SAT Tip of the Week: How to Identify Agreement Errors in the Writing Section

SAT Tip of the Week - FullIn grammar, as in life, agreement can be tricky. Subjects and verbs have to agree, verb tenses have to agree, sentence structures have to agree, and pronouns have to agree.  Much agreement is necessary for a sentence to function properly, but one of the trickiest of the many agreement issues that can pop up on an SAT is the hidden agreement issue between some non-pronoun and its referent. This can be particularly tricky to spot, but with a little practice it will be easier than buying a pie (making a pie is actually pretty tough to do well).

Here is an example problem:

“Susanne Summers, acclaimed actress and fitness guru, is an example of people who are able to transcend their initial notoriety in one area and achieve success in another. ”

In checking for all the different types of agreement problems it is good to start by checking subject-verb agreement as every sentence has a subject and a verb. “Suzanne…is” works just fine and there are no other verbs that could be mismatched to the main subject. There are not any lists, which are giveaways that there may be a problem with parallel structure, though there are two constructions involving the word “in” that looks like they demand parallelism. The constructions are “transcend…notoriety in” and “achieve success in” and these look good because they share the same structure (verb, noun, and the preposition “in”). The only other conjugated verb in this sentence to check for agreement is “are”, which matches its subject “people”. This would imply that there is no error, right?

Alas, it is not so simple. Though there are no traditional pronouns, the word “people” still must agree with its referent! This is an example of a hidden word that must agree with another word in the sentence. “People” in this case is a dependent noun because it is representing another noun. In this case, “people” is referring to “Suzanne Somers”, and the two nouns must agree in number.  “Suzanne” cannot be an example of more than one person, so the error is with the word “people”.

Here is another example:

“Though Douglass had concocted many possible solutions to help with a number of problems within the organization’s bureaucracy, the idea didn’t help solve the major problem of the organization’s lack of direction.”

Again, in this example all the subjects and verbs seem to match up (“Douglass had” and “the idea didn’t”). Once more, there are no pronouns in the strictest sense, but there is a word that has a referent that it does not agree with. Here, “the idea” is referencing the  “many possible solutions” that Douglass had concocted, but “the idea” is singular and “many possible solutions” is plural. Any two nouns that are supposed to represent the same person or thing in a sentence must agree in number and in type (is it a person, or a thing?).  Though these kinds of agreement errors are tough to spot at first, it becomes second nature after a few tries.

Being able to check agreement in sentences is a tricky task, but very important for taking the writing scores to the next level. With a little practice, these hidden agreement problems will elucidate hidden solutions.  Happy studying!

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David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.