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Terse Language

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[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

[edit section] Terse Language

In our final lesson today, we will look at how to use terse language on the Improving Sentences (IS) portion of the SAT Writing exam. Terse language is also known as concise language, and the idea is basically that you want to convey what you're trying to say using a reasonable number of words. For example, the following two sentences convey the same message:


  • I walked down the street quickly so that I wouldn't be late.
  • Since I could be late, I, walking down the street, did so very quickly.


Which sentence is easier to understand? Most people would quickly choose the first, and they would all be correct. Although it is true that both sentences mean the same thing, the first conveys the message using "terse" language.


On the SAT Writing: IS portion, you will be asked many questions that test your knowledge of how to use and apply terse language principles to the incorrect sentences. For example, the following sentence is incorrect as written (see if you can find the error):

4. He was not only commended for his excellence in mathematics and success in science, but also for his being a formidable scholar of the arts.


So, let's apply our "three-step" principle to answering this question. The sentence above has an error in parallel structure (where is it?). You should note this either mentally or by writing a quick word on the test like "parallelism." Second, make your own suggestion - that is, mentally determine how you would correct the sentence error. Since the error is in parallel structure, you should perhaps change "his being a formidable scholar" to his "scholarship." This matches the other forms in the parallel structure: "his excellence in ... success in science." Finally, find the answer choice that most closely matches your change:


A. but also for his being a formidable scholar of the arts

B. yet also for his being a formidable scholar of the arts

C. and, being a formidable scholar of the arts, he was also awarded for that

D. but also for his formidable nature as an eminent scholar of the arts

E. but also for his scholarship of the arts


Now, E should jump out you as the "right" answer. After all, it exactly matched our above prediction. Why is D wrong? It does fit parallel structure, but it is too wordy. You are asked to pick the best-worded change, and E is exactly that - concisely worded.


Below are some common errors that occur in ISE answer choices related to wordiness. If you see these choices, avoid them like the plague!


[edit section] 1. Avoid "BEING" and the gerunds!

Now, this is not an iron rule. Sometimes, you will see that the correct answer choice has an "-ing" ending. But most of the time, regard the word "being" in the answer choice as a sign that it is not correct. Unless you have a good reason to choose the choice with the word "being" in it, don't do it. The reason is because "being" usually implies incorrect parallel structure and over-wordiness.


[edit section] 2. Look for run-on sentences

If two independent clauses (with two subjects and verbs) are not connected by a semicolon (";") or a coordinating conjunction (and/but/for/or/nor/not/yet/so), the union of them is considered a "run on sentence." If you see a run-on sentence as an answer choice or the original sentence, you should immediately note that it is incorrect. Here are the cures for run-ons:


  • Separate with a period
  • Separate with a semicolon
  • Separate with the APPROPRIATE coordinating conjunction


[edit section] 3. Look for the fragments

If an answer choice or the original sentence is a fragment, it is wrong. You can spot a fragment as any dependent clause without an independent clause, or any sentence without a subject and a predicate. For example:


Walking down the street.


This is not a sentence because the entire phrase "Walking down the street" must be dependent on another subject or must be the subject of a sentence. Similarly,


Yesterday, the dog barking at my neighbor.


This is incorrect because there is no verb. "Barking" is not used as a verb in this sense, so it should be changed to "bark."


[edit section] 4. And vs. That

Here is a subtle error that many people miss. See if you can detect what is wrong with the following sentence:


6. Abby bought a new dog and it has brown hair.


Although the sentence is correct in terms of grammar, it has syntax issues. It is simply overly wordy, because "and it" can be replaced by "that," which makes "has brown hair" a dependent clause. Otherwise, it is two independent clauses: Abby bought a new dog. It has brown hair. The correct sentence would read:


C. Abby bought a new dog that has brown hair.


[edit section] Wrapping it Up

We hope you've learned a little bit about wordiness today and terse language, and we hope you will apply these principles to the SAT Writing test and the Improving Sentences portion. Learn these tips well and be prepared to score highly!


[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

[edit section] See Also

SAT Writing Guide

SAT Wiki

SAT Exam Home

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