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Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Verb Tense Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • After months of campaigning the councilmember finally had enough support for her proposal, so she calls for an immediate vote.
  • The marathoner paused briefly in the race to drink a few sips of water after he had ran the first half at a record-setting pace.
  • If both parties would have known how long and difficult the conflict was likely to be, the earlier settlement talks might have been more fruitful.
We tend to think of tenses in terms of past, present, and future, but in fact variations of these tenses arise depending on when the action takes place relative to other events. Consider the following examples and you'll see that different situations would require different tenses.

Present Tenses

  • I clean up my room.
  • I am cleaning up my room.
  • I have cleaned up my room.
  • I have been cleaning up my room.
Past Tenses
    I cleaned up my room.
  • I was cleaning up my room.
  • I had cleaned up my room.
  • I had been cleaning up my room.
Future Tenses
  • I will clean up my room.
  • I will be cleaning up my room.
  • I will have cleaned up my room.
  • I will have been cleaning up my room.
A sentence can contain more than one tense. (Because I was sick yesterday I am studying for a make-up test that I will take tomorrow.) If so, however, these tenses must be consistent with each other. In the first example, the past tense switches inconsistently with the present.

In the second example, the correct form of the past tense would be "had run." Occasionally the SAT will include a tense of an "irregular" verb like "to run." There are too many irregular verbs to list here, but usually your ear will be reliable detecting any such tense errors (a notable exception to our general caution about relying on your ear on the proofreading questions).

The verb phrase "would have" in the third example is used to construct conditional forms, as in the sentence, I would have called you if I hadn't lost your phone number. In this sentence, however, a past tense is required. The correct version of this sentence would have been, If both parties had known . . .

You don't have to memorize dozens of verb tenses. Just read carefully and realize that this error does show up once or twice on a test.

Related Errors

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

  • sentence fragments or run-ons

Next: Page 10 >>

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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