That’s What is Literally Written
In the SAT Identifying Sentence Errors section, students need to recognize appropriate and logical relationships between different parts of a sentence. It requires that the literal meaning of the sentence is logical and unambiguous. However, nonsense in the sentence can be easily overlooked since your brain will interpret it for you and you will subconsciously realize what the writer intends to mean. You have to be able to see that the sentence is, in fact, literally wrong even when you can understand it.
9. Dangling participle
There are two kinds of participles: present participle and past participle. A participial phrase is a group of words that begins with a participle.Whenever a sentence starts with a participial phrase followed by a comma, the subject of the clause after the comma must also be the subject of the participial phrase.
- Present participle (e.g. eating, dreaming): used in active voice
Floating in the swimming pool, I slept under the soft moon light.
(I floated in the swimming pool. I slept under the soft moon light.)
- Past participle (e.g. eaten, dreamed): used in passive voice
Encouraged by the enthusiasm of her fans, Helen sang a song on the stage.
(Helen was encouraged by the enthusiasm of her fans. Helen sang a song on the stage.)
A participle is dangling when the participial phrase in the sentence has no proper subject. That is, the participial phrase does not modify the subject after the comma.
×Arriving at the station, the last train had left.
“The last train” is the subject being modified by “arriving at the station”. That is clearly not what the speaker means, but that is what the sentence is literally saying. The sentence should be:
√Arriving at the station, I had missed the last train.
10. Diction Error
A diction error is using an incorrect word for the meaning that the writer intends. In the SAT, the wrong word is spelled almost the same as the word that should be used. Note that a diction error is not a spelling one since that wrong word does exist. It tests if students will mix up words which have different meaning but similar spelling. Again, this can be easily overlooked as your brain automatically figures out the actual meaning for you.
11. Redundancy (e.g. “annually each year”)
Redundancy is easy to miss because it does not affect the meaning of the sentence. It is inconspicuous when there are multiple distractors in a complex sentence.
Watch out for the “no error” option
Don’t go crazy second-guessing every underlined option. If you have checked that each of them does not commit any of the 11 commonly tested errors, it is very likely that the sentence contains no error. Remember there are usually 3 “no error” answers out of the 18 questions.
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(Next Tue: Improving Sentences)