Posts tagged with: Sentence Improvement

I got a comment on an old post about Error ID strategies (one of the first posts I ever put up) asking me to clarify the relationship between Comparison Errors and possession. I figured that, since it’s been a while since I wrote about writing at all, I’d oblige, — and go a bit further. I aim to please, you know.

The easiest and snappiest way to describe a comparison error is to say that it compares apples to oranges. If you’re faced with a sentence that doesn’t compare two things of the same kind, you’re faced with a faulty comparison and you need to either mark it as the error (in Error ID) or fix it (in Sentence Improvement).

Some faulty comparisons examples:

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer, which had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric’s history textbook looks like it hasn’t been opened all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter’s lyrics.

Because faulty comparisons are fairly easy to spot in simple sentences, the writers of the SAT will usually hide them in more complex sentences, and will often try to slip one by you by comparing someone’s stuff to someone else. Here are the same sentences as above, with the actual things being compared in underlined and in bold.

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer, which had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric’s history textbook looks like it hasn’t been opened all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter’s lyrics.

This is why I like to tell students to watch out anytime an “‘s” exists in a sentence. If that “‘s” indicates possession, there’s a decent chance that it’s setting up a faulty comparison between someone’s stuff, and someone else.

Let’s fix all those sentences, huh?

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer‘s battery; my old computer had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey‘s does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric appears not to have opened his history textbook all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than is the one on my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter.

Of course, there are many ways to fix each of these. What matters is that I’ve made all the comparisons consistent, and not created any other errors in the process.

Remember: always compare people to people and things to things; never compare a person to another person’s STUFF.

A quick note before we begin: I’m positively elated to have teamed up with Tumblr all-star The YUNiversity for this post! Everybody knows that eye-popping visuals are a great boon to students trying to learn otherwise dry material, and nobody does them better. If you like the illustrations he provided for this post, you simply must make a habit of checking his site every day. He’s amazing.

Ok, now. If you want to understand run-on sentences, first you have to understand the difference between a sentence and a fragment. Both are similar in that they contain a subject and a verb, but a sentence can stand on its own as a complete thought, and a fragment cannot. Fragments seem to end abruptly, and leave you wanting to ask something like “…and then what?” To make things super clear in this post, in the examples below complete thoughts will be in green and fragments will be in brown.#

It’s easier to show this than to try to describe it, so here are some fragments. As you look them over, ask yourself “What is it about these that prevents them from standing alone as complete sentences?”

  • even though his fans booed him
  • when the cows come home
  • because her mother was in jail for grand theft auto
  • while you were sleeping
  • to whomever the taser belonged

None of the above are complete thoughts — they’re the beginnings or the ends of thoughts, but mean very little on their own. On the SAT, if you see a fragment trying to be a sentence all by itself, you have to fix it. Fragments are always wrong on the SAT.

A run-on (or “comma splice,” if you like) is kinda the opposite problem. If you come across a comma that’s separating two complete thoughts, that’s a run-on. Like fragments, run-ons are always wrong and you need to fix them.

A run-on looks like this:
Two complete thoughts separated by a comma? NO ME GUSTA.
To fix a run-on:

USE CONJUNCTIONS.
(FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

WRONG: My father smokes cigars, everything in our house smells like cigars.
RIGHT: My father smokes cigars, so everything in our house smells like cigars.

WRONG: The other day my favorite episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on, I didn’t watch it.
RIGHT: The other day my favorite episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on, but I didn’t watch it.

WRONG: Corey stayed up until 2:00 AM last night, she’s feeling very tired today as a result.
RIGHT: Corey stayed up until 2:00 AM last night, and she’s feeling very tired today as a result.

USE SEMICOLONS.
(BE CAREFUL!!! On the SAT, semicolons REQUIRE complete thoughts on either side.
If there’s a fragment on one side of the semicolon, it’s wrong.)

WRONG: Make sure your zombie survival hideout is stocked with weapons that can pierce a human skull, the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain.
RIGHT: Make sure your zombie survival hideout is stocked with weapons that can pierce a human skull; the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain.

WRONG: The hardest part of the SAT for many students is its length, the test is almost four hours long.
RIGHT: The hardest part of the SAT for many students is its length; the test is almost four hours long.

WRONG: Yesterday I played laser tag, I won first place three times in a row against a bunch of 14 year olds.
RIGHT: Yesterday I played laser tag; I won first place three times in a row against a bunch of 14 year olds.

BREAK THE KNEECAPS OF ONE SIDE (CLAUSE FIX).
(If one side isn’t a complete thought anymore, problem solved!)

WRONG: Students at Brown University call themselves Brunonians, it’s weird.
RIGHT: Students at Brown University call themselves Brunonians, which is weird.

WRONG: The flashing lights kept me up at night, I had to move the router out of my bedroom.
RIGHT: Because the flashing lights kept me up at night, I had to move the router out of my bedroom.

WRONG: The developers’ commentary in Portal 2 is very enjoyable, however* players should play through the game without it first.
RIGHT: Although the developers’ commentary in Portal 2 is very enjoyable, players should play through the game without it first.

* The word “however” is NOT a conjunction and cannot be used to fix a run-on. If it’s not one of the FANBOYS, don’t use it as a conjunction. Click here for more on words like “however.”

USE A PERIOD.
(In real life, yes of course. On the SAT Sentence Improvement section though, this is never an option. The sentence you’re improving is always going to remain ONE sentence.)

Shall we summarize?

On the SAT Sentence Improvement section, when you see a comma (yes, every time) you must ask yourself:

Read about Dangling Modifiers, Broseph.

And don’t forget! Whenever you see a semicolon, you must ask yourself:

Think you’ve got all this? Try a drill, brochacho!

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# What we’re really talking about here, if you want to get technical, is the difference between dependent and independent clauses. A dependent clause DEPENDS on something, so it can’t stand on its own. Dependent clauses are fragments. Independent clauses can stand on their own as complete sentences. Every time you see “complete thought” in this post, we’re really talking about an independent clause. As for the color schemeindependent clauses are green, and dependent clauses are brown

While it’d be great if we were all consummate grammarians, you don’t need to be one to score very well on the SAT writing section. You just need to know how to spot the most commonly tested errors, and (on Sentence Improvement and Paragraph Improvement, anyway) fix them. I’ve made mention of Dangling Modifiers before in my general Sentence Improvement post, but I thought it’d be nice to devote an entire post to the little buggers since 1) they’re fairly common, 2) they’re easy to spot with a little practice, and 3) they’re easy to solve once you’ve spotted them (again, with a little practice).

Rather than try to describe exactly what a Dangling Modifier right this minute, let’s just have a look at one:

  1. Believing for the first time that she could win the race, Amy’s speed increased despite her utter exhaustion.
     

    1. Amy’s speed increased despite her utter exhaustion
    2. Amy found the strength to increase her speed despite her exhaustion
    3. Amy’s utter exhaustion did not stop her from speeding up
    4. her exhaustion could not stop Amy from running faster
    5. Amy increasing her speed despite being exhausted

So, first of all, what’s the modifier? A modifier sets the scene for the sentence by giving you some extra information about the subject of the sentence. In this case, it’s “Believing for the first time that she could win the race,” because it’s giving you background about Amy’s motivation for increasing her speed. A modifier often (but not always) has an -ing or an -ed word in it, and always ends with a comma. Commas are of fundamental importance in Sentence improvement for a number of reasons, one of which is that they signify modifiers. When you see a comma in a Sentence Completion question, check whether it follows a modifier.

How do you check? If the sentence fragment before the comma lends itself to a “who” or “what” question, the answer to which could be the subject of the sentence, it’s probably a modifier. In our specific case, we can ask “WHO believed for the first time that she could win the race?” the answer to which would be “Amy.”

Now here’s the awesome part: if you are able to identify a modifier before a comma, the subject must come right after the comma. If a modifier is not followed immediately by the subject, that’s a Dangling Modifier, and that’s BAD. So, who believed she could win the race? Amy. What needs to come after that comma? Amy. Not Amy’s speed, or Amy’s exhaustion. Just Amy. Cross off any choice that doesn’t begin with Amy. So you’re left choosing between (B) and (E). Note that (E) contains no main verb (and also contains the big suck: “being”), so the answer must be (B).

Here are a few more Dangling Modifier questions. Answers and explanations follow.

Don’t leave these hanging, bro.

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So, think you’ve got Dangling Modifiers all buttoned up now? The last piece of the puzzle is to be able to spot them in the wild; it’s too easy when you know each question in a drill is going to contain one. Try this 10 minute drill, which contains a few Dangling Modifiers, and a bunch of other Sentence Improvement questions. can you spot all the Dangling Modifiers?

I’ve done my best here to be faithful to the structure of an SAT section 10, although I’ve obviously been a bit loose with the subject matter. Since this is designed to mirror a section 10, though, you should time yourself on it. You’ll get 10 minutes to complete the last writing section on the real test, so you should give yourself 10 minutes to do this one.

Once you’re done, click the link to the answer key, which also contains brief explanations of why the wrong answers are wrong. If you’d like more of an explanation than is provided there, obviously feel free to leave a comment right here on this post.

When you’re ready to begin, click the link below. If you’d rather print this out and do it on paper, there’s a .pdf of it here. Good luck!

  1. Inside the glove compartment were legal documents, pictures, and there were a few napkins from the coffee shop, but no gloves.
    1. and there were a few napkins from the coffee shop, but no gloves.
    2. and there were a few napkins from the coffee shop, but not any gloves.
    3. and napkins from the coffee shop, no gloves were there.
    4. and napkins from the coffee shop, but no gloves.
    5. and napkins from the coffee shop, there were no gloves.
  2. Even though I have seen the movie countless times, I still laughed when the sheriff throws his mug.
    1. laughed when the sheriff throws his mug.
    2. laugh when the sheriff throws his mug.
    3. laugh when the sheriff threw his mug.
    4. laughed whenever the sheriff throws his mug.
    5. laugh when the sheriff will throw his mug.
  3. Yesterday, I fell down the stairs and then tried to act like I did so on purpose.
    1. Yesterday, I fell down the stairs and then
    2. Yesterday, I fell down the stairs, I
    3. I fell down the stairs yesterday, I
    4. After I fell down the stairs yesterday; I
    5. Falling down the stairs; I
  4. Fleeing the horde of zombies on foot, an apparently safe building became visible to the terrified couple.
    1. an apparently safe building became visible to the terrified couple.
    2. the terrified couple spotted a building that looked safe.
    3. a safe looking building was spotted by the terrified couple.
    4. the terrified couple’s luck changed when they spotted a safe looking building.
    5. their fear subsided somewhat when the terrified couple would spot a safe looking building.
  5. In many cultures, they consider fish eggs a delicacy.
    1. In many cultures, they consider fish eggs a delicacy.
    2. In many cultures, fish eggs are considered a delicacy.
    3. In many cultures, a delicacy is considered to be fish eggs.
    4. Fish eggs, a delicacy in many cultures.
    5. They consider fish eggs to be a delicacy in many cultures.
  6. The argument between Paarin and me about the dent in his car continued until the early morning.
    1. between Paarin and me about the dent in his car continued
    2. between Paarin and I about the dent in his car continued
    3. about the dent in his car continued for Paarin and I
    4. on the dent in his car between Paarin and me continued
    5. between Paarin and I on the dent in his car continued
  7. A consummate gentleman, Stefan’s etiquette and social grace was unmatched.
    1. Stefan’s etiquette and social grace was unmatched.
    2. Stefan’s etiquette and social grace were unmatched.
    3. Stefan’s etiquette as well as his social grace were unmatched.
    4. Stefan possessed unmatched etiquette and social grace.
    5. Stefan’s social grace was matched only by his etiquette.
  8. Most of my favorite movies contain slapstick humor, however physical comedy is not the only way to make me laugh.
    1. slapstick humor, however physical comedy is not
    2. slapstick humor, but physical comedy is not
    3. slapstick humor, and physical comedy is not
    4. slapstick humor; physical comedy is not
    5. slapstick humor, but it is not physical comedy that is
  9. There are many reasons to see I Heart Huckabees, Jason Schwartzman’s performance being one reason.
    1. Huckabees, Jason Schwartzman’s performance being one reason.
    2. Huckabees, Jason Schwartzman’s performance is only one of them.
    3. Huckabees; Jason Schwartzman’s performance, for one.
    4. Huckabees, the performance of Jason Schwartzman is one of them.
    5. Huckabees, including Jason Schwartzman’s performance.
  10. Lindsey knows that the reason people dislike her is because of her being a Philadelphia Phillies fan.
    1. is because of her being a
    2. is because she is a
    3. is that she is a
    4. is her being a
    5. is that of her being a
  11. A shockingly indelible moment, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out that Kurt Cobain had died.
    1. A shockingly indelible moment,
    2. A shocking, indelible moment,
    3. It was a shocking and indelible moment;
    4. Shocked and indelible,
    5. Shocking and I will never forget it,
  12. The popular SAT blogger’s website was better than his rival because of all the pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
    1. was better than his rival because of all the pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
    2. was better than that of his rival, it had more pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
    3. was better than his rival’s, but it had more pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
    4. was better than his rival’s, it had more pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
    5. was better than his rival’s because of all the pretty pictures and linked vocab words.
  13. Study the ancient fighting art of Hapkido and you will learn to avoid directly matching your strength against your opponent’s.
    1. your strength against your opponent’s.
    2. yours against your opponent.
    3. your strength against your opponent.
    4. your strength with your opponent.
    5. your opponent’s strength against one’s own.
  14. Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian king who is famous for his code of 282 laws which codified in great detail his “eye for an eye” philosophy and was written in the Akkadian language.
    1. Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian king who is famous for his code of 282 laws which codified in great detail his “eye for an eye” philosophy and was written in the Akkadian language.
    2. Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian king, famous for his code of 282 laws which codified in great detail his “eye for an eye” philosophy and was written in the Akkadian language.
    3. Hammurabi, famous for his code of 282 laws and an ancient Babylonian king, his “eye for an eye” philosophy was written in the Akkadian language.
    4. A famous ancient Babylonian king, Hammurabi, is best known for his “eye for an eye” philosophy codified in his code of 282 laws and being written in the Akkadian language.
    5. Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian king who is famous for his code of 282 laws which codified in great detail his “eye for an eye” philosophy, wrote in the Akkadian language.

All done? Click here for the answer key.
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2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) - 29

All the rules from Error ID still apply, but when you’re doing a Sentence Improvement question, you have to think about the following as well.

Run-On Sentences.

Since the only thing you need to know about Run-On Sentences on the SAT is that you can’t tie two independent clauses (translation: an independent clause could stand alone as a sentence) together with only a comma, you might sometimes see these called “comma splices.” There are basically 3 ways to fix them:

  • Conjunctions. And, but, or, nor, yet, so, for. NOT therefore, however, or because.
    • Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, Peter came with me.
    • Fixed: I went to the beach yesterday, and Peter came with me.
  • Semicolon. Unlike a comma, a semicolon requires an independent clause on both sides to be grammatically correct.
    • Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, the water was freezing.
    • Fixed: I went to the beach yesterday; the water was freezing.
  • Make a clause dependent. If neither of these are an option, you might just have to change the wording of whatever part of the sentence is underlined in order to fix a run-on.
    • Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, a lifeguard punched a shark in the nose!
    • Fixed: At the beach yesterday, a lifeguard punched a shark in the nose!

Dangling Modifiers.

A modifier begins a sentence by describing the subject without naming it, and ends with a comma. It will often (but not always) contain an “-ed” or “-ing” word. Basically, if the thing being described in the modifier doesn’t follow directly after the comma, the modifier is left “dangling,” and that’s grammatically unsound. You have to fix it. Some examples:

  • Bad: Because he had bet on the race, the horse disappointed Mr. Johnson a great deal.
  • Fixed: Because he had bet on the race, Mr. Johnson was greatly disappointed in the horse’s performance.
  • Bad: Excited for the concert, the auditorium shook with the noise from the crowd.
  • Fixed: Excited for the concert, the crowd made so much noise that the auditorium shook.
  • Bad: Fleeing the zombies, a safe-looking building appeared to the survivors.
  • Fixed: Fleeing the zombies, the survivors spotted a safe-looking building in the distance.

Concise Expression.

80% of the time, the correct answer in the Sentence Improvement section is either the shortest answer, or the second shortest. Longer answers can be wrong for any number of reasons, from improper use of the passive voice to redundant word choice, but the point is that if there’s nothing grammatically wrong with the shortest answer, it’s probably the right one. If you’re really stumped, then, it’s not a bad idea to Backsolve a Sentence Improvement question: start with the shortest choice, and move to the next shortest if that one doesn’t look good.

Oh, and One More Thing…

The word “being” is wrong something like 98% of the time. Again, it’s wrong for a number of different reasons (sometimes it’s a bad conjugation, sometimes it’s creating passive voice), but for whatever reason, I’ve only ever seen it in a correct choice like…once. When you see it, it’s almost definitely wrong. If you pick it, you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’. Don’t believe me? I’m not alone in saying so.

Think you’ve got this?

Try a full section 10 drill! Give yourself 10 minutes, and see if you can nail all 14 questions.