Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Idioms and Word Choice
You have a fairly good chance of seeing a few Writing section items that test proper use of vocabulary, or usage. For example, what’s wrong with the following sentence?

The film had a powerful affect on me.

Affect is not the word you need; effect is correct. Affect as a noun means “emotion” or “mood”; effect as a noun means “an outcome or result.” Affect as a verb means “to influence,” whereas effect as a verb means “to cause to occur.” A different example: noisome means “offensive smelling,” not noisy.
There are many tricky pairs and triads in English. Whether you’ll be faced with any particular one on the SAT is hard to predict. The best preparation is to sharpen your vocabulary. If you have some spare time, log on to www.sparknotes.com/ultimatestyle and check out our book SparkNotes Ultimate Style for a comprehensive list of commonly misused words.
Idioms are inherited quirks of language that we absorb without question but cause nonnative speakers endless trouble.
Here’s an idiom we’ve all used:

It wasn’t me.

Look at this grammatically. A pronoun that refers only to humans, me, is replacing a pronoun that refers only to inanimate objects, it.
Many idioms are meant to be taken figuratively. If you tell someone “I’m going to give you a piece of my mind,” most likely you will walk away from the conversation with your brain intact. Idioms have no rhyme or reason to them: you simply have to know their meaning. Listing all possible idioms you might see on the SAT would take up the rest of this book and is a pretty low-yield investment strategy, since you won’t see more than a couple of questions at most.
One particular type of idiom is more limited and more likely to be tested. The particular meaning of certain words requires the use of a particular preposition:
  • Incorrect She prefers skiing over snowboarding.
  • Correct She prefers skiing to snowboarding.
  • Incorrect I don’t have a favorable opinion toward Beethoven’s music.
  • Correct I don’t have a favorable opinion of Beethoven’s music.
Sometimes a word can be combined legitimately with more than one preposition, but the meaning will then shift. Knowing which preposition triggers which meaning is crucial to good usage:

My remark was meant as a joke.

You, my friend, are meant for greatness.

Meant as shows intent; meant for indicates a destination. A complete and relatively short list of such “prepositional idioms” can also be found in SparkNotes Ultimate Style.
Double Negatives
Finally, let’s consider double negatives. When we want to negate something, we use no or not:

I allow no talking in my class.

I don’t allow any talking in my class.

For reasons of redundancy and idiomatic preference, we don’t use no and not in the same sentences:

I don’t allow no talking in my class.

Words other than no and not can indicate negation. Here’s a list of those words with their positive counterparts (which are not necessarily their antonyms). Don’t use a negative word with not or no.
Negative Word Positive Counterpart Examples
never ever
  • Incorrect I don’t never eat meat.
  • Correct I never eat meat.
  • Correct I don’t ever eat meat.
none any
  • Incorrect I don’t want none.
  • Correct I want none.
  • Correct I don’t want any.
neither either
  • Incorrect I don’t want neither of those two puppies.
  • Correct I want neither of those two puppies.
  • Correct I don’t want either of those two puppies.
nor or
  • Incorrect I don’t want the puppy nor the kitten.
  • Correct I want neither the puppy nor the kitten.
  • Correct I don’t want the puppy or the kitten.
nothing anything
  • Incorrect I don’t want nothing from you.
  • Correct I want nothing from you.
  • Correct I don’t want anything from you.
no one anyone
  • Incorrect I can’t help no one.
  • Correct I can help no one.
  • Correct I can’t help anyone.
nobody anybody
  • Incorrect I don’t know nobody here.
  • Correct I know nobody here.
  • Correct I don’t know anybody here.
nowhere anywhere
  • Incorrect I can’t go nowhere with this cast on my leg.
  • Correct I can go nowhere with this cast on my leg.
  • Correct I can’t go anywhere with this cast on my leg.
Three other words are often involved in double negatives: hardly, scarcely, and barely.

I can’t hardly wait to get a new car. (Two negatives—can’t and hardly)

Believe it or not, this is not grammatically incorrect, but it has fallen out of favor. The preferred versions are:

I can hardly wait to get a new car. (One negative—hardly)

I can’t wait to get a new car. (One negative—can’t)

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