The 16 Categories of SAT Writing Error-Identification

Error-Identification Categories
1) Subject-Verb Agreement
2) Pronouns
3) Verbs
4) Adjective vs. Adverb
5) Parallelism
6) Prepositions
7) Comparatives vs. Superlatives
8) Double negatives/Double positives
9) Word Pairs
10) Complements
11) Who vs. Which
12) Faulty Comparisons
13) Coordinating Conjunctions
14) Usage
15) Dangling Modifiers
16) Redundancy

These categories form the essential structure of the Error-Identification section. Although you can expect to find errors from a number of categories included in each section, categories 1 & 2 (Subject-Verb Agreement and Pronoun Errors) generally appear most frequently. It is therefore recommended that you take some time to familiarize yourself with the kinds of sentence structures in which they appear. The remaining categories are listed in the approximate order of the frequency with which they appear.

In the examples below, the correct answers are given in parentheses.

Although some of the examples below are taken from actual SATs, the majority are simplified versions intended to illustrate the grammatical principle being tested.

1) Subject-Verb Agreement

A. Subject – Parenthetical clause – Verb

Ex: Galaxies, far from being randomly scattered throughout the galaxy, appears (appear) to be distributed in bubble-shaped patterns.

Whenever you encounter a parenthetical clause, cross it out and check subject-verb agreement

B. Subject – Prepositional phrase – Verb

Ex: Changes in the balance of trade seems (seem) remote from everyday concerns, but they can drastically affect how we spend our money.

If you don’t see an error the first time you read a sentence, try crossing out prepositional phrases and checking for subject-verb agreement.

C. (Prepositional Phrase) –Verb – Subject

Ex: Along the Loup Canal in Nebraska extend (extends) a series of parks, lakes, and trails owned and operated by the Loup power district.

D. There is/There are, There has/There have

There is/has = Singular

There has/have = Plural N

Ex: There has (have) been many questions raised about the handling of the company’s finances.


-Gerunds when used as subjects = Singular.

-Each and Every = Singular.

-A number (of) = Plural; The number = Singular

2) Pronouns

A. Pronoun Case

Ex: The teacher gave my friend and I (me) back our report.

Trick: What goes for singular, goes for plural

Would you say, ‘The teacher gave I back my report?’ Obviously not. So you wouldn’t say ‘the teacher gave my friend and I back our report’ either.

Subject Pronouns:





She He It One


Object Pronouns





Her Him It One


Any pronoun that follows a preposition must be an object pronoun

Know: Between you and me NOT Between you and I

B. Antecedent-Pronoun

One and You

You goes with You

One goes with One

Ex: If one wants to avoid insect invasions, you (one) should refrain from leaving crumbs lying on your floor.

Singular vs. Plural

Singular nouns are referred to by singular pronouns; plural nouns are referred to by plural pronouns.

People goes with They

Someone, Everyone, Anyone, A Person goes with He or She

Any singular noun goes with It

Any plural noun goes with They

Ex: When the economy does poorly, interest in them (it) becomes all-abiding.

Ex: A person who wishes to become an Olympic-caliber athlete must devote virtually all of their (his or her) time to training.

No Antecedent

Ex: Because of extreme weather conditions, starvation exists in some countries where they (people) must struggle to stay alive.

Ambiguous Antecedent

Ex: Afraid that they would be late to the party, Jenny and Kate decided to take her (Kate’s) car rather than walk.

Antecedents = Nouns or Gerunds, Never Verbs

Ex: Activists who defend endangered species from poaching do it (so) on the grounds that such animals, once gone, are irreplaceable.

What does ‘it’ refer to in this sentence? Defending endangered species. But since the word ‘defending’ doesn’t actually appear in the sentence, ‘it’ has no real antecedent.


For both Subject-Verb Agreement and Pronoun Agreement, be on the lookout for collective nouns such as group, committee, company, jury, city, agency, team, etc. These nouns are always considered singular, and it is not uncommon for the SAT to pair them with plural verbs and pronouns. Whenever one of these words appears, you should immediately be suspicious.

Also, if the word “it” is underlined, it’s most likely wrong. Check its antecedent immediately.

3) Verbs

A. Tense Consistency

Sentences that start in the past should generally stay in the past; sentences that start in the present should generally stay in the present.

Ex: Since serious drama unaccompanied by music was forbidden in all but two London theatres during the eighteenth century, Queen’s theatre quickly becomes (became) an opera house.

B. Present Perfect vs. Simple Past

These questions are almost always recognizable by the inclusion of a date or a time period in the sentence. Any sentence that includes a date in the past or mentions a historical period should always contain a verb in the Simple Past (e.g., went, drank, sang), NOT in the Present Perfect (has gone, has drunk, has sung).

Ex: During the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens has become (became) one of the most famous British novelists.

However, sentences containing ‘Since’ require the Present Perfect (e.g., I have gone to this school since 2005).

C. Would vs. Will

Ex: William Shakespeare, who will (would) become the greatest English dramatist, was born in 1564.

D. Gerunds vs. Infinitives

Ex: Though she was one of the few women of her time gaining (to gain) international prominence, Clara Barton would not have described herself as a proponent of women's rights.

Ex: Laryngitis causes the vocal cords and surrounding tissue to swell, thus preventing the vocal cords to move (from moving) freely.

E. Past Participle vs. Simple Past

In these questions, the simple past rather than the past participle will be incorrectly paired with an auxiliary verb.

Ex: I have grew (grown) two inches during the past year.

F. Pluperfect

When a sentence contains two actions that occurred in the past, the action that occurred further back in the past should be in the pluperfect.

The word ‘By’ is usually a tip-off that the pluperfect is required.

Ex: By the time it adjourned, the committee made (had made) several important decisions.

4) Adjective vs. Adverb

Ex: The patient recovered quick (quickly), although he had been very ill earlier in the week.

Ex: It is not easy to arrive at a single set of values in a pluralistic society that contains many different groups with divergently (divergent) views.

5) Parallelism

A. Lists

In any given list, each item should be in the exact same format. Either noun, noun, noun, verb, verb, verb, or gerund, gerund, gerund. Any deviation is incorrect.

Ex: Susan likes to run, swim, and going (go) horseback riding.

B. Parallel Structure

In any given comparison, the construction on one side of the comparison must match the construction on the other side of the comparison as closely as possible. If one side contains a noun + of + noun, the other must contain a noun + of + noun; if one side contains a gerund, the other must contain a gerund, etc.

Ex: The researchers called for strict enforcement of existing regulations as well as investigating (an investigation of) teenagers’ motivations for smoking.

6) Prepositions

Ex: A familiarity in (with) Latin is useful for anyone who wishes to pursue serious study of a modern romance language.

7) Comparatives vs. Superlatives (More vs. Most)

More = 2 items being compared

Most = more than 2 items being compared

Ex: Between the tiger and the lion, the tiger is the faster animal, while the lion is the fiercest (fiercer).

Ex: Hurricane Katrina was one of the more (most) destructive storms of the last hundred years.

8) Double Negatives, Double Positives

Double Negative

Ex: There is scarcely/hardly no (any) milk left in the refrigerator.

Double Positive (far less common)

Ex: Jane thought that Susan's blouse was more prettier (prettier) than her own.

9) Word Pairs:



Not only…But also






A. Either...Or

Ex: Either my father nor (or) my brother is home right now.

B. Neither...Nor

Ex: Neither my father or (nor) my brother is home right now.

Important: When dealing with Either/Or and Neither/Nor, the number of the verb depends on the number of the nouns. If both nouns are singular (father, brother), the verb is singular; if both nouns are plural (fathers, brothers), the verb is plural. The SAT, however, will virtually always give two singular nouns and incorrectly pair them with a plural verb.

C. Not only...But Also

Ex: Not only is my father home right now, and so is my brother (but my brother is also).

D. Both...And

Ex: Both my father in addition to (and) my brother are home right now.

E. As...As

Ex: My brother is as tall like (as) my father.

F. More/Less..Than

Ex: Since the novels of Jane Austen are better known as (than) those of her contemporaries, one may be surprised to learn that there were other female authors in nineteenth century England.

G. So/Such…That

Ex: The birthday cake was so large and (that) we did not think that we would be able to finish it.

10) Complements

Ex: Jenny and Robert want to become a scientist (scientists) when they grow up.

Ex: The Wikipedia has joined the Encyclopedia Britannica as favorite sources (as a favorite source) for research.

11) Who vs. Which

Which is for things, Who(m) is for people

Ex: Harlem in the 1920's inspired many of the poems of Langston Hughes, which (whom) some critics consider to be the greatest Black poet the United States has yet produced.

When ‘which’ appears by itself, it is usually incorrect; preposition + which is usually correct.

Other Relative Pronouns:

When is for Time

Where is for Places

12) Faulty Comparisons

Compare things to things and people to people.

Ex: I like my mother's cooking better than my aunt (better than that of my aunt).

Ex: I like my sister's shoes better than my cousin (better than those of my cousin).

13) Coordinating Conjunctions

Ex: People with a certain rare disease are unable to feel physical pain, and (but) this does not mean that they are unable to feel other kinds of pain.

14) Usage (1 per test maximum)

Ex: The tall buildings were just barely visual (visible) from the outskirts of the city.

15) Dangling Modifiers (Rare but not unheard of in this section)

Ex: Likely to be more interested in reforming criminals than in punishing them, the behavior of modern prison wardens is a far cry from that of their predecessors (modern prison wardens behave in a manner far different from that of their predecessors).

16) Redundancy

Ex: During the hottest months of the year, many people prefer sitting in an air-conditioned movie theater more than (to) spending time outside.


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