Most students do know the syntactic rules of singular and plural forms of nouns and verbs. For example, when the subject is singular, the verb needs to be singular. However, this is still one of the most common grammatical mistakes they make.
One problem is that students are not alert enough. In the SAT sub-section Identifying Sentence Errors, not only the answer but the other underlined choices are also relevant to the 11 common grammatical errors mentioned last Tuesday. In fact, these are grammatical mistakes students often make in their writing. Thus, as they practice Identifying Sentence Errors, they gain the benefit of raising their alertness toward these in their own writing. Remember, the SAT writing section is structured with buildable inter-related sub-sections. Improving one sub-section will help improve the others.
Identifying sentence errors→Improving sentences → Improving paragraphs → Writing an essay
Another problem, as mentioned last Tuesday, is that students have difficulty in analyzing complicated sentence structures.
Let’s see how the test typically complicates sentences with multiple clauses and phrases while following the same simple grammar rules that students are familiar with.
1. Disagreement in number (singular/plural)
1a. Subject/Verb disagreement in number
The grammatical number of the main verb depends on whether the “noun head” of the subject, rather than the word right before the verb, is singular or plural.
First of all, students need to learn the concept of a “noun head”, that is the core noun of a noun phrase. The other parts of a noun phrase serve to provide more information on the noun head. These parts can be articles, adjectives, prepositional phrases, participle phrases, relative clauses, etc.
1b. Noun/Pronoun disagreement in number
To determine if a singular or plural pronoun should be used, students need to identify which noun phrase the pronoun refers to. This can be easily found out by interpreting the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The transport department has introduced pictorial traffic signs because drivers react to this significantly more quickly than to verbal ones.” Obviously, drivers react to “pictorial traffic signs” but not “the transport department”. It is also only logical to compare their reaction to “pictorial traffic signs” with “verbal traffic signs”. Hence, “these” should be used instead of “this”.
Note that collective nouns such as “audience”, “committee”, “staff” and “majority” usually require singular pronouns and verbs, except when the members of the group are acting individually.
- The team goes to the football field for practice every Saturday.
- The team went back to their homes.
1c. Noun/Noun disagreement in number
When referring to a noun phrase using another one, students need to maintain consistent grammatical number between the two.
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(Next Tue: Identifying Sentence Errors cont'd)