traveled more than any other secretary of state.


6.   Henry, an ambulance driver, disapproved of war but drove it to the front lines anyway.


7.  After the campus tour, Mike told Todd that he thought he’d be happy going to Auburn.


8.   Peggy’s car hit a truck, but it wasn’t even dented.


9.   Within the last month, Andy’s older brother Pete found a new job, broke his leg skiing, and got married to Felicia, which made their parents very happy.


10.   Eddie grew fond of the novels of John Steinbeck because he had lived in California.


Faulty Comparisons

The sentence-improvement questions on the SAT will almost certainly test your understanding of the rules governing the use of comparisons. In addition to knowing about comparative degrees, you need to know that comparisons (1) need to be complete, (2) must be stated in parallel form, and (3) must pertain to things that may logically be compared.

Most comparisons are made by using different forms of adjectives or adverbs.

The degree of comparison is indicated by the ending (usually –er and –est) or by the use of more or most (or less and least). The English language offers three degrees of comparison, called positivecomparative, and superlative.











handsomer or more handsomest

handsomer or most handsome


more graceful

most graceful


less prepared

least prepared


more happily

most happily

Some words deviate from the usual pattern. For example:



















Use the following guidelines to hunt down errors in comparative degree:

1.   To form the comparative and superlative degree of one-syllable words, add –er or –est to the positive form (brave, braver, bravest; late, later, latest).

2.   To form the comparative and superlative degrees of most two-syllable words, use more or most, or less and least (more famous, most nauseous, less skillful, least jagged). Some two-syllable words follow the guidelines for words of one syllable (pretty, prettier, prettiest), although you wouldn’t err by applying the rule for two-syllable words (more pretty, most pretty).

3.   To form the comparative and superlative degree of three-syllable words and of all words ending in –ly, use more and most, or less and least (beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful; gladly, more gladly, most gladly).

4.   To compare two things use the comparative degree, but to compare three or more things use the superlative degree.

My younger sister takes dancing lessons. (The writer has two sisters.)

My youngest sister takes swimming lessons. (The writer has at least three sisters.)

5.   Never create a double comparison by putting words like more, most, less, and least in the same phrase with words in the comparative or superlative degrees. For example, avoid more friendlier, less prouder, most sweetest, least safest. Such usages are both ungrammatical and redundant. Instead, use adjectives and adverbs in the positive degree: more friendly, less proud, more sweet, least safe.


In everyday speech, people give emphasis to their opinions by saying things like “We had the best time” and “That was the worst accident!” Neither statement is complete, however, because technically the “best” time must be compared to other times, and the “worst” accident must be compared to other accidents.

An incomplete comparison made colloquially may suffer no loss of meaning, but standard written usage calls for unmistakable clarity. On the SAT you may find sentences that omit some words needed to make a comparison clear:

Mimi visited her aged aunt longer than Kathy.

This could mean either that Mimi spent a longer time with her aunt than Kathy did, or that Mimi spent more time with her aunt than she spent with Kathy. To eliminate the ambiguity, simply complete the comparison:

Mimi visited her aged aunt longer than she visited Kathy.

A comparison using as usually requires a repetition of the word: as good as gold, as fast as a speeding bullet, as high as a kite.

Incomplete:        On the exam, Nicole expects to do as well if not better than Nat.

Complete:           On the exam, Nicole expects to do as well as, if not better than, Nat.

For the sake of completeness, when you compare one thing to a group of which it is a part, be sure to use other or else.

Lieutenant Henry was braver than any pilot in the squadron.

This suggests that Henry may not have been a member of the squadron. If he belonged to the squadron, however, add other to complete the comparison:

Lieutenant Henry was braver than any other pilot in the squadron.

Similarly, notice the difference between these two sentences:

Diana talks more nonsense than anyone in the class.
Diana talks more nonsense than anyone else in the class.

Only the second sentence makes clear that Diana is a member of the class.


Logic breaks down when two or more unlike things are compared.

Boston’s harbor is reported to be more polluted than any city in the country.

This sentence is meant to compare pollution in the Boston harbor with pollution in the harbors of other cities. Instead, it compares Boston’s harbor with a city, an illogical comparison. Properly expressed, it would read this way:

Boston’s harbor is reported to be more polluted than the harbor of any other city in the country.

Similarly, note the difference between these two sentences.

Unlike most cars on the block, Ellie has her Toyota washed almost every week.
Ellie’s Toyota, unlike most cars on the block, is washed almost every week.

The first sentence is intended to compare Ellie’s car with the other cars on the block. But it nonsensically compares Ellie to the other cars.

Sample Questions Containing Faulty Comparisons

1.   A more easier and direct route exist between Mt. Kisco and Pleasantville than the one we took.

(A) A more easier and direct route exist

(B) An easier and direct route exist

(C) An easier and more direct route exists

(D) Easier and directer routes exist

(E) A both more easy and a more direct route exists

Choice A contains the phrase more easier, which is both a redundancy and an example of faulty diction.

Choice B contains an error in parallelism. Easier, an adjective in the comparative degree, is not parallel in form to direct. Use more direct.

Choice C accurately and grammatically conveys the meaning of the sentence. It is the best answer.

Choice D uses directer, not a standard English word, instead of more direct.

Choice E is wordy. Both and the repetition of more are unnecessary.

2.   Elton John combines various techniques of singing and piano playing as effortlessly as any pop star ever has.

(A)   as effortlessly as any pop star ever has

(B)   as effortlessly as any other pop star ever has

(C)   effortlessly, as any pop star has

(D)   as effortlessly like any other pop star ever has

(E)   as effortlessly, if not more so, than any pop star ever has

Choice A is incorrect because it omits other, a word that must be used when comparing one thing with a group of which it is a member. Use as any other.

Choice B expresses the comparison correctly. It is the best answer.

Choice C uses awkward language that obscures the meaning of the sentence.

Choice D uses like instead of as. Use like, a preposition, to introduce a phrase; use as to introduce a clause.

Choice E fails to complete the comparison because it omits the second as. Use as effortlessly as.