PSAT writing grammar sentences verbs noun pronoun

PSAT Writing and Language: Verbs and Pronouns

On the PSAT Writing & Language Test, you will be asked to identify and replace unnecessary shifts in verb tense, mood, and voice. Because these shifts may occur within a single sentence or among different sentences, you will need to read around the underlined portion to identify the error.

 

Verb Tense, Mood, and Voice

In questions about shifts in construction, the underlined segment must logically match the tense, mood, and voice in other parts of the sentence.

Verb tense places the action or state of being described by the verb into a place in time: present, past, or future. Each tense has three forms: simple, progressive, and perfect.

 

Present Past Future
Simple: Actions that simply occur at some point in time She studies diligently every day. She studied two extra hours before her math test. She will study tomorrow for her French test.
Progressive: Actions that are ongoing at some point in time She is studying today for her math test tomorrow. She was studying yesterday for a French test today. She will be studying tomorrow for her physics test next week.
Perfect: Actions that are completed at some point in time She has studied diligently every day this semester. She had studied two extra hours before her math test yesterday. She will have studied each chapter before her physics test next week.

On Test Day

Shifts in verb tense are grammatically incorrect unless warranted by the context of the sentence or passage.

Mood

Grammatical moods are classifications that indicate the attitude of the speaker.

Description Example
Indicative Mood Used to make a statement or ask a question Snow covered the moonlit field.
Imperative Mood Used to give a command or make a request Please drive carefully in the snow.
Subjunctive Mood Used to express hypothetical outcomes If I were at the library, I could find the book I need.
Voice

The voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action expressed by the verb and the subject.

Description Example
Active The subject is the agent or doer of the action. The carpenter hammered the nail.
Passive The subject is the target of the action. The nail was hammered by the carpenter.

 

Expert Tip

On the PSAT, the active voice is preferred over the passive voice.

Pronoun Person and Number

Pronouns replace nouns in sentences. They must agree with the noun they are replacing in person and number. The PSAT will test your ability to recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun usage.

Pronoun Person and Number
Person Refers to Singular Pronouns Plural Pronouns
First person the person speaking I, me, my we, us, our
Second person the person spoken to you, your you, your
Third person the person or thing spoken about he, she, it, him, her, his, hers, its they, them, theirs
Indefinite a nonspecific person or group anybody, anyone, each, either, everyone, someone, one both, few, many, several

Remember!

Do not shift between “you” and “one” unnecessarily. “You” refers to a specific person or group. “One” refers to an indefinite individual or group.

PSAT Writing and Language Practice Questions: Sentence Structure

Let’s look at the following Writing & Language passage and questions. After the passage, there are two columns. The left column contains test-like questions. The column on the right features the strategic thinking a test expert employs when approaching the passage and questions presented.

Questions 1–3 are based on the following passage

James Joyce

As one contemplates the state of literature in our modern era, it is hard to resist a longing for the great writers of eras gone by. At times, one takes great pains merely remembering that there were once authors such as Dante, Shakespeare, or Dickens: authors who were able to relate stories of great travels and struggles even as they compelled us to mull over the great philosophical questions of all time. They did not waste their time or ours with trivial affairs; their stories were unique and memorable, and they bore repeated readings and rereadings from generation to generation. These writers never psatwriting1 take perverse glee in conveying thoughts and actions that were better off forgotten. They took great care to depict accurately the best and worst aspects of human nature; they were well aware of the impact their works would have on culture and strove to ensure that they would psatwriting2 be enhancing, rather than degrade, the public’s intellect; they did not resort to tricks or devices in order to garner readership for their writings; and in all these regards, they are firmly distinguished from writers of the present day, the most notorious of which is the Irish novelist James Joyce.

The goal of art is to enlighten the consciousness of those who partake of it, to lift their minds and souls out of the trenches of ordinary activities and humanity’s baser instincts. It would seem that modern writers such as Joyce have no interest in such enlightenment, instead psatwriting3 they prefer to revel in every detail of activities that should never have been committed to paper in the first place. In basing his novel Ulysses on Homer’s The Odyssey, Joyce has sullied the very form of the epic genre. Whereas The Odyssey was a great tale of a noble hero’s struggle against a seemingly insurmountable series of trials in order to restore order and honor to his household, Joyce’s book is nearly the direct opposite. The protagonist is no hero, his actions are listless and forgettable, and his obsession with obscene and undignified behavior is virtually nauseating. It is a pity that Homer’s epic hero has now been so distorted by his mere association with Joyce’s antihero. And even more shameful is the waste of talent, for, subject matter aside, Joyce is no slouch as a wordsmith. Sadly, it is the literary world’s loss that he was not born in a more dignified era where his talents could have been utilized in a more appropriate manner.

1.

A. NO CHANGE

B. have taken

C. had taken

D. took

 

2.

A. NO CHANGE

B. enhance

C. add enhancement

D. be ensuring enhancement

 

3.

A. NO CHANGE

B. by preferring

C. preferring

D. they preferred

PSAT Writing and Language Practice Question: Explanations

Questions Strategic Thinking
1.A. NO CHANGEB. have taken

 

C. had taken

 

D. took

Step 1: Read the passage and identify the issueWhat is the issue? The verb is in a different tense. When can a writer shift tense? Only when there is a logical reason to do soWhat reason does this writer have? None; the earlier verbs are in the simple past tense.

 

What does the simple past tense tell you? That the action occurred at some point in the past

 

Step 2: Eliminate answer choices that do not address the issue

 

What answer choice(s) can you eliminate?

Eliminate A, B, and C because they are not the simple past tense.

Step 3: Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one

What is the answer? Choice (D)

2.A. NO CHANGEB. enhance

 

C. add enhancement

 

D. be ensuring enhancement

Step 1: Read the passage and identify the issueWhat is the issue? Verb phrases must be parallel in structure.Which verb phrase does the underlined segment need to match? “Rather than degrade”

 

Step 2: Eliminate answer choices that do not address the issue

 

What answer choice(s) can you eliminate?

Eliminate C and D because neither “would add enhancement” nor “would be ensuring enhancement” matches “would degrade.”

Step 3: Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one

What is the answer? Choice (B)

3.A. NO CHANGEB. by preferring

 

C. preferring

 

D. they preferred

Step 1: Read the passage and identify the issueWhat is the issue? The sentence is a run-on.How do you know? A comma separates the two clauses, but they can each function as a complete sentence.

 

Step 2: Eliminate answer choices that do not address the issue

 

What answer choice(s) can you eliminate? Eliminate B because it includes “by,” suggesting that the writers’ preferences caused something. Eliminate D because it does not correct the run-on.

 

Step 3: Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one

What is the answer?

Choice (C)

 

Previous: PSAT Writing and Language: Sentence Structure

Next: PSAT Math Strategies and Linear Equations