One of the things you should be doing this summer if you want to improve your critical reading skills is making sure to read some sophisticated writing (newspapers, magazines, books) every day. You should be doing your best to understand the arguments made (if possible, by discussing what you read with others), and you should be making flashcards for words you don’t know.

You should also keep your eyes peeled for the occasional grammar error. Why? Because once in a while, even in sophisticated writing, you’ll find one. And if you do, I’ll give you a Math Guide. Yeah, seriously.

The rules
  • To submit a grammar error, leave a comment in this post with a link and an explanation of the error.
  • I want real, SAT-tested grammar errors, not just writing style you don’t like. If the SAT doesn’t test it, it doesn’t count. I’m looking for stuff like:
  • Wikipedia doesn’t count. Neither does your own blog, or your friend’s blog. Message boards are so far from counting it’s not even funny. I could do another contest about finding 10 posts in a row on a message board with flawless grammar. That one might actually be harder.
  • Spelling errors and obvious typographical errors, while fun to point out, don’t count for this contest. I know I’ve accepted a few since this contest began, but the SAT doesn’t test spelling errors, or even hold your own against you in the essay.
  • Newspapers and Magazines definitely DO count. So do books, but you’re going to have to find a way to link to them. Maybe you snap a picture of the error and the book cover and submit the images?
  • If your submission contains bad grammar in dialog because that’s how a character speaks, “that don’t count.”
  • Anything that doesn’t fit the above descriptions can also be submitted, but whether it counts will be at my discretion. For example, if you show me a short story on McSweeney’s that contains a run-on that seems to me like it was done on purpose for stylistic reasons, that doesn’t count. But if that same story contained a dangling modifier, it’d count.
  • Once an error has been submitted, it can’t be submitted again. Neither can a reprint of it. (For example, AP stories end up in a bunch of different newspapers, but once the story’s been submitted from one paper’s sites, that same story can’t be resubmitted from another paper’s site.)
  • If you win once, you can’t win again.
  • If you’re not in the US, you can win but you have to pay for shipping.
  • Contest ends August 31, 2012.

UPDATE: This was emailed to me instead of left in the comments, but I wanted to add it to the post as an illustration of what I’m looking for.

From the New York Times: Lana Peters, Stalin’s Daughter, Dies at 85, 6th paragraph:

“Long after fleeing her homeland, she seemed to be still searching for something — sampling religions, from Hinduism to Christian Science, falling in love and constantly moving. Her defection took her from India, through Europe, to the United States. After moving back to Moscow in 1984, and from there to Soviet Georgia, friends told of her going again to America, then to England, then to France, then back to America, then to England again, and on and on. All the while she faded from the public eye.”

That’s a dangling modifier, folks. Her friends didn’t move back to Moscow and then to Soviet Georgia. Nice work to the anonymous reader who sent that one in.

Comments (85)

Sorry, that comma’s optional, not forbidden. I could say, “I’m tired, but happy.” I could also say, “I’m tired but happy.” Both are OK.

Keep looking, though! I’m hoping to give away a BUNCH of Math Guides this way. 

The Purdue OWL (a fantastic resource) allows for the use of a comma before a conjunction in the case of “extreme contrast.” In your example we have enthusiasm flagging and then picking up, which is a contrast. It’s reasonable to debate whether it’s extreme contrast or not, but I’m not really interested in doing so. 🙂

I’ll give you a book because you’ve clearly done your homework. I’ll shoot you an email to get your shipping address.

Just fyi for anyone taking the ACT, the comma is considered wrong for “and’ + “but” on that test. In real life, it’s optional.

And btw, I’ve seen a couple of subject-verb agreement (subject-prep phrase-verb) problems recently in the NYT. The NYT! I was scandalized. If I see another one, I’ll put it up. But don’t worry Mike, I don’t need another math book. Trust me;)

Was just thumbing through The Elements of Style, which many consider the ultimate authority on matters such as these, and thought of this conversation. Here’s the relevant quote:

“When the subject is the same for both clauses and is expressed only once, a comma is useful if the connective is but. When the connective is and, the comma should be omitted if the relation between the two statements is close or immediate.”

There don’t have to be quotation marks if it’s not a direct quote. For example, I could get off the phone with my mom and tell my brother that my mom says everything’s good back home. I could also report that my mom said “everything’s good here at home,” but that would be optional. Keep looking!  Then Friday delivered the third slower jobs report in a row, which qualifies as a depressing trend. Shouldn’t the sentence be changed because the comparative slower means two things are being prepared and here this is talking about all the recent jobs reports.

I’ll agree with you that it’s awkward wording, but it’s not a grammar error. What he’s trying to say is that each consecutive jobs report has been slower than the one before it. You could say something like “This Friday’s jobs report was the slowest one yet,” but that might imply comparison to more jobs reports than the author is really looking at here.

How about some mistakes from the test source? Considering the stupid College Board website is DOWN ON THE DAY WE’RE SUPPOSED TO GET SCORES BACK, let’s look at their “system is down” message:

Starting with “Sorry we’re closed for maintenance!” Where are your commas, College Board?! Also, “In the meanwhile” should be just “Meanwhile” or “In the meantime.” Not sure these are “real, SAT-tested grammar errors,” though, so…just venting!

Hah. Idiomatic phrases are tough to judge because they evolve and just because something’s uncommon doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but you’re definitely right that “In the meanwhile” is not very common. Since you’re taking a nice dig at CB in the process, I’ll award it a book.

Yes! That’s definitely not a well-formed list. It’s even better if you look at the whole sentence:

“Garfield, Stone and their “Amazing Spider-Man” co-stars Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary will join New Yorkers Tuesday in various projects, including serving food to senior citizens in Manhattan, beautifying a Bronx community garden and mentoring students in Queens and working on a day-long web of community services on Staten Island.”

The list starts off well, then dive-bombs into fail. Nice catch!

Send me an email (mike -at- with your shipping address!

First article after reading the challenge 🙂 Correct me if i’m wrong, but shouldn’t

“an Federal Trade Commision attorney”

“A Federal Trade Commision Attorney”?

[Dana Barragate, an Federal Trade Commission attorney, acknowledged in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that some dishonest people will no doubt try to game the system and apply for a partial refund for shoes they didn’t buy.]


“Still, advocates were
critical of everything from the provocative title — “The Rise of Asian
Americans” — to the survey conclusions that Asian-Americans are
wealthier, more educated and “more satisfied with their lives, finances
and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other
Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.”

Isn’t this sentence a run-on?
Americansdo on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.”

The sentence contains an unparallel list. “their lives, finances, and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans…” Lives, finances, and direction are all nouns; however, place is a verb. It seems as though it is better to separate the latter part of the sentence. Correct?

Close enough 🙂

My issue with it is the “they” before place. The list you refer to is really a part of a list inside another list, about things Asian Americans “are” according to the study. Regardless, it’s a sloppy bit of text, and the author really should have just reworded instead of trying to shoe-horn in that quote.

“When forensic etymologist Dr. Neal Haskell completed his evaluation of the insect evidence at the crime scene, it also dovetailed with Caylee’s body being deposited in the swamp during that midsummer period. Dr. Haskell discovered something else interesting as well, but to explain it I have to talk a little about bugs”

This error is from the book “Imperfect Injustice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony. There is a diction error on page 163, where the author uses the word etymologist instead of entomologist when he was talking about insects. Etymologist is someone who studies the origin of words! What’s funny is that this error appears twice!

“Meaning it’s increasingly possible that what you see is becoming less and less representative of what life is actually like.”

Is that a ‘dangling modifier’? Should the sentence be this instead:

This means it’s increasingly possible that what you see is becoming less and less representative of what life is actually like.

Could the previous sentence could be joined with a comma to strengthen the clarity and cohesiveness of the sentence in context?,0,3322767.story

You know, the more I look at this the more I’m not sure it’s an actual grammatical error or a style I just hate. I don’t like the use of “meaning” as a transitional word, especially when it’s separated from the stuff-that-means-something by a new paragraph. If “meaning” was replaced by a traditional transitional phrase (like “In other words,”) I’d have no problem with it.

Anyway, I’ll email you to get your shipping address.

“One worry, several officers said, is that these air operations have become essential, necessary for ground units that are operating in contested areas of Afghanistan and hoping to maintain influence, or even survive.”
I found this to be an extremely confusing sentence and I think that the error is in parallelism; the verb in one part of the list is “to maintain” but the other is “survive” which don’t match.
I also don’t think the use of the participle is correct. It seems that the author was trying to use the participle with an auxiliary verb but there is no “to be” in this portion of the sentence. A “that hope to” instead of “and hoping to” would make the sentence much clearer.

Wow…this is quite a sentence, huh? I agree with you that it could have used a bit of editing, but I don’t agree that there are actual grammatical errors.

The use of “hoping” is OK, because it’s parallel to “operating,” and the officers in question are doing both—operating in contested areas and hoping to maintain influence.

The lack of a “to” in front of “survive” is OK, too. Once “to” is used in the beginning of a list, it doesn’t need to be used again. For example, I could say “I went away for the weekend to camp, swim, and eat bbq.” Another example with an even more similar structure: “I was hoping to win the race, or even finish in any place but last.” I don’t need another “to” in front of “finish,” because I’ve established it with “to win.”

Okay that makes much more sense now, thank you for clarifying! And can I try again?
This article, in the second to last paragraph, says the following, “Providing food is costly, and males do not waste their efforts on babies unlikely to reproduce their genes”. The pronoun their seems to be ambiguous because it’s unclear if it refers to the male’s genes or the offspring’s genes.

Alright…now you’re talking. I think the author of this piece would tell you that he meant the male’s genes, since the males are the ones expending effort to protect the offspring and biology tells us that gene reproduction is their motivation. Still, you’re right, the sentence could use a little clarification, and the SAT does test sentences like this. Nice work!

Still boisterous, Borgnine made a rare concession to age at 88 when he gave up driving the bus he would take around the country, stopping to talk with local folks along the way.
Is there a dangling modifier in there?
Should it be worded like this?
Still boisterous, Borgnine made a rare concession to age at 88 when he gave up driving the bus he would take around the country, in which he stopped to talk to local folks along the way.

The modifier there is “still boisterous,” but it’s not dangling because it’s followed immediately by “Borgnine,” who is indeed the person being described as still boisterous.

The rest of the sentence is pretty awkward, and I’d rework the whole thing into multiple sentences if I were editing the piece, but I don’t think it’s wrong, at least not in an SAT-tested way. The whole “stopping to talk…” part is just extra information telling us what Borgnine did with his bus.

Oh, thank you for the clarification on that. I thought that sounded a bit awkward, haha.

Would this be a better submission?

“Chaos broke out on a Malmo Aviation flight bound for Mallorca on Friday when an obviously distraught stewardess announced that the plane was experiencing technical problems and had be granted permission for an emergency landing.”

The sentence has a verb error, and the past perfect verb part should be changed to “… and had been granted permission for an emergency landing.”


“Jackson’s father, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., told a Chicago television station on Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to provide more information about his son’s condition. He would only say that he was regaining strength and “going through a tremendous challenge.”

I believe the word only is a misplaced modifier as it should be placed after the word say rather than before it. The Friendliest Catch “Looks like the “Deadliest Catch” crew have some competition in the sea. Or maybe not.”

Isn’t crew a singular noun (like a collective noun such as team or family)? So it should be the crew has some competition.

The point of this contest (other than to give away free books) is to encourage you to read more high-level writing. With all due respect to The Soup, it’s not exactly a paragon of composition. You’re correct that there’s a verb agreement error in that sentence, but I’m looking for more sophisticated sources. Keep looking!

This is incredibly poor writing, so I’m going to give you a book even though I think, after reading it a few times, that it’s not actually grammatically incorrect. The same idea could have been expressed so much more clearly!

Suggested revision:

“The Midwest will not see rain until the middle of next week, at the earliest.”
Here’s a pronoun error in the first Paragraph, last sentence:

Now, EACH of these women are struggling to come to terms with both THEIR grief and THEIR gratitude.”

The word ‘each’ takes the place of a singular pronoun, and so the word ‘their’ should be replaced with ‘her’.
I hope these women will be able to continue to cherish their life and live happily.

I never thought a tragedy like this would happen.
Thank you for the fast response and a chance at this awesome giveaway! Hope you’re having a fantastic summer :]

“The disguise was a basic black mask showing his eyes,” Chief Deputy Randy Christian said in an email to The Huffington Post. “The employees recognized him immediately by his eyes and the poor attempt he made at trying to disguising his voice and the way he was dressed. In fact, at first they told him to stop joking before they realized he was serious.”

Shouldn’t it be “trying to disguise his voice”, not “trying to disguising his voice”?,0,6135070.story Rainer Reinscheid in April sent two emails to his wife and another to
himself, threatening to kill the assistant principal of University High
School, shoot hundreds of students and burn the school to the ground in a
“firestorm that destroys every single building.”

I believe a comma is missing. It should be “Rainer Reinscheid, in April, sent two emails…”. I’m not sure if this will count. I hope it does!,0,337009.story

“By fall, as the remaining voters make their choices, the din of the
campaigns, the presidential debates and whatever other news develops can
be expected to drown out any but the most dramatic economic statistics.”

Not sure what kind of error this would be but “can
be expected to drown out any but the most dramatic economic statistics.” just doesn’t sound right.

I think there was a problem posting this link up yesterday. Might as well give it a shot.,0,6135070.story

Rainer Reinscheid in April sent two emails to his wife and another to
himself, threatening to kill the assistant principal of University High
School, shoot hundreds of students and burn the school to the ground in a
“firestorm that destroys every single building.”

“Rainer Reinscheid in April sent two emails to his wife and another to
himself,” — Shouldn’t there be a comma separating the man’s name and “sent two e-mails”. It should look something like: Rainer Reinscheid, in April, sent two emails…”. Or the sentence structure should be changed up a bit.

Yeah, sorry. Because the comments for this contest have links in them, they all get caught up in comment moderation and have to ba approved before they appear on site. I’m on vacation, so it took me a while to get to yours.

I think a few commas would make this sentence easier to read, but I’m not sure that they’re necessary, grammatically. “in April” is a prepositional phrase, and those don’t need to be set off by commas. For example, you could say “the snake in the tank hissed at me” and you don’t need to set off “in the tank” with commas. I think it comes down to whether the writer/editor believes the prepositional phrase is essential (that is, whether the sentence would still convey the same meaning without it). In this case, the time frame in which the emails were sent is pretty important, so I’d say a case could be made for this being an essential inclusion. In that case, commas are not necessary.

Here’s a page I found that I thought explained comma use in journalism fairly well:

In case you haven’t realized, I’ve been really trying to get this thing done! I believe I have finally found an article that wreaks of grammatical errors. It IS a blog, however, its on ABC news, so hopefully it counts.

Before hospitals because the go-to-places for giving birth, having a
baby at home was considered the norm. Now, with celebrities including
Giselle Bundchen and Jennifer Connelly publicly announcing they opted
for a home birth, the method is increasing becoming more popular.

The third word doesn’t belong in the sentence. The author also added “increasing” when she shouldn’t have in “the method is increasing becoming more popular.” I believe this would also be a dangling modifier. Correct?

It would be really embarrassing if this failed to do the job >.<.

Hi Michael,

I’m so sorry…somehow this comment got flagged as spam and I didn’t see it until today when I was going through the spam filter looking for exactly stuff like this: posts that aren’t spam but got flagged that way. This is an example of terrible (or no) copy editing, and I’ll grant you a book for it (even though it is a blog. 🙂

You’re right, but no, that’s just an online quiz. I’m looking for errors that actually made it past editors. This contest has 2 purposes: 1) to encourage you to read sophisticated writing this summer, and 2) to sharpen your eye for subtle grammar errors.

Phew..I found this error in Times Magazine, but I’m not sure if it is considered a grammatical error. It’s in the most recent issue, on page 23.
“In 1984 he founded Bain Capital…”
It should be: ” In 1984, he founded Bain Capital…”
There should be a comma after the year. This isn’t a huge error, but still worth a try. 😉
Is this contest over by the end of the summer? When would that be?
Thank you for your time!!

The SAT doesn’t test this…it’s more a style thing than a hard-and-fast rule. But now you’re looking in the right kind of places! The contest ends 8/31…see the rules above for all the conditions.

Sigh. Well, this contest sure is working. I am reading about politics, which I never read about. I’ll continue trying to find something. So far nothing in Time; it’s unbeatable. 😐

Hi, here’s another one! It’s from the New York Times. In the link it says “blogs”, but this page is considered an article. Does this follow the conditions?
In the 4th paragraph: “True, they can learn language, even more than one; sorting out words and syntax…”
Shouldn’t it be: “True, they can learn A language…”?
Shouldn’t there be an article in front of “language”?

Hi, sorry for bothering you again..but are the above two posts correct though? Would you find them in the SATs?
Thank you very much! I get a bit annoying sometimes..

No, these aren’t the kind of things you’d find on the SAT. OversizeD is probably the way it should be written, but the SAT doesn’t trade in missing letters.

On the SAT grammar questions, you’re basically looking for verb disagreement, pronoun problems, dangling modifiers, run-on sentences, parallelism, and the occasional diction or idiom error. Those are very difficult to spot in published writing because professional writers don’t make those mistakes and even if they do editors usually catch them, but as you can see from all the comments in this thread, errors do sometimes slip through. 🙂

Here’s another one. It’s in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. Page 32. I’m not sure if you’d see it on the SATs though.
It’s in the end of the first paragraph/sentence: “…then you’re allowed to leave before the second act and go get an oversize pretzel.”
It should be “an oversizeD pretzel.”
I hope this one works!
those of us believe that God is rather important and grander than any
crown, then women should march to church in their ballgowns and finest
jewellery, while men should turn up in white or black tie.”

Is there a dangling modifier error in this sentence? Also, although it is reasonable to assume the writer is referring “their” to women, it is a little bit ambiguous.

Nope…no dangling modifier there…just an if…then statement. He is missing a “who” between us and believe, but that’s not the kind of error I’m looking for here. How is “their” ambiguous? Who else’s ballgowns and fine jewelry are we talking about?

This is not a brilliant piece of writing. It would benefit from a once-over by an editor. But I’m not seeing SAT-type grammar errors.

As someone who writes a lot, I know exactly how an error like this happens. You decide to change “could also be” to “is also” and you just get distracted for a split second and then boom, someone wins a book at your expense. Nice find.

Pronoun error. It should read either “We want to celebrate our thirty year anniversary” or “Hmart wants to celebrate its thirty year anniversary.” Also, there is a modifier problem in the sentence “One grand prize winner… … American dream.”

That’s a pronoun error alright, but store signage or promotional material doesn’t count as sophisticated writing. Thank goodness, because all one needs to do is walk down any city block in New York to spot a grammar error in a store front window. :/
From the 11th paragraph:
“His campaign could not answer questions that have arisen — first in The Washington Examiner — about whether he represented the pharmaceutical trade group, Phrma, given that he had been a vocal advocate of President Bush’s 2003 prescription drug benefit for the elderly. Now often criticized by conservatives as a costly expansion of Medicare — and thus, potentially problematic for Mr. Gingrich — many Republicans supported the measure at the time as a way to increase prescription coverage by relying on the private market.”

There is a dangling modifier problem because it is the measure that is often criticized by conservatives, not the Republicans.

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