One of the top reasons the Error-ID section can be tricky is that there are so many underlined words and phrases that seem strange, as if they could potentially contain an error. I truly cannot count the number of times I’ve had a student look at sentence, screw up his or her face, and promptly announce, “That sounds funny!”

Well guess what. Error-ID sentences are chosen precisely because they contain phrasings that most test-takers will be unfamiliar with and will therefore find strange.

That does not, however, mean that they are wrong.

Error-ID answer choices are wrong only if they are always wrong; they are never wrong if they represent one of several possible correct ways to write phrase or if “you would say it differently.” Your personal preference, dear test-taker, does not enter into the equation.

Furthermore, Error-ID options can be wrong in three ways and three ways only:

1) Grammatically

2) Logically

3) Idiomatically

If a suspicious word or phrase does not fall into one of those categories, it cannot be wrong. I’m going to illustrate with a question that a number of my students have found tricky:

(A) At the reception (B) were the (C) chattering guests, the

three-tiered cake, and the lively music that have become

(D) characteristic of many wedding receptions. (E) No error

Many of my students have chosen (D) for this question because they thought there was a noun agreement problem (that is, the chattering guests, three-tiered cake, and lively music are three things and thus must be characteristics of).

The problem with this interpretation of the question is that it does not take into account the fact that “characteristic of” is a fixed phrase that is unaffected by the number of the things it is modifying. In fact, “characteristic of” is the option more in accordance with standard usage in this case, although the other would be acceptable.

The sentence would only be wrong if it read: “At the reception were the chattering guests, the three-tiered cake, and the lively music that have become a characteristic of many wedding receptions.”

The point, however, is that if there are in fact two right answers, the answer given on the test will never be wrong. So the answer to the above question is in fact “No error.”