Identifying Grammatical Errors in Sentences

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  • 0:00 Identifying Errors
  • 0:28 Verb Tense Errors
  • 1:23 Subject-Verb Agreement
  • 2:29 Other Issues with Agreement
  • 3:39 Subordination &…
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

One important and often-tested skill is the ability to recognize grammatical errors in writing. In this lesson, learn about some of the most commonly tested mistakes.

Identifying Errors

Many of the big tests like the ACT, SAT, GED and GMAT have sections that ask you to read sentences, identify errors, and to pick an answer choice that properly corrects the mistake. In this lesson you'll learn about some of the most common kinds of errors that appear in these questions, and you'll see examples of sentences containing those errors. You'll also see the corrected versions to help you become more comfortable with this type of question.

Verb Tense Errors

One of the most common errors to appear in sentence correction questions is an error in verb tense. A verb's tense tells us when the action is taking place, whether that's right now, in the past, or in the future. Tests like the GMAT will often include multiple tenses in a single sentence. The trick is to choose the answer that makes it clear to the reader when all the actions take place. Here's an example:

If he gets the promotion it, will have represented the culmination of years of hard work.

This sentence has an error in verb tense that you'll be asked to correct. First, figure out when things happen in the sentence. Is there a part that doesn't fit? Pick the answer that makes it fit.

Sentence with verb tense error.

In this example, you'll want to choose the sentence that has a verb happening one time, just like the promotion happens one time. The correct choice would be:

If he gets the promotion it will represent the culmination of years of hard work.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Another way these tests like to quiz you is with sentences containing errors in subject-verb agreement. Those are errors in which the subject of the sentence doesn't fit with the verb of the sentence. Here's an example:

John and Simone walks to class.

In this sentence you have two subjects, John and Simone. That means you need a verb that fits with a plural subject. The correct version would be:

John and Simone walk to class.

Sometimes the test writers will try to trip you up with a tricky subject, like this one:

Either John or Simone walk to class.

Now this sentence has a singular subject, because the sentence isn't referring to both John and Simone, it's referring to one or the other. In this case the correct verb should be 'walks'.

Don't let them trip you up by inserting extra words between the subject and the verb. Check out this example:

Sentence with an error in subject/verb agreement.

You have a singular subject, Francine, so you need a verb that goes with a singular subject. The corrected version would be:

Francine, along with her coworkers, was late for the company picnic.

Other Issues with Agreement

There are a couple of other tricky subject-verb agreement situations that appear on tests. Here are three tips to help you.

  1. When you have several names in the subject that are connected with the word 'and', use the plural verb.

Simone, Francine, and John love to talk about their jobs. (You have three subjects joined with 'and' so you need a plural form of the verb.)

  1. When you have several names in the subject that are connected with the word neither, use the tense that goes with the subject closest to the verb.

Neither Simone, Francine, nor John loves to talk about their jobs. (John is the subject closest to the verb, so the verb should agree with John)

Neither Simone nor her friends love to talk about their jobs. (In this one 'her friends' is closest to the verb, so it needs to agree with that subject.)

  1. Most collective nouns take a singular verb. Think of it this way: the whole collection acts as one entity.

The audience laughs at his jokes.

In this case you should use a singular verb to go with the collective noun, 'audience', that is the subject of the sentence.


In the workplace a subordinate is someone who is below you on the career ladder. In grammar, a subordinate clause is one that is below the main clause: the independent clause. Independent clauses can work on their own, but subordinate clauses cannot. They only serve to enhance the meaning of the main clause. Here's an example.

Francine cried.

That's an independent clause because it works perfectly well by itself as a sentence.

when John broke her heart

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