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Pronouns

Writing: Identifying Sentence Errors

The following sentence contains either a single error or no error at all. If the sentence contains an error, select the one underlined part that must be changed to make the sentence correct. If the sentence contains no error, select choice E. 

Read the entire sentence to yourself, listening for errors.  Then turn your focus to each underlined portion, using the Big 8 Grammar Rules to quickly check for errors.  If you think you have identified an error, mark it and quickly check the remaining choices.

Scientists researching artificial intelligence have turned its attention to the biology of the human brain and its billions of neurons to get inspiration for the next generation of computers. No error.

(A)  When an underlined portion of the sentence contains a word ending in “-ing,” always check to make sure that the “-ing” is necessary.  In this case, the words “researching artificial intelligence” are meant to describe which scientists the sentence concerns.  “Researching” is not the main verb in the sentence, and the “-ing” helps to show that.  There is no error here.

(B)  When a pronoun is underlined, make sure that you know what it refers to.  In this sentence, “its” seems to refer to the artificial intelligence, but that does not make sense.  It is the scientists who are paying attention to the brain and looking for inspiration.  Scientists are people, so the word “its” is an incorrect possessive pronoun.  The correct pronoun would be “their.”  Mark this error and quickly check your other options.

(C)  Here the possessive pronoun “its” refers to the human brain, so the antecedent matches the pronoun.  The word “of” is also the correct preposition to idiomatically express that there are “billions of” something.  There is no error.

(D)  The word “next” modifies “generation” and lets you know which generation the sentence is concerned about.  The modifying word is placed as close as possible to the word that it modifies, so there is no error here.

(E)  This cannot be the answer because you have already identified an error. 

The correct answer is (B).


On sat.collegeboard.org, 72% of the responses were correct.

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