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Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Idiom Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • Many teenagers feel a great deal of pressure to conform with the values, attitudes, and behavior of their peers.
  • I was prohibited, by my conscience as well as the team dress code, to wear a dress to the football scrimmage.
  • The labor dispute was caused by both long hours as well as unsafe working conditions.
This major grammatical category is one of the most important on the SAT Writing Test. The proofreading questions on your SAT will include at least one and as many as three idiom errors.

Preposition idioms make up the majority of these errors. No rule governs which preposition is correct for a given expression; idioms must be learned individually.

I am jealous of you; I am worried about you; I am grateful to you. Sometimes a different preposition can be used with a certain word depending on meaning intended. A scientist can be a credit to her university; a scientist can be credited with a discovery; a scientist can be given credit for her discovery. A common idiom error is the expression "different than"; the correct expression is "different from."

In the first example, the correct expression is "conform to"; the preposition "with" is incorrect. This example was relatively straightforward because the two words in the expression appeared together. When testing a prepositional idiom with both words together, the test writers will underline either both words or just the preposition. If the preposition is wrong, the entire expression is wrong.

Sometimes the same word can take different prepositions depending on the context and the meaning of the expression. When you write a letter to someone, you correspond with that person; when two things serve similar functions in different contexts, we say that one thing corresponds to the other. On the SAT Writing Test, the context will always be clear in such situations, so you'll always be able to decide which preposition is required.

Idiom errors get tricky when the test writers sandwich a long phrase between the two halves of an idiom to distract you from their connection. When the two halves are separated, the test writers usually just underline the preposition. But because the preposition is now separated from its "other half," it's easy to forget to look back to see whether the preposition is properly used. You have to train yourself to anticipate the second half of these idioms—and look for it—as soon as you encounter the first half.

Once again, the bracket technique comes in handy. In the second example, bracketing the middle phrase isolates the expression "prohibited to." The correct preposition to follow prohibited is "from."

Let's say that you weren't sure which preposition goes with prohibited and that your ear is no guide in this case. You might ask yourself what preposition goes with a synonym for prohibited, like prevented. If you're not sure which preposition goes with a particular word, try substituting a familiar synonym: generally both words will take the same preposition.

The other type of idiom error you need to look out for involves linking expressions. Certain expressions, a list of which follows, link two sets of words or phrases. These expressions are fixed idioms, and they require both halves to be correct. Notice that the two parts of each linking expression will be separated: when you see the first half, you must anticipate the second half. When one of these expressions is being tested on the SAT, often only the second part will be underlined. You'll need to be extremely careful and look back to see whether the underlined second half correctly goes with the first half, which may not be underlined (and which may therefore escape easy notice).

The following common linking expressions, which we will also discuss under parallel errors, all require both parts to be correct.

  • both . . . and
  • either . . . or
  • neither . . . nor
  • whether . . . or
  • not only . . . but also
In the third example, the phrase "as well as" incorrectly follows the word "both." Any of the following would have been acceptable versions of this sentence:
  • The labor dispute was caused by both long hours and unsafe working conditions.
  • The labor dispute was caused by long hours and unsafe working conditions.
  • The labor dispute was caused by long hours as well as unsafe working conditions.
You don't have to memorize a long list of idioms. If you're on the lookout—two or three will show up on your test—you should have no difficulty spotting them. The following drill will give you additional practice.

Prepositional Idiom Drill
For each of the following words, supply the correct preposition. You'll find the answers at the end of this page.

  1. able . . .
  2. capable . . .
  3. comply . . .
  4. conscious . . .
  5. equivalent . . .
  6. identical . . .
  7. method . . .
  8. opposed . . .
  9. preoccupied . . .
  10. relevant . . .
Related Errors
If this type of error tends to trip you up, you should also review the following categories:
  • diction errors
  • parallel structure errors
Answers to the Prepositional Idiom Drill
  1. able to
  2. capable of
  3. comply with
  4. conscious of
  5. equivalent to
  6. identical to
  7. method of
  8. opposed to
  9. preoccupied with
  10. relevant to
If you missed more than a few of these, try to be more alert to idioms in your regular classroom reading assignments. Now that you know to be on the lookout for prepositional idioms, you'll quickly become familiar with the more common ones.

Next: Page 4 >>

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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