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SAT Writing: Improving Sentences

Improving Sentences

Select the choice that results in the best sentence – the sentence that follows the requirements of standard written English and communicates effectively.

I laid out the presents that I had purchased so far and mentally tallied the amount of gifts I still needed to buy.

A. I laid out the presents that I had purchased so far and mentally tallied the amount
B. I lay out the presents that I had purchased so far, while mentally tallying the number
C. Laying out the presents that I had purchased so far, I mentally tallied the amount
D. Laying out the presents that I had purchased so far and mentally tallying the number
E.  I laid out the presents that I had purchased so far and mentally tallied the number

Knowsys Method

Read the sentence carefully, listening for errors. If you do not find the error immediately, then check the underlined portion against the Big 8 grammar concepts.

The concept tested here is idioms.  Two frequently tested idioms appear in this question, “lay/lie,” and “amount/number.”  Figure out which combination you are looking for before you look down at the choices.  

Lay/lie
“Lay” means “to place” and is used with objects.  “Lie” means “to rest” and is used for people.  The person in the sentence is laying out presents, so the writer must choose “lay.”  Unfortunately, it is a little more complicated than that because the sentence is in the past tense.  The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” and the past tense of “lie” is “lay.”  Thus, you are looking for “laid,” NOT “lay.”  Confused?  For more clarification on lay/lie click here.  

Amount/number
“Amount” is used for non-countable terms (money, happiness, food, etc.), and “number” is used for countable items (dollars, hours, meals, etc.).  Presents can be counted, so the writer should use “number.”

Now that you know you what words you are looking for, get rid of choices that use “lay” (past tense of lie) or “amount.”  That eliminates choices A, B, and C.  Look at your remaining choices.  

D.  Choice D is a sentence fragment.  Who is completing these actions?  Eliminate choice D.  

E.  Choice E uses the correct idioms (“I laid out the presents,” “[I] mentally tallied the number of gifts”).  Choice E is the correct answer.  


The correct answer is choice E.

This is a hard-level problem.

Want some help with SAT Vocabulary?  Check out these helpful resources:

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