Faulty Idiom

English is crammed with words, expressions, and phrases whose usage cannot be rationally explained. We say “three-foot ruler” when we mean “three-feet.” A building “burns down,” a piece of paper “burns up,” and a pot of stew just “burns.” Both flammable and inflammable mean the same thing—easily set afire. When you don”t understand something, you might say it”s “over my head,” an expression that also means deep in debt. We accept these and many other linguistic quirks because they are simply part of our language. Likewise, native speakers of English say go to the moviesand arrive at the movies. For someone just learning English, though, “arrive to the movies” would make perfect sense. But we don”t say it because it”s not idiomatic English.

On the SAT, you may find sentences containing faulty idiom. To identify errors in idiom you must, to a certain extent, follow your instincts and your ear for language. There are no specific guidelines to help untangle problems in idiom. An awkward-sounding word or phrase may be the only evidence.

The First Amendment is invoked in those times when journalists are asked to disclose their sources.

The phrase in those times is awkward. Replace in with at, a preposition that often refers to time—at four o”clock, at the turn of the century. Or better still, discard the phrase entirely:

The First Amendment is invoked when journalists are asked to disclose their sources.

Here is another example:

A knight was faithful to his king, to his church, and to his lady, and he would gladly die in the name of them.

The phrase in the name of them is grammatical but awkward.

A knight was faithful to his king, to his church, and to his lady, and he would gladly die in their name.

Although many errors in English idiom on the SAT involve the faulty use of prepositions, you”re just as likely to find problematic verbs, adverbs, and other parts of speech.

Sample Questions Containing Faulty Idiom

1. images her dedicated service to the Safe Rides program, the local Lion”s Club presented images with a scholarship images images

In standard English, the phrase In appreciation about should read In appreciation for. Choice B is the correct answer.

2. Mr. Andrews, the store manager, images grateful images every weekend this summer Phil and George are ready images at images notice. images

Faulty idiom results from the misuse of a verb. Instead of for working, use to work. Choice C is the correct answer.

3. images a member of the scholarly panel, Dr. Muller imagesa story filled up with images to Norse mythology. images

Faulty idiom results from the use of up, an unnecessary preposition. Use filled instead of filled up. Choice C is the correct answer.

Practice in Identifying Faulty English Idiom

Directions: Identify the errors in English idiom in the following sentences. Write revised versions in the spaces provided. Some sentences may contain no error.

1. It was an honor to die at battle for their religion.

2. After the ceremony, the newlyweds ascended up the stairs.

3. I hope that the admissions office will comply to my request for an extension.

4. Bronze was used by primitive people before either iron and tin.

5. Because of his preoccupation in classical music, Justin bought a subscription to Symphony Hall concerts.

6. Most rock climbers are lured by either danger and love of adventure.

7. When Lucy returned home, she felt as though she”d never been away.

8. The posse went in pursuit after the horse thieves.

9. The new security system uses electronic eye scans in the identifying of employees.

10. Work-study programs offer opportunities to both students and the business community.

11. No new plans were developed in respect to the environment.

12. Columbus sailed west in search for a way to the Indies.

13. The wounded marine could not endure that kind of a pain without passing out.

14. The children were waiting on the bus to arrive.

15. Generic drugs are not nearly as expensive than brand-name drugs.

16. Billy Collins is regarded to be one of the most popular contemporary American poets.

17. Artists must often make a choice between teaching or devoting their time to creating art.

18. Most people who travel at Thanksgiving prefer driving more than flying.

19. Because the boat”s engine had failed, the sailor was never far away from harm during the storm.

20. Although Jackie”s term paper was neither well written or fully researched, its grade was A+.

Faulty Diction

Faulty diction means faulty word choice. It occurs, say, when good is used instead of well after a certain verb, or when where is used instead of when, as in “the time where he took the bus to Jersey.” The English language offers abundant opportunities to choose incorrect words, but on the SAT the range is limited to commonly misused words. For instance, use who instead of which when referring to people:

Brian was one of several journalists who were killed during the war in Iraq.

Use which when referring to animals and nonliving things, as in:

Censors bleeped obscenities out of the film”s TV version, which disturbed free-speech advocates.

That may be used to refer to people as well as to animals and nonliving things:

Pedestrians that jaywalk put their lives at risk.
It may look harmless, but poison oak is a plant that infects the skin with severe rashes and itching.

Sometimes, the choice of words is a toss-up. It”s fine to say “Those are the geese who are damaging the grass,” but it”s also acceptable to say “Those are the geese that are damaging the grass.” Because both usages are standard, the SAT won”t ask you to make decisions about issues like that.

Sample Questions Containing Faulty Diction

1. Although images for being a crooner of old songs, Tony Bennett images watercolors, images enjoyed considerable success.images

The word whereas, meaning “although” or “considering that” is improperly used in the context. Because the writer probably meant to say with which or perhaps whereby, choice C is the correct answer.

2. Schoolteachers images to keep themselves up-to-date images educational technology images encouraged images in-service courses and workshops. images

The writer has improperly used which instead of who to refer to schoolteachers. Although some may regard schoolteachers as something other than human, on the SAT they should be considered people. Choice A is the correct answer.

3. A “fault” in tennis images the ball images to the opposing player lands outside the lines images the images of the service box. images

The construction is when is an error in diction because you can”t define a noun with a clause but only with another noun. In standard English, the sentence might read something like “A “fault” in tennis is a stroke that falls outside … .”

Another common error in diction occurs when an adjective is used where an adverb is needed. The reverse—using an adverb where an adjective belongs—also occurs, but less often. Part of your preparation for the SAT should include practice in using adjectives and adverbs properly.

To begin, identify the errors in these two sentences:

Children addicted to television often behave violent in the classroom.

I feel badly that Randy performed bad on the test.

If you spotted the errors, you should have no trouble with similar items on the SAT. And if you knew why violent should be violently and that bad and badly should switch places, you”re probably up to par on adjective and adverb usage. But if you didn”t notice or couldn”t explain the errors, you should definitely read on.

Adjectives are words that describe, or modify, nouns and pronouns. Good is an example, as in good apple, good book, and good night. That”s easy enough, but good, along with some other adjectives, sometimes causes trouble when used after a verb. Good should not be used after most verbs, so avoid talks good, drives good, writes good, and so on.

Here”s the catch: Good may be used after some verbs, called linking verbs, among them look, smell, taste, feel, appear, stay, seem, remain, grow, become, and all forms of to be. Therefore, it”s correct to say sounds good, feels good, and is good. (Notice that linking verbs often refer to the senses.)

And to complicate matters still more, linking verbs are sometimes used as active verbs. Look is a linking verb when it refers to the appearance of things, as in The day looks good for jogging. But it is an active verb when it refers to the act of looking, as in Margie looked sadly at her sick dog. If you”re not sure whether a verb is used as a linking verb or as an active verb, substitute a form of the verb to be. If the sentence retains its basic meaning, the verb is probably a linking verb, as in The juice tastes good/The juice is good. If the meaning is lost, it is an active verb, as in He feels badlyabout your loss. Because you wouldn”t say He is badly about your loss, feels is an active verb in that sentence.

Adverbs are words that describe, or modify, verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, and can often be identified by their –ly endings. Most of the time they answer such questions as How? When? How much? Where? In what sequence? To what extent? In what manner? For example:

How does the grass look? It looks mostly brown. (The adverb mostly modifies the adjective brown.)

When does Roger run? He usually runs in the morning. (The adverb usually modifies the verb runs.)

How much did it rain? It rained enough to flood the cellar. (The adverb enough modifies the verb rained.)

When you need to choose between an adjective and an adverb on the SAT, follow this procedure: Find the verb and determine whether it is a linking verb. If it is, use the adjective; if it isn”t, use the adverb. More often than not, the verb is likely to be one of those that is sometimes active and sometimes linking. So, check it by substituting a form of to be, as described earlier. You can also check its modification. If it modifies an adjective or another adverb, use the adverb. If it modifies a noun or pronoun, use the adjective.

TIP images

Note to the Reader

If any of this seems unduly complex, you”ll catch on if you re-read this material two or three times and do the practice exercises.

Sample Questions Regarding Adjective/Adverb Use

1. Alan, our trusty mechanic, studied images and with patience before images that he images a clue what to do about it. images

The word careful is an adjective. In the context of the sentence, it modifies the verb studied. Therefore, it should be carefully, an adverb. Choice B is the correct answer.

2. images of the survey images a images of images melting glaciers in the northern part of Canada and the Arctic. images

The word constant is an adjective. Because it is used to modify the adjective melting, it should be an adverb—constantly. Choice D is the correct answer.

Practice in Using Adjectives and Adverbs

Directions: Check each sentence for faulty use of adjectives and adverbs. Write the correct words in the spaces provided. Some sentences are correct.

1. The nurse felt bitterly that she had contracted the flu from a patient.

2. There is simply no justification for the judge”s ruling.

3. Meredith”s bike is old, but it rides smooth.

4. In spite of her head cold, the soprano sang the aria beautiful.

5. The tenor”s singing could only be described as horribly.

6. The black Mercedes drove slow up the gravel driveway.

7. The colonel looked down cynical on the people assembled in the plaza.

8. Agnes played the part of the mother superficially.

9. No other basketball team blends as smooth as the Lakers.

10. Mark always feels good after a long run and a hot shower.

11. He walked down the hall completely obliviously to the train of papers he left behind.

12. Be sure the door is shut secure because it often swings open by itself.

13. The coach talked slow about the team”s decline during the second half of the season.

14. The audience remained calmly, even when the hall began to fill rapidly with smoke.

15. No problem; I can do both jobs easy.

16. When the phone rang, Bob picked it up, optimistically that it was Sheila calling.

17. When they carried Terry off the field, everyone thought he was hurt bad.

18. Unfortunately, John never feels shyly about reading his poems aloud in public.

19. Amy spoke sincere when she promised to repay the money.

20. Jill looked mischievous at Jack as they secretly walked up the hill.

Wordiness and Redundancies

A sentence needs revision when it includes words and phrases that don”t add meaning or that repeat or reiterate what has already been stated. For example:

A necessary requirement for applying to most colleges is the SAT.
An important essential ingredient of a hamburger is meat.
You should read Lust for Life, the biography of the life of Vincent van Gogh.

All three sentences contain a needless word or phrase. In the first sentence, omit necessary because necessary by definition implies requirement. Therefore, necessary requirement is redundant. In the next sentence, an ingredient described as essential must by definition be important, so delete the word important. And in the last sentence, the phrase of the life should be removed because a biography cannot be anything other than the story of someone”s life.

Sample Questions Containing Wordiness and Redundancies

1. The commission”s report images the contributions made images both big corporations images small images to the growth of the nation”s economy. images

The word both and the phrase as well as are redundant. Substitute and for as well as. Choice C is the correct answer.

2. images twenty years or more Florence Nightingale fought images new standards images cleanliness in hospitals. images

The phrase as many as is unnecessary. Therefore, choice A is the correct answer.

Practice in Detecting Wordiness

Directions: Revise the following sentences for economy of expression.

1. She constantly irritates and bothers me all the time.

2. He spoke to me concerning the matter of my future.

3. Is it a true fact that the ozone layer is being depleted?

4. I thought that if I didn”t take chemistry that I couldn”t go to a good college.

5. Consequently, as a result of the election, the state will have its first female governor.

6. My father”s habitual custom is to watch the sun set in the West.

7. Harold picked up a brush at the age of ten years old and hasn”t stopped painting since.

8. Research shows that avid sports fans not only suffer fewer depressions, but they are also generally healthier, too, than those not interested in sports.

9. His field of work is that of a chemist.

10. For the second time, the cough recurred again.

Faulty Parallelism

Orderly construction of a sentence keeps parallel ideas in the same grammatical form. For example, a sentence describing the contents of a school locker might read this way:

The locker held a down jacket, aromatic sweatpants, three sneakers, two left-handed gloves, an unused tuna sandwich, a broken ski pole, a hockey puck, six overdue library books, a disposable camera, and a hiking boot.

Every item listed is an object, each expressed in the same grammatical form: a noun preceded by one or two adjectives. When the owner of the locker wrote a list of favorite pastimes, though, the sentence lost its balance:

I like skiing, hiking, to take pictures, and running.

The message is clear, but the phrase “to take pictures” is not parallel with the other phrases. To revise it, write “taking pictures.”

To recognize faulty parallelism in SAT sentences, you should know that:

1. Ideas in a series should be in the same grammatical form, even when the series consists of only two items:

The neighbors objected to the noisy parties on Friday nights and to the trash on the lawn on Saturday mornings.

The parallel ideas are expressed as prepositional phrases, to the noisy parties and to the trash.

After graduation, Nan promised to turn the volume down and to come home earlier.

Each parallel idea consists of an infinitive followed by a noun and an adverb.

2. In comparisons, parallel ideas should be in the same grammatical form.

Going out to eat no longer thrills me as much as to cook at home.

The gerund going may not be paired with the infinitive to cook.

Going out to eat no longer thrills me as much as cooking at home.

The ideas are now stated in parallel form.

3. Parallel ideas are often signaled by pairs of words like either/or, neither/nor, whether/or, both/and, and not only/but also. A usage error to watch out for is the misuse of one word in the pair, as in:

Alice will attend neither NYU or Columbia.

Revise by changing neither to either, or changing or to nor.

Still another error occurs when one of the words in the pair is situated too far from the parallel ideas, as in:

Jake both started on the basketball and the volleyball teams.

The signal word both is too far removed from the parallel phrase, basketball and volleyball teams. Its placement misleads the reader into thinking that the verb started is one of the parallel ideas. Correctly worded, the sentence reads:

Jake started on both the basketball and the volleyball teams.

Sample Questions Containing Faulty Parallel Structure

1. One of images greatest musicians, Leonard Bernstein images a composer, images, a teacher, and images images

The phrase played the piano brilliantly should be a brilliant pianist in order to be parallel in form to the other items in the series. Choice D is the correct answer.

2. It is images to swim the breast stroke images to a beginning swimmer images how to do images. images

The phrase than explaining should be to explain in order to be parallel in form to the infinitive to swim. Choice B is the correct answer.

Incomplete Comparisons

Sentences used to make comparisons usually follow a familiar pattern that requires the items being compared to be stated in parallel form. All words essential to completing the comparison must be present in order to avoid ungrammatical or illogical comparisons.

Sample Questions Containing Incomplete Comparisons

1. images some historians, the quality of FDR”s presidency images on a par images or better images but not Lincoln”s. images

The sentence illogically compares quality with Wilson instead of with Wilson”s presidency. Therefore, choice is the correct answer.

2. Jon Stewart, the comedian, is images and images than images television. images

As written, the sentence compares Stewart with all comedians on television, but Stewart cannot be funnier than himself. Moreover, it remains unclear whether Stewart is or is not a television comedian. To make a proper comparison, use “any other comedian.” Choice C is the correct answer.

Practice in Completing Comparisons

Directions: Find the errors in comparison in the following sentences. Write the correct version of the sentence in the space provided. Some sentences may be correct.

1. Jane is more efficient than any member of the committee.

2. Andy looks more like his father than his brother.

3. In The Great Gatsby, I disliked Daisy as much as Tom.

4. Phil works faster than George does on most jobs.

5. Oscar was as tired if not more tired than Pete.

6. To do the research for my term paper, I read books more than searching the Web.

7. Although she”s younger, Lillian looks as old if not older than Dorothy.

8. They talked more about Chekhov”s stories than his plays.

9. Allen”s canoe was destroyed in the rapids, just like his partner.

10. After reading Siddhartha, I admire Hesse more than any author.

11. I am more interested in rap music than Pete.

12. Experts say that walking is better for you than to jog the same distance.

13. Biology is more popular than any science.

14. The students respect Ms. Scotch”s teaching style more than Mr. Green.

15. His ears were bigger than Dumbo.

16. It took us longer to reach Trenton than Camden.

17. Which is cheaper—flying to Washington or to take the train?

18. The lawyer insisted that her job took more hours than a teacher.

19. Carrying iPods is more common among students than cell phones.

20. Cindy has applied to as many colleges if not more than Joanne.