Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Subject-Verb Agreement2 min read

Don't get distracted! You could misses a subject-verb agreement error!
Don’t get distracted! You could misses a subject-verb agreement error!

Many people finds that subject-verb agreement errors is easy to spot. They makes our sentences sounds weird. So how can the SAT get away with quizzing you over subject-verb agreement? By distracting you!

One of the easiest ways for the SAT to trick students into not noticing a lack of subject-verb agreement is to separate the subject and the verb enough to where we don’t immediately pick up on the error. Consider the following example:

The population of American alligators, (A)dangerously small a few years ago, (B)are (C)now estimated at (D)more than one million. (E)No error

First, what is the subject of this sentence? It seems like it’s “alligators,” right? I mean, that’s what the sentence is about. Or is it? Technically, our subject is population rather than “alligators.” There are a couple of common tricks at play here: first, the SAT loves to put things that we tend to think of as important information inside of prepositional phrases. This is tricky because, while we may read this and think that it’s significant that we’re talking about the population of alligators, for the purposes of creating a sentence, it’s only significant that we’re talking about a singular population.

Furthermore, the test makers have gone on to separate our subject and our verb with a nice modifying phrase. Keep in mind, information between commas, like prepositional phrases, can be removed from the sentence without sacrificing proper syntax. So, to check to see if the subject and verb agree, let’s remove all that excess info:

The population of American alligators, dangerously small a few years ago, are now estimated at more than one million.

Yes! Now suddenly the error is obvious.

We're makin' a come back!
We’re makin’ a come back!

The important thing here is not too get too hasty. Probably something about the sentence “sounded wrong,” and, indeed, all of the answer choices are things that could “sound weird,” particularly answer choice “C,” which many students incorrectly assume has a prepositional idiom error. If a sentence sounds off on the SAT, though, there’s a good chance it has a subject-verb agreement error, so just make sure you take the time to identify the subject and the verb, keeping in mind prepositional phrases cannot be our subject.

Want more MCW tips from College Compass and Test Masters? Check out our other grammar crammer posts here!

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