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Word Choice

Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So in this lesson we're going to talk about using the right word as you might imagine it's very important on the SAT and they're very picky and they're picky in three different ways. First of all you have to make sure you don't confuse similar words. Second of all that you don't use the wrong idiom and third that you don't use the wrong verb. These three rules are tested most often in the identifying sentence errors portion of the test. Now let's go into details on those three rules.
Now the first rule is don't confuse similar words let's start by looking at this example here. 'Jason began drinking several proteins shakes per day in preparation for his wrestling match, but the new regimen seemed to have little affect on his performance.' Now you noticed the word 'affect' is underlined and on the SAT it probably will be along with of course several other words because that's how it will show up in the identifying errors portion of the test. So what you need to do is check and see 'affect' is that the right word? Now you probably recognize 'affect' as one of those words that lots of people confuse with 'effect' with an E and sure enough that's the problem here. 'Affect' is wrong this is generally a verb and we need a noun we need the noun 'effect'. So if this were underlined on the SAT as part of an identifying errors question you'd want to pick it because 'affect' is wrong and 'effect' is right.
Let's look at another example 'Watson and Crick the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, are imminent scientists.' Now 'imminent' is a pretty obscure word but hopefully you can get familiar with a lot of the words that are going to be tested on this portion of the test by checking out the bonus materials where a lot of these word pairs are listed. So in this case 'imminent' is not the right word 'imminent' spelt this way means about to happen and the scientists are not about to happen. Rather you want the word 'eminent' spelled like this 'eminent' means famous, well known, important. And I should mention that this not a spelling test, they're not going to give you words that are spelt one letter off rather they're going to give you a pair of words that maybe look kind of similar and test if you know the distinction between them.
Let's look at a third example here 'Emma was deeply offended that her father would leave her an angry not that inferred she has left dirty dishes in the sink on purpose.' Again we have a word underlined that is not used in a way that's intended 'inferred' means figured out based on hints. And the note did not figure anything out, notes can't figure stuff out but it did hint or suggest. So instead of the word 'inferred' we want the word 'implied', 'inferred' and 'implied' are words that people often get confused. So yet again this is related to the word 'implied' but it's not the right word for the sentence so that's the first thing you need to remember don't confuse similar words and check them out in the bonus materials so you can get fluent with the pairs.
Now the next rule is that you can't use the wrong idiom. Let me clarify briefly what an idiom is. An idiom is just the way you say something in a certain language so for instance in English we say 'the mountain is covered in snow' with the word 'in'. It happens to be the case in French that you don't use the word 'in' you use the word 'of' and it's not that it's more logical in English or more logical in French it's just the way you do it. And so a lot of times on the SAT they're going to test whether a word is used or an idiom is used properly or if something is written more like a foreign speaker might use it incorrectly. And I want to point out that it would often be with prepositions words like 'in', 'of', 'from', 'at' that idioms are tested. A lot of time on the SAT the test makers will change the preposition and hope you don't notice that the preposition they put in the test is not the right one to use. That's the case here let's have a read 'Since she is a film aficionado, Betsy was naturally jealous over her friend's 60-inch flat-screen television.' Now in this case the preposition is wrong 'over' is not correct and it should be 'of' that's how we say it in English, you don't say 'jealous over', you say 'jealous of'.
Let's look at two more examples of idioms used incorrectly. 'As a new driver Mark is generally oblivious of the effects of bad weather on road conditions.' Now we see the preposition 'of' and hopefully we noticed that because of the preposition it's suspicious, it's something that the SAT test makers might have changed and sure enough you shouldn't be 'oblivious of something' you should be 'oblivious to something'. And one last example here this one is pretty surprising check it out; 'The undergraduate experience of the typical European is far different than that of an American, since Europeans generally live at home while pursing higher education.' Now this might blow your mind because we talk like this all the time but you should not say 'different than', you should actually say believe it or not 'different from'. This is pretty obscure which is why we're talking about it if you already knew it it wouldn't be up for discussion. Now some of those you may recognize and some of them may be unfamiliar to you like maybe 'different from' isn't familiar. But check out again the bonus materials and you can practice these idioms and make sure you're comfortable.
Time for the last rule. Don't use the wrong verb. Here are three verb pairs and they're often confused with each other. Some people say 'lay' when they mean 'lie' or 'lying' when they mean 'lay' same deal with 'set' versus 'sit' and 'raise' versus 'rise'. Luckily there's a very clear rule that governs how they act. The first one 'lay', 'set' and 'raise' always goes with a noun and the second one does not. Now he's how you can remember you say that a chicken lays eggs so because a chicken lays eggs you can remember that 'lay' always has to go with a nouns for instance eggs. And 'set' also has to go with a noun like 'set the table' so that's how you can remember that and 'raise' you can think of 'raise the roof'. So because you can think of those sentences to remind you, you lay eggs set the table and raise the roof you can remember that 'lay', 'set' and 'raise' always need to be accompanied by nouns right after the verb. And 'lie', 'sit' and 'rise' should not be followed immediately by nouns. So let me show you some examples of that in action. 'The baby sitter will lay the baby in the cradle' that makes sense because just like you say 'lay eggs', lay plus noun we have 'lay the baby' lay plus noun. And then 'The baby will lie there' and notice that lie is not followed by a noun. Next example 'The busboy will set a fork next to the plate' that's like 'set the table' that we talked about earlier 'set' has to be accompanied by a noun. And then 'The fork will sit there' and 'sit' is not accompanied by a noun. Last one 'The good news will raise morale' just like 'raise the roof' we have 'raise morale' it goes with a noun. And 'morale will rise' no noun needed. So those are the three rules when it comes using the right word let's see what that looks like on an SAT question.
So here we are with a question you'd see on the identifying errors portion of the writing test. To recap we have four parts of the sentence underlined and each of them might be wrong if it is we pick it as the answer. And we also have no error incase we find no error along the way. So let's give it a read first of all see if anything jumps out at us and then if it doesn't let's go back through it piece by piece and see if we can find the error using the lesson that we just talked about. 'Having set an ambitious goal of raising ten $10,000 for cancer research, Reina went to the head of her company's personnel department to discuss about the possibility of posting flyers around the office.' Now I'm not sure if the answers jumped out at you, it happens to be the case that D is wrong let's talk briefly about why. This is a preposition and we like to pay special attention to prepositions because as I hope you'll recall prepositions are often used idiomatically incorrectly. Like I said the test makers often like to use the wrong preposition as a way of making something not idiomatically correct. In this case you should say 'discuss the possibility' not 'discuss about the possibility' so part D is wrong and that happens to be the answer that we choose as a result. But let's just run through the answers we didn't choose and talk about how we should check them to make sure that they are correct as is.
First of all we have A 'set'. 'Set' is one of those verbs we talked about and 'set' versus 'sit', 'set' is the one that goes with the noun just like we say 'set the table', 'set' has to go with a noun and sure enough we have a noun you set a goal so that works. B we have 'raising', 'raising' is also one of those verbs now is 'raising' the one that goes with a noun or the one that doesn't? 'Raise' the roof goes with the noun so 'raising' money also works properly so this is okay. I'm not circling them 'cause they're wrong I'm circling them 'cause we're verifying there are nouns there as there should be. And C we have personnel, personnel is a word that not everybody knows we have to make sure it's the right word just like we had 'effect' and 'affect' and those could be misused and we have 'imminent' and 'eminent' and those could be misused. Some people confuse 'personnel' with 'personal'. Here 'personnel' is used properly, 'personnel' means your staff or your employees so it makes sense in the sentence and there's nothing wrong with it. And as we talked about earlier D is wrong so that's the answer we choose and that's our SAT problem. Next stop let's just recap whatever we've learned in this lesson.
Alright bottom line three rules first of all don't confuse similar words if you see a word especially when it's underlined in the writing portion of the SAT that looks like a word that you often confuse with other words or you know other people do pay special attention and make sure it's the word you want to have there like 'effect' and 'affect', 'imminent' and 'eminent'. And as I mentioned before pairs of those words are available in the bonus materials so you should check them out and make sure you're comfortable. Next rule; don't use the wrong idiom, make sure that the way something is being said is the way that a fluent native speaker would say it and not the person who is a foreign exchange student sitting next to you in our class. So again those are available in the bonus materials have a look at those too and keep a special eye out for prepositions words like 'in', 'of', 'at', 'over' and so on that are used wrong because those are the most likely way that you're going to see idioms that are incorrect on the SAT. And lastly don't use the wrong verb, remember you 'set the table' so 'set' needs a noun and 'sit' doesn't. You 'raise the roof' so 'raise' needs a noun and 'rise' doesn't. And lastly you 'lay an egg' or 'a chicken an egg' so 'lay' needs noun but 'lie' doesn't. And those are the three rules about using the right word on the SAT.