SAT Essay Help: Word Choice (page 2)
Words have power. Used well, they convey your ideas accurately and precisely. Used poorly, they can confuse, misinform, and even make your reader think you're not as smart as you really are. In this chapter, we'll examine the syntax (word choice) issues you need to understand to write a great essay.
"A well chosen word has often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory, and to save an empire."
—EMILE DE GIRARDIN
The words you use must deliver the maximum impact. Choosing appropriate, specific adjectives and adverbs (modifiers) makes your point clear, and you can convey ideas with better style and more shades of meaning. Consider the difference between these two sentences:
Tom puts his hat on and walks away.
Tom Wessels slaps his felt hat over his bushy hair and starts striding away with the confident gait of a hiker.
The latter example allows you to hear the voice and impressions of the writer, giving a more accurate and interesting picture of the action. The first sentence is simply dull. Using modifiers allows your reader to more closely connect to your text and gives your writing a visual and emotional power that is more memorable.
Examples of Powerful, Precise Adjectives and Adverbs
- directly involved
- unflagging dedication
- promptly accepted
- productive discussion
- grueling game
- instinctively aware
- influential teacher
- invaluable learning experience
Pay attention to the meaning of every word you use. There are many English words that look and/or sound similar but have very different meanings. If you are unsure of a definition, look it up. One wrong word—using illicit when you mean elicit, for example—can completely change the meaning of an otherwise well-written sentence. A number of these errors can also make your reader question your grasp of the language.
The following is a list of the most commonly confused word pairs or groups, with brief definitions. Check your essay for them, making sure you have used the correct word. You might want to make flash cards for each pair or group and use the cards to learn the definitions so your future writing improves as well.
Commonly Confused Words
|access||means of approaching|
|effect (verb)||to bring about|
|assure||to certify, convince|
|ensure||to make certain, guarantee|
|insure||to insure, back up financially|
|besides||in addition to|
|bibliography||list of writings|
|biography||a life story|
|desert||arid, sandy region|
|dessert||sweet served after a meal|
|disperse||to spread out|
|disinterested||no strong opinion either way|
|elicit||to stir up|
|personal||pertaining to the individual|
|principal (noun)||person in charge|
|their||belonging to them|
|there||in a place|
|who||substitute for he, she, or they|
|whom||substitute for him, her, or them|
|your||belonging to you|
Choosing the right words also means being aware of the many commonly misused ones. You may find examples of misused words in the media, on billboards and other signs, in speech, and in everyday writing. Even when used incorrectly, many these words can look acceptable to some writers. But they will stand out as glaring errors to admissions officers. Take the time to learn them, and avoid embarrassing mistakes.
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