Four Steps and Seven Screw-Ups
Here’s a sample Identifying Sentence Error question:
|The crowd, || which || clamored for the players to appear, || were || |
| ||A|| ||B|| |
|unusually || rowdy for || a typically reserved || audience ||. || No error ||.|
| ||C|| ||D|| ||E|
That’s all it is: A sentence with a bunch of scattered
lines. Above one of those lines is an error that you’ve got to pick
out and then identify as A, B, C, D,
or E. Nearly every error on Identifying Sentence Errors
questions will be traceable to one of seven major grammatical mistakes.
We call these the Seven Deadly Screw-Ups:
Wrong Words, and Double Negatives
In the next section, we take a much closer look at each
of the seven grammar pitfalls, complete with examples of each. First
we want to show you the four-step method we’ve developed to help
you pick out where the Seven Deadly Screw-Ups lie in every Identifying
Sentence Errors question you face. Here’s a chart of the four steps.
An explanation of each step follows.
||Read the sentence and try to hear the screw-up.
||Eliminate underlined choices that you know
||Check for screw-ups among the remaining choices.
||If all else fails, go with E.
Step 1: Read the sentence and try to hear the screw-up.
Sometimes all you’ll has to do is read the sentence, and
immediately you’ll just hear the problem.
NOTE: Did you hear
that one? Has should have been have.
scream off the page and into your ear. If that happens, great. But don’t
expect that to happen all the time, since using your ear only works
if it’s well trained. Having a good ear for bad grammar is not something
everybody has naturally. It’s kind of like having a good ear for
music. Some people magically have perfect pitch from birth, but
most people must work at developing their sense of musical pitch
We’re going to assume that, like us, you’ve not been born
with the gift of an ear for perfect grammar. Even if you feel like
you’ve got grammar safely under control, we suggest that you don’t
just go with your ear. Plenty of grammar that sounds right to us
based on everyday speech is actually wrong.
So don’t trust your untrained ear. Instead, we’ll help
you train your ear to become more sensitive to the Seven Deadly
Screw-Ups. The key to sharpening your sensitivity to formal grammatical
errors is learning what the mistakes are in detail and then simply
picking them out whenever you hear and see them. Step 1 may therefore
be tough for you at first, but once you’ve studied this entire chapter
and trained your ear, you’ll be more attuned to scanning for screw-ups
right away. If you can’t pick out the screw-up immediately after
reading the sentence, always move on to step 2.
Step 2: Eliminate underlined choices that you know
Just because you can’t see or hear an error doesn’t mean
it isn’t there. That’s the tricky part of Identifying Sentence Errors
questions. Before deciding that E is the choice for
you, go through a process of elimination. Take a look at each underlined part
and eliminate those that you know are correct.
For example, say you read the example sentence on page once and
didn’t hear a problem. You would then go through the sentence again,
crossing off the error-free underlined parts. Which—that might
be wrong. You’re not sure, so keep the answer choice for now. Were—also could
be wrong. There might be a subject-verb agreement problem. Keep
it. Rowdy for—you feel sure there’s nothing wrong
with that. Eliminate answer choice C by crossing it
out in your test booklet. A typically reserved audience is
a grammatically flawless phrase. Cross out D in your
test booklet. Now you’re down to A and B,
and it’s time to move to step 3. Keep E for the moment,
since you’re not yet sure whether the sentence is truly error-free.
Step 3: Check for screw-ups among the remaining
Look at your two remaining choices, A and B.
Answer choice A is which. Sometimes which is
mistakenly used instead of that, but here, which is
the correct choice.
NOTE: Quick tip: When text
follows a comma, choose which; when there is no
comma, use that.
You can eliminate A.
What about B? Were is a verb. Subject-verb
agreement problems are commonly tested on this section of the test.
What is the subject of were? The crowd. Standing
between the subject and the verb is the clause, which clamored
for the players to appear. Ignore that clause for the moment
to test whether the subject matches up with the verb. When you eliminate
the phrase, you get the crowd were. That doesn’t
match. The crowd is a singular subject, and were is
a plural verb. So B is the correct answer.
Step 4: If all else fails, go with E.
Again, remember that about one-fifth of answers to Identifying
Sentence Errors questions are E, no error. Sometimes
you’ll read the sentence, eliminate the error-free underlined parts,
and find that you’ve crossed out every single underlined part. If
this happens, don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t force yourself
to find an error where none exists. Mark it E.