Four Steps and Seven Screw-Ups
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:
  1. Pronouns
  2. Subject-Verb Agreement
  3. Tenses
  4. Parallelism
  5. Adverbs and Adjectives
  6. Gerunds
  7. Idioms, 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.
Step 1 Read the sentence and try to hear the screw-up.
Step 2 Eliminate underlined choices that you know are correct.
Step 3 Check for screw-ups among the remaining choices.
Step 4 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.


It’ll 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 over time.
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 are correct.
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 answer choices.
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.
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