SAT and ACT Tips and Tricks: Incomplete Comparisons

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Comparisons errors occur SAT and ACT Tips and Tricks: Incomplete Comparisons (Apples to Oranges)on both the ACT English Test and the SAT Writing and Language Test. When you find a comparison in a passage on one of these tests, ensure that the two items being compared are alike; it's acceptable to compare an apple to an orange but it's likely questionable to compare a green bean to a rocket ship. The omission of words in SAT and ACT questions can cause the comparisons to fall apart, creating Illogical or Incomplete Comparisons.

Let's start by looking at Illogical Comparisons, which occur when comparisons don't make sense:

Example 1:
Incorrect:  There are more fleas on dogs than cats.  

This sentence illogically states that there are more fleas on dogs than cats on dogs! To correct it, we need to add the preposition on:

Correct:  There are more fleas on dogs than on cats.

Let's look at another Illogical Comparison:

Example 2:
Incorrect:  Stella wears more perfume than Becca.    

According to this sentence, Stella wears more perfume than she wears Becca, which does not make sense. This time we need a verb to fix the sentence:

Correct:  Stella wears more perfume than does Becca.
Correct:  Stella wears more perfume than Becca does.

Similar to the Illogical Comparison is the Incomplete Comparison. In these sentences, the second item being compared is either ambiguous or omitted. The object is often implied:

Example 3:
Incorrect: Maggie’s dog has a longer tail than Nicole’s.  

Unless Nicole is the name of the dog, this sentence states that Nicole, the human, has a tail which is shorter than the tail of Maggie's dog. To complete the comparison, add the noun:

Correct:  Maggie’s dog has a longer tail than Nicole’s dog

Consider one more Incomplete Comparison:

Example 4:
Incorrect: I helped Mrs. Swanson more than my brother.

It's impossible to tell in this sentence whether the author helped Mrs. Swanson more than he helped his brother or whether the author helped Mrs. Swanson more than his brother helped Mrs. Swanson. There are two ways to clear up the ambiguity:

Correct:  I helped Mrs. Swanson more than my brother helped her.
Correct:  I helped Mrs. Swanson more than I helped my brother.

So when you're faced with a comparison error on either the SAT or ACT, make sure you choose a correction that clearly compares two like objects.

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Image: Apples and Oranges, courtesy of MicroAssist