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Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Category:
Diction Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • The space launch will take place next month, providing that the weather is good.
  • The range and sheer number of Thomas Edison's inventions are indicative of a uniquely imaginary mind.
  • Because the elderly dog's physical condition rapidly decreased, the veterinarian decided at long last to undertake the risky operation.
  • The amount of people who go to the library these days is far less now that so much research is accessible on the Internet.
  • The latest version of the software has less flaws in it than does the previous version.
  • The third game of the series was delayed when the two referees disagreed among each other about a critical play.
  • It was difficult to decide which of the two teachers wore the most outrageous costume to the school Halloween Dance.
  • The cheering by the home team's fans in the stadium was so deafening as the buzzer went off that the spectators could not hardly hear the announcement that the final play had been disallowed.
A diction error is using the wrong word for the meaning intended. You have to be very careful to spot this error because the word in the sentence is spelled almost exactly like the word that should have been used. The word providing in the first example should have been provided;the word imaginary in the second example should have been imaginative. A diction error is not a spelling error (which isn't tested on the SAT Writing Test), but rather the wrong word.

As I mentioned earlier, don't let a difficult or unfamiliar word intimidate you on the proofreading questions—but do be careful that the word is not a diction error. For example, the word "incredulous" (which means disbelieving or highly skeptical) once appeared as a diction error on an SAT when the word "incredible" should have been used.

In the first example, the word should have been provided (which means on the condition) rather than providing (which means supplying). In the second example, the word should have been imaginative (which means creative) rather than imaginary (which means unreal).

In the third example, the word "decreased" is incorrectly used. A condition can deteriorate but it cannot decrease.

In the fourth example, the word "amount" is incorrectly used. Amount refers to quantities that cannot be counted; countable quantities (like how many people) require the word number.

The fifth example contains a related diction error. The words less and more refer to quantities that cannot be counted; countable quantities (like the number of flaws) require the words fewer or greater.

The sixth example uses the word "among" incorrectly. The word between is used when referring to two items; among is used when referring to three or more items.

The seventh example contains a related error. When comparing two items, use words like more, happier, better, colder; when comparing three or more items, use words like most, happiest, best, coldest. The word most should have been more.

I've included the last example in this category because students who tend to miss diction errors also tend to miss this error. The phrase could not hardly should be could hardly; the "not" is redundant. The synonyms scarcely, barely, and hardly are already negative, and so should not be used with words like not, no, or none (the correct expressions are scarcely any, barely any, or hardly any).

Don't go crazy second-guessing every word, hunting for suspected diction errors. Your SAT will probably contain just one—usually among the last few usage questions. (Breaking news: the last PSAT Writing Test had two consecutive diction errors; as predicted, they were among the last few usage questions.)

Related Errors

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

  • adjective-adverb errors
  • idiom 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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