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Chris Lele

SAT Writing – Diction

One of the least common—but no less diabolical—errors you can encounter on the writing section of the SAT is called the diction error. You may even be familiar with this error type (though you probably never referred to it as a diction error). You probably thought something along the lines of, “I hate you evil <expletive> SAT. How can you make a grammar question about vocabulary?!?”

Because that’s essentially what a diction error is on the SAT—the old switcheroo, where one word that sounds an awful lot like another word is incorrectly used in a sentence.

Here a couple examples of the dreaded idiom:

  • The scientists, once they discovered that each had tackled a similar line of stem-cell research, realized that they would both benefit if they corroborated in their research. No error.
  • The first two years are the most formidableit is during this time that many of our enduring personality traits take rootNo error.

Even with that little introduction nudging you as to what was being tested, you may have struggled on these two questions. So we know that a word is being mistakenly used for another word—a word that sounds very similar. For the first question the word should be “collaborated”, not “corroborated”, which means to confirm or give support to evidence.

For the second question, the word should be “formative”, not “formidable”, which describes something that is so big or amazing that it commands respect (think of Lebron James’s skills on the basketball court).

So, these diction errors are truly formidable, because you’re just not looking out for them. In the questions above you are likely to pick an answer that sounds weird (“take root”). But that doesn’t mean you should start looking for them everywhere. They pop up about once every other test, if that often. Diction errors are almost always near the end of the Identifying the Error section (they don’t show up in the other sections). This fact shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the hardest questions come at the end of the grammar section.

So what to do? Know that they will appear and always be on guard if you can’t seem to find a mistake in an Identifying the Error question. Carefully, look to see if the correct word is being used.

Below is a list of some of the common diction errors.

  • Affect vs. Effect
  • Conscientious vs. Conscious vs. Conscience
  • Crutch vs. Crux
  • Empathetic vs. Emphatic
  • Flaunt vs. Flout
  • Ingenuous vs. Ingenious
  • Irregardless – no such word


About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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