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Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Category:
Singular-Plural Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • A picture of the All-Star Team, composed of players from different leagues, were given to each member.
  • The nature and consequences of the senator's alleged offense is serious, so unless he addresses the charges soon he will face disciplinary action by his fellow senators, and possible expulsion from the senate itself.
  • For all their size, elephants, a plant-eating animal indigenous to Asia as well as Africa, are remarkably passive.
  • Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France, recommended that every serious cyclist invest in the best bicycle that they can afford.
  • Tim and Jack want to get an A in their ethics class, and each student is prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal.
  • Fire officials attributed the large amount of property damage to the fact that not one of the hotel's more than two thousand rooms were equipped with the latest sprinklers or smoke detectors.
  • Nobody ever achieved true success—whether in sports, business, or any other field—all by themselves.
  • Neither George nor Helene were able to decide who should drive to the dance, so they flipped a coin.
We saw an example of this error in our discussion of the bracket technique in The SAT Proofreading and Edition Section: Basic Principles. These errors occur when a singular word or phrase is not in agreement with a plural word or phrase. Singular-plural errors can take a variety of forms, such as a plural pronoun referring to a singular noun or a plural noun taking a singular verb.

The trick to catching these errors is to isolate the true subject of a sentence. Remember to use the bracket technique to isolate the distracting phrases so that you can focus on the important elements of each sentence.

In the first example, the subject—picture—is singular, but the verb—were—is plural.

In the second example, the subject—nature and consequences—is plural, but, the verb—is—is singular.

In the third example, the subject and verb—elephants and are—are both plural; the problem is the singular modifying phrase—a plant-eating animal. An acceptable revision of this sentence would be the following: For all their size, elephants, plant-eating animals indigenous to Asia as well as Africa, are remarkably passive. Yes, we could have revised the entire sentence with singular forms: For all its size, the elephant, a plant-eating animal indigenous to Asia as well as Africa, is remarkably passive.

The plural pronoun they in the fourth example refers to a singular noun, cyclist. The correct pronoun for this noun would have been he or she. An alternative solution would have been to make the phrase every serious cyclist plural: serious cyclists.

In the fifth example, Tim and Jack want to get As, not a single A.

In the sixth example, the bracket technique would be useful in revealing that the plural verb were equipped refers to one, a singular noun.

In the seventh example, the plural pronoun themselves refers to a singular pronoun, nobody.

In the eighth example, the subject of the sentence—neither George nor Helene—is singular, but the verb were is plural. The expression neither-nor is also singular. In fact, all the following pronouns are singular when they appear on the SAT (some rare, minor exceptions confuse most college English professors, so we won't worry about them):

Singular pronouns:

  • anybody
  • anything
  • anyone
  • everybody
  • everything
  • everyone
  • somebody
  • something
  • someone
  • nobody
  • nothing
  • no one
  • none
  • each
  • either
  • neither
  • another
Notice that some of these singular pronouns seem plural. The word everybody is really shorthand for "every single body," and so is singular. Everybody is present; everybody packed his or her lunch for the school field trip. Everything and everyone are also singular pronouns.

You don't have to memorize this list, but do familiarize yourself with the principle that all these words are singular.

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

  • pronoun errors


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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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