Questions & AnswersProductsAbout Mitch Adler


Dear Mitch,

So my mother and I are really hoping you keep your promise and explain how or why the second and third SAT-style sentences you gave are incorrect, because even though my Mom wasn't totally sure, she thinks she's "pretty sure", and I think I finally figured them out from what you said about the first one plus all the hints you gave.  So anyway, what we're doing is having a little contest, and she won't let me see her answer yet and I wont let her see mine, and we put them in envelopes, taped them closed, and they're stuck to the refrigerator with magnets, so now alll we need is for you to tell how to fix the question, SAT style, and if my answer is closer, then she's going to let me go out this week to see whatever movie I want. (And she almost never lets me do that on a school night (but she's cool about it on the weekends).  If the way she thinks the SAT would want the sentence fixed is right and my way is wrong, then I have to babysit my little sister for like three hours one night before her bedtime so mom can go out witth one of her friends to  a movie or, more probably, go shopping at the mall.  Three hours of shopping -- can you imagine how boring that would be?!?

So, please, if you could, for the next post you put up on your website, anwer those two SAT writing questions the way you said you would, by just telling what the problem is and maybe showing how to fix it, instead of the multiple choice way they're going to be on the test, because for these two, we just really want to know!

Thanks a lot,

Todd R.


Dear Todd R.,

Sure!  No problem!

Since yesterday's post did explain the concept behind the problem of the first sentence and showed the two most obvious ways to "fix" the sentence, we will begin now with sentence number two, which, coincidentally, I think you said was where you'd like me to begin.  So...

As you mentioned, I did give the reason why the first sentence was wrong, and I did give a hint for the second one (the same problem as the first sentence -- it was a poorly written sentence because it tried to mix the gramatical form of the singular with the form for the plural, and that is definitely considered an unacceptable error.  (Even though it is such a common error -- both in written form and when people speak --that most of the time people get away with it, and it goes unnoticed, or almost unnoticed).  The sentence was this:  The big group (which had over fifty members) got on the earliest bus they could find.

For this one you have to be careful not to be fooled by the distraction of the phrase they throw into the sentence by using a set of parentheses to add a specifying detail that  sneakily  makes a singular item (the "group") separated from the possessive pronoun (they) through the inclusion of the fact that the 'group' (which is a singular entity) is comprised of separate people (and people are plural).  The test-makers try to confuse you by separating the GROUP from the word it has to be in agreement with (the word "they") -- which it is not, making either the word "they" wrong or the word "group" wrong (unless you doctor up the sentence enough to make the word "group" SOLIDLY tied to a bunch of people, such as "the group's members" (of which there are over fifty, or so we are told). 

So, to sum things up here, if you take out the parenthetical phrase ("which had over 50 . . ." ), which is something you can almost always try to do with a phrase in parentheses, especially on this section of the SAT exam, or in any other test situation in which you are not responsible for the comprehension of the sentence or -- worse -- responsible for the retaining lots of separate bits of informaton. 

Again, a "group", no matter how many members it has, is stil considered a single unit, similar to the way a group of ten rubber bands packaged together is ONE pack of rubber bands. In the case of this sentence (sentence number two), when you take away most of the other words, you realize the word "group" is being paired up with the word "they." 

The sentence could have been written to say, 'The group... earliest bus its members could find," because when writing about its members, THEY are separate people, even though they then get together to comprise one group!

Or, you could rewrite the sentence this way: "The people in the group... the earliest bus they could find." 

Lastly, it might help to think of a team, such as a baseball team.  It may have nine or so members, but grammatically that team is still just one team!

Regarding the third and last sentence I presented yesterday, we have decided to fulfill the many requests we received today to hold off at least another day before giving the answer.  I think with the SAT so close (just a few weeks away now!), a lot of students and teachers are  looking for as many opportunities as they can find to practice trying things for themselves.  And since it's a weekend, some teachers asked if we could hold off on posting at least one of the three answers until after the next school day is over (Monday).  So, until then, I hope this heped!

Grammatically yours,