SAT Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Illogical Comparison

We’re all familiar with the old adage “you can’t compare apples and oranges.” The phrase is so ubiquitous, in fact, that “Apples to Apples” is now a popular party game. If you think about it, the title fits—you can only compare your red cards because you’ve related them all to the same green card. As the saying implies, any time we compare things we have to compare like terms.

If you grew up in the South, you KNOW this is an illogical comparison because Coca-cola is superior.
If you grew up in the South, you KNOW this is an illogical comparison because Coca-cola is superior.

Is this a lesson for a six-year-old? you may be asking yourself. But you’d be surprised at how easy it is to make an illogical comparison—and even more surprised at how hard it can be to spot one. As with many of the other errors you’ll be tested over, illogical comparisons have become commonplace in some of our more colloquial ways of phrasing things. Since our brains are able to fill in the correct information, we rarely notice the flaws associated with some illogical comparisons, but that doesn’t make them logical.

Let’s look at some examples of how they might appear on the SAT:

Critics (A)contend that the number of people who will be (B)disadvantaged by the new legislation far exceeds (C)those who will benefit (D)from it(E)No Error

Since you were looking for an illogical comparison, you may have noticed it pretty quickly. If you still don’t see it, think about it like this: can a number of people “exceed” people themselves? No, so the correct answer is C, which should read “the number of those.” If you’re not vigilant, though, you may miss a sneaky illogical comparison like this; the construction “those who will benefit from it” sounds correct enough, and our brains make sense of the information regardless of the fact that it wasn’t presented correctly.

Additionally, the structure of a comparison could be incorrect even if we’re comparing like terms. For instance, the SAT often quizzes ones ability to recognize when to use the comparative versus the superlative:

(A)Of all the written sources from which history (B)can be reconstructed, diaries (C)are undoubtedly the (D)more entertaining. (E)No error

For some, it is easy to see that we are comparing diaries to all other written historical accounts at once, claiming that they rank the highest in entertainment—are the most entertaining. Thus, answer choice contains the error.

Consider, however, that one could make the same comparison with a different structure:

“Diaries are more entertaining than any of the other written sources from which history can be reconstructed.”

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Here, the sentiment is the same, but “any” is singular so we use the comparative form. In other words, while diaries are still the most entertaining written source of history, the latter comparison implies that when each of the other forms of source text are compared to diaries on an individual basis, they do not measure up. So, it makes sense that people can get the two confused, but the SAT will make sure you know when to use which!

Illogical comparisons may be a simple enough concept, but if you’re not vigilant, you’ll probably miss the error. Consider the following example:

Nowhere in Prakta is the influence of modern European architecture more apparent than their government buildings.

A quick read of this sentence may not necessarily have an apparent comparison error, but you definitely should pause for another reason…
That’s right, their is a plural pronoun and thus does not agree with its antecedent, Prakta. If you were focused on finding a comparison error, however, hopefully you noticed that this sentence is missing a simple preposition as well—in! As it is written, the sentence makes it sound like the government buildings in the city of Prakta are very apparent, more apparent than the influence of modern European architecture, which begs the question, how can government buildings be apparent? They can’t. But the influence of modern European architecture might be apparent in their designs; in fact, it might even be more apparent in the designs of the government buildings in Prakta than it is in other building around town. So what answer choice reflects that?

(A) more apparent than their
(B) so apparent as their
(C) more apparent than in its
(D) so apparent than in their
(E) as apparent as it is in its

Choice is correct. If you work smart instead of hard, you’ll realize that you can get rid of answers A, B, and D based on the fact that they have the wrong pronoun. This method of elimination is much easier than going through the mental process of seeing if these choices have correct comparison structures. Moreover, the “as apparent as” construction slightly alters the idea behind the comparison in letter choice E, but even more to the point it requires too many confusing pronouns.

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