Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Learn about the errors that are commonly made on the proofreading section of the SAT.
Table of contents

In this article, you will find:

Page 1

Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Each grammatical category begins with sentences that illustrate the different ways that particular error can occur. You will get much more benefit from the remainder of this chapter if you try to identify the errors yourself before reading the explanations that follow. Use a pencil to mark up the sentences; use the bracket technique.

Pronoun Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • Madeline is a better badminton player than me even though she learned the game only a few months ago.
  • Between you and I, I'm not sure whether our gym teacher can tie his own shoes much less lead us in calisthenics drills.
  • The enthusiastic participants in the state fair's pie-eating contest, which ranged in age from seven to nearly seventy, all said that they had eaten nothing that morning.
  • A paradox is a situation when an apparently reasonable statement leads to contradictory or inexplicable conclusions.
As I mentioned earlier, pronoun problems are a major source of errors on the SAT Writing Test. To keep this category a reasonable size, I deal with ambiguous pronouns under the ambiguity category and singular-plural pronoun problems in the singular-plural category. (Again, this classification scheme is for our discussion purposes only; I could have classified things differently.) This category consists of using the wrong pronoun for the noun it refers to, and here I've included two different types of this error.

The first two illustrations are variations of subject-object pronoun errors. This error occurs when we use a subject pronoun or object pronoun when the other was required.

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns

I me
you you
we us
he him
she her
they them
who whom

We use subject pronouns when they do things (I hit the ball) and object pronouns when they receive the action either of a verb (I hit the ball) or a preposition (the ball is under me). In certain sentence constructions, these distinctions can be confusing. Once we work through the illustrations you'll understand the principle behind this grammatical rule and it will be much easier to apply on the SAT.

In the first illustration, you wouldn't say Madeline is better than me is, would you? Of course not; you'd say, Madeline is better than I am. So a longer, correct version of the sentence is Madeline is a better badminton player than I am, which we can shorten to Madeline is a better badminton player than I. The same distinction would have been apparent if we had reversed the order of the words without changing the meaning. I am a worse badminton player than Madeline (not Me is a worse badminton player than Madeline).

In the second illustration, the word "between" is a preposition. Objects of prepositions require an object pronoun (me) not a subject pronoun (I). What's confusing the issue here is that the phrase "you and I" is usually heard (correctly) as a subject (you and I are friends; let's you and I go to the movie). The word "you" can also be an object (you hit the ball; the ball hit you), and in this instance "you" is the object of the preposition, too.

Let's consider a different context in which the distinction will be more obvious. Would you say "Paul stands by I" or "Paul stands by me?" The preposition "by" requires the object pronoun: me. If you're a little shaky on identifying prepositions, a quick review of our discussion on page 5 of The SAT Proofreading and Edition Section: Basic Principles would be a good idea. The second sentence should begin, Between you and me, I'm not sure whether ...

Deleting, substituting, and reversing the order of certain words in a sentence are powerful techniques to clear up grammatical confusion when you're uncertain about the correctness of a particular word or phrase in a question.

Before we leave the topic of subject and object pronouns, the ever-popular is-it-who-or-whom question has not yet been tested on the SAT. Explaining when to use "who" and when to use "whom" can cause confusion, so let it suffice to say that the basic rule is that you'd use "who" whenever you'd reply—if it were a question—he or she, and "whom" whenever you'd reply him or her.

The third sentence illustrates the use of one pronoun when the noun requires another. The participants are people, so the pronoun "who" is required, not "which."

The fourth illustration is not strictly a pronoun error but it is closely analogous to the pronoun error we just discussed. Be careful about the incorrect substituting of the words "when" or "where" for the pronouns "who" or "which." Perhaps this error occurs because all these words are short and begin with "w." In any event, the word "when" refers to a time, but the context of this sentence requires the pronoun which: A paradox is a situation in which an apparently reasonable statement leads to contradictory or inexplicable conclusions.

Related Errors
If this type of error tends to trip you up, you should also review the following categories:

  • ambiguity
  • singular-plural errors