SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Complete Guide to SAT Grammar Rules

Posted by Laura Registrato | Mar 10, 2015 12:21:00 AM

SAT Strategies, SAT Writing

 

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Even though the English language is complex, SAT tests a specific set of grammar rules. Furthermore, it tests these rules the same way, over and over again.

In this complete guide, we've compiled a comprehensive list of SAT grammar rules you need to know to ace the new SAT Writing and Language section. If you master all these rules and practice them with realistic SAT questions, you'll have a huge advantage on SAT Writing and Language.

Unlike other guides, ours focuses on showing you exactly how the grammar rule will appear on the SAT by basing each example on actual SAT questions written by the College Board. After all, you need to master the SAT format to do well on the SAT. 

 

Faulty Modifiers

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes (a.k.a. modifies) something. There are two kinds of modifier problems tested on the SAT: dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers

 

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a descriptive phrase that begins a sentence, has a comma after it, and has the noun it describes NOT placed right after the comma. In the first example below, for instance, the modifier "coating the sidewalk" is supposed to describe the snow. However, since "we" is the first word after the comma, the sentence makes it sound like "we" are the ones that are "coating the sidewalk." 

 

Examples

Modifiers are underlined, while the nouns being correctly and incorrectly modified are in bold.

Error: Coating the sidewalk, we trudged through the heavy snow.

Fix: We trudged through the heavy snow coating the sidewalk.

Error: Long and tangled, it was difficult to comb the child's hair.

Fix: Long and tangled, the child's hair was difficult to comb.

Error: Exhausted and weak, the soldiers' uniforms were covered in frost.

Fix: Exhausted and weak, the soldiers were covered in frost.

 

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a descriptive phrase that's not close enough to the thing it's supposed to be describing, making it sound like it's referring to the wrong thing. In the first example below, for instance, the modifier "on the sale rack" is supposed to show where the jacket is hanging. However, since it's been placed next to "too small," the sentence seems to say that it's the way the jacket was hanging that is too small. To correct it, we move the modifier closer to the noun it describes.

 

Examples

Modifiers are underlined, while the things being correctly and incorrectly modified are in bold.

Error: The jacket was too small on the sale rack.

Fix: The jacket on the sale rack was too small.

Error: Ray wore his one collared shirt to the job interview, which was stained with mustard.

Fix: Ray wore his one collared shirt, which was stained with mustard, to the job interview.

Error: She handed out brownies to children wrapped in foil.

Fix: She handed out brownies wrapped in foil to children.

 

body_hangglider.jpgThere I was, just dangling in the breeze like a modifier...

 

Parallel Construction

To use parallel construction is to write a list where all the items have the same grammatical format. For example, if two things in a list are verbs ending in -ing, the third should also be a verb ending in -ing. If one item in a list is a prepositional phrase, then the second should also be in the form of a prepositional phrase. 

 

Examples

Words or phrases that are already parallel are in bold, while those that need to be corrected to parallel are underlined.

Error: The couple bought the concert tickets, arrived at the theater, and they sat down in their seats.

Fix: The couple bought the concert tickets, arrived at the theater, and sat down in their seats.

Error: Painting your bedroom requires picking a color, measuring the walls, get the right tools, and buying paint.

Fix:  Painting your bedroom requires picking a color, measuring the walls, getting the right tools, and buying paint.

Error: The workshop had a whiteboard on one wall, a set of shelves against another wall, and a third wall had many drawers for tools.

Fix: The workshop had a whiteboard on one wall, a set of shelves against another wall, and many drawers for tools along a third wall.

Error: Her essay focused on characters' reactions to bad news and showing how these characters handled success.

Fix: Her essay focused on characters' reactions to bad news and showed how these characters handled success.

 

body_tracks.jpgSet up parallel tracks, so your sentence train can roll safely on its way.

 

Sentences

Sentences are made up of groups of words that are called clauses. There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. An independent clause can function as a complete sentence because it has a subject-verb pair and does not start with a word or phrase that makes the clause dependent, such as "when" or "because." Meanwhile, a dependent clause must be attached to an independent clause to be part of a complete sentence.

The SAT tests three different types of clause-related situations: fixing sentence fragments, splitting up run-on sentences, and using a dependent clause as the subject of a sentence.

 

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a sentence made of anything less than an independent clause. To fix it, we either connect the fragment to an independent clause (examples 1 and 2), or add the missing subject or verb (example 3).

 

Examples

In these sentences, subjects are underlined and verbs are in bold.

Error: To boost the number of women in STEM fields, including electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering.

Fix: To boost the number of women in STEM fields, including electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering, senior female executives also act as mentors to young women.

Error: From diving hard for every attempted shot to deftly throwing the ball to the most open defender.

Fix: From diving hard for every attempted shot to deftly throwing the ball to the most open defender, the goalie was saving her team at a time when they needed her.

Error: For the sake of a better experience at school, asking his adviser for a new room assignment.

Fix: For the sake of a better experience at school, the freshman asked his adviser for a new room assignment.

 

Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence is made of multiple independent clauses joined by only a comma or no punctuation at all. To find the correct answer on the SAT, look for an answer choice that uses one of these three fixes:

  • If one independent clause is an explanation or definition of the other, add a word like "because" or "which" to the beginning of the explanation (examples 1 and 2).
  • If neither independent clause defines or explains the other, combine them with either a comma + conjunction like "and" or "but," or with a semicolon (examples 3 and 4).
  • Alternately, split them up into two separate sentences (example 5).

 

Examples

The separation between the two independent clauses is marked with a |, while the correction is underlined.

Error: The dog Mary wants to put in the dog show is a beagle, | it is a medium-sized member of the hound family.

Fix: The dog Mary wants to put in the dog show is a beagle, which is a medium-sized member of the hound family.

Error: The deli had no milk left after a rush of morning customers, | the owner rushed to order more.

Fix: Because the deli had no milk left after a rush of morning customers, the owner rushed to order more.

Error: Hummus, a favorite Mediterranean spread, is creamy and smooth, | it is very garlicky.

Fix: Hummus, a favorite Mediterranean spread, is creamy and smooth, and it is very garlicky.

Error: Air plants like the Tillandsia species are tolerant of a wide range of climates, | they thrive in room temperatures.

Fix: Air plants like the Tillandsia species are tolerant of a wide range of climates; they thrive in room temperatures.

Error: Deciding which play to put on is only the first step, | even a great script won’t succeed without a well-selected cast and a set design that works with the director’s vision.

Fix: Deciding which play to put on is only the first step. Even a great script won’t succeed without a well-selected cast and a set design that works with the director’s vision.

 

Dependent Clauses as Sentence Subjects

Sometimes, instead of having a simple noun for a subject, a sentence can use a whole dependent clause as the subject.  When this happens, you should treat the dependent clause as a singular noun.

For instance, in the first example, the clause "whoever came up with the idea to put solar panels on rooftops" is the subject of the sentence. You can tell by using this trick: replace the clause with a singular noun like "Albert Einstein" to see if the sentence still works. Here, when we do this, we can see that "Albert Einstein are geniuses" doesn't work. The verb needs to be singular to match the subject.

 

Examples

The subordinate clause that is the subject is underlined, while the verb it's doing is bold.

Error: Whoever came up with the idea to put solar panels on rooftops are geniuses.

Fix: Whoever came up with the idea to put solar panels on rooftops is a genius.

Error: That cleaning a kitchen is a repetitive chore which makes it especially thankless.

Fix: That cleaning a kitchen is a repetitive chore makes it especially thankless.

 

body_santa-2.jpgDoes his over-reliance on your milk and cookies make him a dependent Claus?

 

Plurals and Possessives

The SAT will test your understanding of how to make nouns plural (when there is two or more of something) and how to make them possessive (when you have to explain that something belongs to something else).

To make a plural noun that doesn't own anything, add “s” to the end of a singular noun:

one student, but three students

To make a possessive singular noun, add "apostrophe+s" to the end of a singular noun:

the pencil that belongs to one student = the student’s pencil

To make a possessive plural noun, add an apostrophe to the end of a plural noun:

the classroom that belongs to three students = the students’ classroom

 

Examples

Error: Every morning, many hawk’s circled the field, looking for prey.

Fix: Every morning, many hawks circled the field, looking for prey.

Error: The more I read the novel, the closer I felt to the authors’ point of view.

Fix: The more I read the novel, the closer I felt to the author’s point of view.

Error: Art Deco furniture is marked by the artists use of geometric shapes, curves, strong colors, and new materials, such as plastics.

Fix: Art Deco furniture is marked by the artist’s use of geometric shapes, curves, strong colors, and new materials, such as plastics.

 

body_mandog.jpgThat man and that jacket belong to that dog - they are that dog's belongings.

 

Pronouns

A pronoun is a part of speech stands in for a noun. For example, the pronoun "she" can stand in for "the woman" or "Queen Elizabeth." But, unlike nouns, pronouns change their form if they're used in different ways. These are the ways that pronouns are tested on the SAT.

 

Subject vs. Object Pronouns

Nouns and pronouns can be either the subjects or the objects of verbs. Subjects "do" verbs and objects have verbs "done" to them. For instance, in the sentence "a dog chases its tail," dog is the subject noun, chases is the verb that it's doing, and tail is the object noun. 

Unlike nouns like dog or tail, pronouns change form depending on whether they are subjects or objects. For example, in the phrase "she likes him," the woman is the subject, so the pronoun is she. On the other hand, in the phrase "he likes her," the woman is the object, so the pronoun changes to her.

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
I me
you you
he him
she her
it it
we us
they them

 

If you’re trying to figure out whether to use a subject or object pronoun when dealing with a compound noun, one trick is to take out the other noun and try the sentence with just the pronoun – you’ll quickly know which is right. In the first example, "me ate dinner" is clearly wrong, and in the third example, "sold cookies to I" is also clearly wrong.

 

Examples

Error: Me and my parents ate dinner.

Fix: My parents and I ate dinner.

Error: The tourists asked my friends and I for directions.

Fix: The tourists asked my friends and me for directions.

Error: The Girl Scouts sold cookies to my sister and I.

Fix: The Girl Scouts sold cookies to my sister and me.

 

Who vs. Whom

Who is a relative pronoun which can start either dependent or independent clauses inside sentences. Who is used when this pronoun is the subject doing the action and whom is used when this pronoun is the object of the action.

What's tricky about who is that figuring out whether to use its subject or object form doesn't depend on its antecedent. Instead, you have to see what role who is playing inside its own clause.

For instance, in example 1, even though “people” is an object of the verb “benefits”, inside the clause “who understand the tax code,” “who” is the subject of the verb "understand." On the other hand, in example 2, even though “skydivers” is the subject of the sentence, in the clause “whom many people greatly admire,” “whom” is the object of the verb “admire.”

One trick is to replace the “who” or “whom” with “I” or “me” to see whether you need the subject or object form. Here, “me understand the tax code” doesn’t work, and neither does “many people greatly admire I.”

 

Examples

Subjects are bold, verbs are in italics, and objects are underlined.

Error: The essay points out that the reduction in taxes only benefits those people whom understand the tax code.

Fix: The essay points out that the reduction in taxes only benefits those people who understand the tax code.

Error: Skydivers, who many people greatly admire, tend to be comfortable with risk-taking and in excellent physical shape.

Fix: Skydivers, whom many people greatly admire, tend to be comfortable with risk-taking and in excellent physical shape.

 

Pronouns and Antecedents

If there is a pronoun, it should be obvious what noun the pronoun is referring back to. If it's not clear which noun a pronoun is referring to, or if a pronoun has no antecedent, the sentence needs to be rewritten in one of two ways: either the pronoun can be replaced with a noun, or the phrase can be simplified.

For instance, in example 1, "this" could refer either to "Industrial Revolution," "resistance group," "mechanization," or "labor force," so a noun is added. Meanwhile, in example 3, there is no antecedent for "them," so the sentence has to be rewritten.

 

Examples

The unclear pronouns are in bold, while corrected pronouns and antecedents are underlined.

Error: During the Industrial Revolution in England, a resistance group sprang up to protest the mechanization of the labor force. Workers associated with this began to break and burn factory machinery to protest what they saw as unfair treatment.

Fix: During the Industrial Revolution in England, a resistance group sprang up to protest the mechanization of the labor force. Workers associated with this faction began to break and burn factory machinery to protest what they saw as unfair treatment.

Error: The files arranged by the temporary workers were out of order, so management sent them back to the main office.

Fix: The files arranged by the temporary workers were out of order, so management sent the files back to the main office.

Error: The amount of entertainment available is increasing steadily; soon there will be over 5000 shows for them to distribute to subscribers.

Fix: The amount of entertainment available is increasing steadily; soon there will be over 5000 shows for distribution to subscribers.

 

Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement

Pronouns have to match their antecedents in various ways. 

This means that when we use pronouns more than once in a sentence, we have to use the same person throughout (to clarify: 1st person means I or we, 2nd person means you, and 3rd person means he, she, it, or they). 

This also means that plural nouns are matched with plural pronouns, and singular pronouns refer back to singular nouns

 

Examples

Mismatched pronouns and antecedents are in bold, while matching pronouns and antecedents are underlined.

Error: If a person wants to succeed in corporate life, you have to know the rules of the game.

Fix: If a person wants to succeed in corporate life, she has to know the rules of the game.

Error: Like its distant oceanic relatives whales, hippopotamuses can alter their density to sink or float in water.

Fix: Like their distant oceanic relatives whales, hippopotamuses can alter their density to sink or float in water.

Error: After acquiring several new companies, the multinational corporation moved their headquarters to a state with more favorable tax loop holes.

Fix: After acquiring several new companies, the multinational corporation moved its headquarters to a state with more favorable tax loop holes.

 

That vs. Who

The basic concept behind these relative pronouns is simple: who is the pronoun for a person or people, and that is the pronoun for everything else.

 

Examples

Mismatched relative pronouns are in bold, while matching pronouns and antecedents are underlined.

Error: Coaching can be difficult for people, that have a hard time planning strategy on the field.

Fix: Coaching can be difficult for people who have a hard time planning strategy on the field.

Error: The scientific establishment who rejected Giordano Bruno’s theory that the earth revolves around the sun later had to acknowledge its mistake.

Fix: The scientific establishment that rejected Giordano Bruno’s theory that the earth revolves around the sun later had to acknowledge its mistake.

Error: The decision was made by the director, wanting to organize the group in a more efficient way.

Fix: The decision was made by the director, who wanted to organize the group in a more efficient way.

 

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to a person, place, or thing that is unknown or unspecified. Many indefinite pronouns that seem like they are referring to many things or people are actually singular.

This means that they use singular forms of verbs: “everyone is” instead of “everyone are" (like in examples 1 and 2). This also means that any nouns that refer to them also have to be singular and not plural: “no one wants to be a dropout” instead of “no one wants to be dropouts” (like in examples 3 and 4).

Person Place Thing
everyone
everybody
everywhere everything
someone
somebody
somewhere something
anyone
anybody
anywhere anything
no one
nobody
nowhere nothing
each (of these)
either (of these)
neither (of these)
   

 

Examples

Pronouns and matching verbs or nouns are underlined, while mismatched verbs or nouns are in bold.

Error: On big budget movies, each of the actors have large, well-decorated trailers.

Fix: On big budget movies, each of the actors has a large, well-decorated trailer.

Error: Every one of the experts invited to speak at the conference were unable to make it.

Fix: Every one of the experts invited to speak at the conference was unable to make it.

Error: Anyone thinking about becoming writers must be excellent readers.

Fix: Anyone thinking about becoming a writer must be an excellent reader.

Error: Either of these desks would be great surfaces to work on.

Fix: Either of these desks would be a great surface to work on.

 

Its/It’s, Their/They’re/There, Your/You’re, Whose/Who’s

The different forms and abbreviations of these pronouns are frequently mixed up, but they are something you simply have to memorize. Here are some tricks to use if you're stuck:

  • Take the abbreviation apart: does “it is,” “you are,” “they are,” or “who is” work in the sentence? Then use it’s, you’re, they’re, or who’s.
  • If the sentence is trying to say that something belongs to something else, use its, your, their, or whose.
  • If the sentence is trying to point to a specific or vague place, use there.

 

Pronoun Definition Examples
its belonging to it

the puppy’s toy = its toy

the leg of the table = its leg

it’s it is

the sky is cloudy = it is cloudy = it’s cloudy

the book is long = it is long = it’s long

their belonging to them

the sisters’ bedroom = their bedroom

the color of walls = their color

they’re they are

flowers are blooming = they are blooming = they’re blooming

friends are great = they are great = they’re great

there

in/on that place

existing somewhere

in the world exist many trees = there are many trees

the pants are on the shelf = the pants are there

your

belonging to you

this is my dinner, and this is your dinner

you’re

you are

you are delighted = you’re delighted

you are a student = you’re a student

whose

belonging to whom?

I don’t know who owns this house = whose is this house?

who’s

who is

who from the team is coming? = who’s coming?

 

Examples

Incorrect forms of these words are underlined, while the correct ones are bold.

Error: Who could have known that Da Vinci’s most mysterious painting would become his most famous, with it’s famous half-smile forever expressing some unknowable emotion.

Fix: Who could have known that Da Vinci’s most mysterious painting would become his most famous, with its famous half-smile forever expressing some unknowable emotion.

Error: Your just like all the other Americans visiting England who think that cricket is closely related to baseball.

Fix: You’re just like all the other Americans visiting England who think that cricket is closely related to baseball.

Error: Having several books to return to the library, Maria checks they’re due dates to make sure she won’t have to pay fines.

Fix: Having several books to return to the library, Maria checks their due dates to make sure she won’t have to pay fines.

Error: Dismayed that no one agreed with his argument, the city councilman asked, “Whose with me on this?”

Fix: Dismayed that no one agreed with his argument, the city councilman asked, “Who’s with me on this?”

Error: Every study we have come across suggests that bicycles are an excellent way to get around: there economical, good for public health, and environmentally friendly.

Fix: Every study we have come across suggests that bicycles are an excellent way to get around: they’re economical, good for public health, and environmentally friendly.

 

body_grammar-10.jpgFeeling overwhelmed by grammar is apparently part of the human condition. Here's a grammar book from 1526. Just imagine all those monks having to study pronouns in Latin...

 

Verbs

There are two main issues with verbs tested on the SAT: verb tenses and subject-verb agreement. 

 

Verb Tense

There are nine basic verb tenses, three for each time period. Here are the basic tenses formed from the verb to sing. As you can see, some of the verb tenses are created by adding forms of the verbs have, be, and do.

Time Period Verb Forms
Present

Simple Present: They sing.
Present Continuous: They are singing.
Present Perfect: They have sung.

Past

Simple Past: They sang.
Past Continuous: They were singing.
Past Perfect: They had sung.

Future

Future: They will sing.
Future Continuous: They will be singing.
Future Perfect: They will have sung.

 

Generally, the idea is to keep verbs in a single sentence within the same time period, especially if a sentence is describing things that happen during the same time period (example 1).

If a sentence contains a shift in chronological time, then verb tenses should shift to account for the change in time (example 3).

 

Examples

Verbs in the same tense are underlined, while verbs that are in the wrong tense are in bold.

Error: According to the cardiologist, since the patient’s arteries are (present) dangerously clogged with cholesterol deposits, the medical team had (past) to check for elevated blood pressure and other heart attack risks.

Fix: According to the cardiologist, since the patient’s arteries are (present) dangerously clogged with cholesterol deposits, the medical team has (present) to check for elevated blood pressure and other heart attack risks.

Error: Even though office hours had been (past) over for some time, the professor and her student are continuing (present) their productive work on the research project.

Fix: Even though office hours have been (present) over for some time, the professor and her student are continuing (present) their productive work on the research project.

Error: If the pace of technological advancements continues (present), in the future we ride (present) self-driving cars.

Fix: If the pace of technological advancements continues (present), in the future we will ride (future) self-driving cars.

 

Subject/Verb Agreement

Nouns and verbs are both parts of speech with number: they are written differently if they refer to just one thing or multiple things. One dog runs fast, for example, but two dogs run fast.

Number agreement just means that the noun and the verb have the same number (singular or plural). One thing to remember is that collective nouns are singular (a “swarm of bees flies” instead of “swarm of bees fly”).

 

Examples

Matching subjects and verbs are underlined, while verbs that don't match subjects are bold.

Error: The writing in those paragraphs are absolutely horrible.

Fix: The writing (singular) in those paragraphs is (singular) absolutely horrible.

Error: There was a doctor and a crew of nurses in the emergency room with me during my surgery.

Fix: There were (plural) a doctor and a crew of nurses (plural) in the emergency room with me during my surgery.

Error: Mr. Peterson is trying to do yard work, but a swarm of bees keep distracting him.

Fix: Mr. Peterson is trying to do yard work, but a swarm (singular) of bees keeps (singular) distracting him.

 

body_baseball.jpgAfter a poorly verbed pitch, the batter verbed the ball to midfield. The shortstop verbed to the left, verbing the ball just in time to verb the runner out.

 

Illogical Comparisons

There are two different kinds of comparisons that break the rules of logic.

The first relies on the idea that you can only compare things that are alike in some way. One trick to spotting illogical comparisons is that they tend to happen when a sentence is comparing something that belongs to someone or something else by using the comparison word than. You have to make sure that the two things on either side of the than are in the same category (examples 1 and 2).

For instance, you can compare apples and oranges because both are fruits. But if both Stanley and Cora have apples, you can't say:

I like Stanley's apples better than Cora.

You'd have to say:

I like Stanley's apples better than Cora's apples.

or simply:

I like Stanley's apples better than Cora's

The second kind of illogical comparison that the SAT likes to test is the idea that you can't compare something to all things of that type. You can only compare that thing to all other things of that type (example 3).

 

Examples

The two things that each sentence is comparing are underlined.

Error: Some regulators believe that new drugs should have to go through an even more rigorous testing process than patients who prefer the one currently in place. 

Fix: Some regulators believe that new drugs should have to go through an even more rigorous testing process than the one currently in place, which patients prefer. 

Error: Charles Dickens's epic novels, which are almost universally admired by readers and critics alike, are more sweeping than Jane Austen, who writes novels of manners.

Fix: Charles Dickens's epic novels, which are almost universally admired by readers and critics alike, are more sweeping than Jane Austen's novels of manners.

Error: For astronauts, the moon is easier to get to than any space object.

Fix: For astronauts, the moon is easier to get to than any other space object.

 

body_polarbear.jpgYou can compare the polar bear with the girls, but you can't compare the polar bear's favorite toy with the girls. Unless that is one extremely dangerous zoo.

 

Concision and Redundancy

There are times when saying something twice is needed: for emphasis, to review a difficult topic, or to explain something more clearly. The SAT, however, is all about being as succinct and to the point as possible. Your ability to edit the fat out of your sentences is tested in three ways: fixing overly wordy phrases, finding redundancies, and combining two simple sentences into a more complex one. 

 

Overly Wordy Phrases

The SAT believes deeply in Shakespeare's maxim that “brevity is the soul of wit”: if you can say the same thing with fewer words, do it.

It’s tempting to think that when a sentence uses a multi-word phrase where a single word will do, the sentence sounds formal or more academic. But this is not the case – often, one word is better than many (examples 1 and 2).

Sometimes a sentence uses words when they don’t serve any purpose and don’t even need to be replaced with one word, but instead should just be deleted (examples 3 and 4).

 

Examples

Error: Thinking in a manner more general, we can say that good schools enable people to learn more.

Fix: Generally, we can say that good schools enable people to learn more.

Error: The company may not be awarded the contract because it lacks production facilities, making it a worse choice from a theoretical way of speaking.

Fix: The company may not be awarded the contract because it lacks production facilities, making it a worse choice theoretically.

Error: Although hesitant to challenge herself at first, the student decided to enroll in three AP courses, two honors courses, and an intensive art course on top of that.

Fix: Although hesitant to challenge herself at first, the student decided to enroll in three AP courses, two honors courses, and an intensive art course.

Error: When the audience stood to applaud the speaker, it was clear that her words had had a marvelous, even stupendous, effect on the crowd.

Fix: When the audience stood to applaud the speaker, it was clear that her words had had a marvelous effect on the crowd.

 

Redundancy

When a sentence expresses the same bit of information two or more times, it’s considered redundant. Pick the best way of stating the necessary fact and delete the repetition.

 

Examples

Words or phrases that mean the same thing as each other are underlined.

Error: The stock market may repeat its drop and rise pattern again, warns the financial forecast.

Fix: The stock market may repeat its drop and rise pattern, warns the financial forecast. 

Error: Soon a relative calm period followed quickly after the brunt of the cyclone had passed.

Fix: A relative calm period followed quickly after the brunt of the cyclone had passed. 

Error: Management was surprised to see a biannual uptick in sales twice each year.

Fix: Management was surprised to see a biannual uptick in sales. 

 

Combining Simple Sentences

Sometimes, in order to write with concision, you have to combine simple or related sentences into one. Don’t worry about keeping word order – the point of this kind of revision is that you will need to shift things around.

To combine sentences correctly you have to think about several things:

  • Is there a person, place, thing, or concept that both sentences are talking about? If so, you can make one sentence into a dependent clause of the other through this repeated noun (example 1).
  • Is there a chronological sequence that the two sentences are describing? Then you can make one into a dependent clause of the other using prepositions like “before,” “after,” or “following” (example 2).
  • Does one sentence define the other? Combine them by inserting whatever is being defined into the defining sentence (example 3).

 

Examples

The nouns, chronology, or definitions used to combined the sentences are underlined.

Error: The voting rate has not decreased among uneducated citizens. Uneducated voters continue to vote for better schools.

Fix: The voting rate does has not decreased among uneducated citizens, who continue to vote for better schools. 

Error: Young musicians are encouraged to perfect their techniques and skills through their conservatory training. After this, they can start their careers in smaller, local orchestras.

Fix: After perfecting their techniques and skills through their conservatory training, young musicians can start their careers in smaller, local orchestras. 

Error: The conclusion scientists came to is the idea that instead of being made up of particles, matter is actually made out of one-dimensional objects called strings. This is string theory.

Fix: The conclusion scientists came to is string theory, the idea that instead of being made up of particles, matter is actually made out of one-dimensional objects called strings. 

 

body_carabiner.jpgRedundacy: good for mountain climbing, bad for writing.

 

Idioms and Standard English

The SAT tests your knowledge of common English usage.

You'll see questions about two types of idioms. First, there are expressions that mean something different than the actual words they use (like "raining cats and dogs" or "kick the bucket"). And second, there are short phrases or groups of words that always go together (like "stumble on" or "keep at bay"). 

Also, you'll be asked to distinguish among frequently confused homonyms (words that sound like each other but are used in different circumstances because they mean different things, like "bear" and "bare").

 

Verbal Phrases

The SAT particularly loves one type of idiom: verbal phrases, which are verb + preposition pairs. They always want to know if you know which is the correct preposition, as in the incorrect sentences below.

 

Examples

Error: The show was followed on an encore.

Fix: The show was followed by an encore.

Error: She is responsible of returning her library books.

Fix: She is responsible for returning her library books.

Error: One should refrain for texting while driving.

Fix: One should refrain from texting while driving.

 

Prepositional Idioms

These are just like verbal phrases, except they don’t involve verbs. There are just some groups of words that always end on a specific preposition.

 

Examples

Error: The translucent sculpture used light as a means through connecting viewers standing across from each other.

Fix: The translucent sculpture used light as a means of connecting viewers standing across from each other.

Error: In accordance to these findings, future research will focus on analyzing the effect of facial expressions on mirror neurons.

Fix: In accordance with these findings, future research will focus on analyzing the effect of facial expressions on mirror neurons.

 

Commonly Confused Words

English has a lot of words that sound similar to each other but mean very different things. Here is a very incomplete list (you can find more of them by searching “commonly confused words”):

Accept: to receive (verb)
Except: with the exclusion of (preposition)

Affect: to influence (verb); emotional response (noun)
Effect: result (noun); to cause (verb)

Beside: close to; next to
Besides: except for; in addition to

Complement: something that completes; to pair well with
Compliment: praise, flattery

Eminent: prominent
Imminent: about to happen

Precede: to come before
Proceed: to continue, to keep going

Sight: scene, view, picture, being able to see
Site: place, location; a web page
Cite: to quote, to point to evidence

Then: an adverb denoting time
Than: a conjunction used in comparisons

 

Examples

Error: After losing his hearing, Beethoven heard his music in his mind, which was quite different then hearing musicians perform it.

Fix: After losing his hearing, Beethoven heard his music in his mind, which was quite different than hearing musicians perform it.

Error: Despite hours of work, the web administration team was unable to restore the sight after the denial of service attack.

Fix: Despite hours of work, the web administration team was unable to restore the site after the denial of service attack.

Error: The presidential candidate used rhetorical flourishes to great affect in his speech, receiving a standing ovation.

Fix: The presidential candidate used rhetorical flourishes to great effect in his speech, receiving a standing ovation.

 

Language Formality

When writing for school, for work, or for publication in a news or scientific journal, you have to use formal English. This means avoiding slang and words and phrases that sound too casual. Instead, it’s important to keep each sentence at the same language elevation.

 

Examples

Error: A bunch of guys doing experiments was able to synthesize a lithium-ion battery smaller than a grain of sand.

Fix: A team of researchers was able to synthesize a lithium-ion battery smaller than a grain of sand.

Error: At London’s Westminster Abbey in 1559, Elizabeth Tudor, the 25-year-old daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, got to become Queen Elizabeth I.

Fix: At London’s Westminster Abbey in 1559, Elizabeth Tudor, the 25-year-old daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was crowned Queen Elizabeth I.

 

body_tux.jpgInappropriate informality won't get you into the Duke's exclusive club either.

 

Conjunctions and Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs are words that explain how two clauses in a sentence, or how to two or more successive sentences, relate to one another.

The SAT checks your ability to use conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs to clarify cause and effect or logic within sentences.

 

Explanation

Some conjunctions link events in a cause and effect relationship, helping to point out what happened as a result of something else. 

Because: what has just been said is true as a consequence of what is about to be said

Therefore and hence: it follows from what has just been said that

For example and for instance: here is evidence that backs up the previous argument

Whereby: by which; using the idea/principle/concept just mentioned; by means of

Consequently: directly following the thing that has just been described

 

Examples

The incorrect conjunctions are in bold, while the right ones are underlined.

Error: Recent advances in medicine include a new MRI technique for detecting heart damage in chemotherapy patients. However, doctors will be able to see heart defects earlier and more effectively.

Fix: Recent advances in medicine include a new MRI technique for detecting heart damage in chemotherapy patients. Consequently, doctors will be able to see heart defects earlier and more effectively.

(Doctors can see better as a result of the new MRI test.)

Error: Not only have archaeologists in Britain unearthed several well-preserved Bronze Age dwellings, we are getting new insight into domestic life 3000 years ago.

Fix: Because archaeologists in Britain have unearthed several well-preserved Bronze Age dwellings, we are getting new insight into domestic life 3000 years ago.

(We are getting insight as a result of dwellings being unearthed.)

Error: Foreshadowing, a literary technique when an author hints at what will happen later in the text, is a useful tool for setting the right atmosphere.

Fix: Foreshadowing, a literary technique whereby an author hints at what will happen later in the text, is a useful tool for setting the right atmosphere.

(An author hints by means of foreshadowing.)

 

Contradiction or Digression

Other conjunctions are useful for describing a negative or opposing relationship between events. They can explain that something happened despite something else, or even though common sense would not have predicted it. They can also indicate that the argument is shifting to a different point.

However: introduces a statement/idea that contradicts what has just been said

On the one hand, on the other hand: presents two ideas that oppose each other (these always go together)

But: despite what has just been said, here is information to the contrary

Nevertheless: in spite of what has just been said

Aside from: the example follows is an exception to what is being discussed

While and whereas: in contrast or comparison with the fact that

 

Examples

The incorrect conjunctions are in bold, while the correct ones are underlined.

Error: The pianist had not had nearly enough time to study and practice the sonata, and she played it flawlessly.

Fix: The pianist had not had nearly enough time to study and practice the sonata, but she played it flawlessly.

(The flawlessness happened despite the lack of practice time.)

Error: Just as crayons are a medium generally reserved for young children, professional artists have used them to great effect.

Fix: Though crayons are a medium generally reserved for young children, professional artists have used them to great effect.

(That professional artists have used crayons contrasts with the fact that crayons are usually for children.)

 

Similarity and Emphasis

The final category of conjunctive adverbs connects things that are equal or similar, or adds examples that emphasize the direction of the argument.

Moreover: as an additionalpotentially more convincing or importantmatter

Just as: in comparison to; similar to

Likewise: in the same way; also

Not only, but also: presents two ideas that support and emphasize each other (these always go together)

 

Examples

The incorrect conjunctions are in bold, while the right ones are underlined.

Error: Investing money is one way to plan for the future. Hence, another good long-term planning option is to take advantage of a retirement savings account.

Fix: Investing money is one way to plan for your future. Likewise, another good long-term planning option is to take advantage of a retirement savings account.

(The word “another” means that two similar things are being discussed.)

Error: Dressing to attract attention can affect the way people perceive you. Nevertheless, it can be inappropriate depending on the context.

Fix: Dressing to attract attention can affect the way people perceive you. Moreover, it can be inappropriate depending on the context.

(The inappropriateness is an additional, more significant, effect of attention-getting clothing.)

 

body_bunny.jpgHonestly, this is in no way connected to conjunctive adverbs. However, look - cute!

 

Punctuation

There are many punctuation rules in English, but, fortunately, the SAT doesn’t test all of them. Instead, the test focuses on several specific types.

 

Punctuating Modifiers

Phrases that modify or describe a part of a sentence are punctuated differently depending on whether they are an essential or nonessential part of the sentence.

If the sentence needs the modifier in order to make sense, then the modifier is “restrictive” and doesn’t get surrounded by commas.

If you could easily take out the modifier without losing the sentence’s meaning, then the modifier is “nonrestrictive” and should be surrounded by commas like this:

  • Put one comma right after a modifier that starts a sentence.
  • Put one comma right before a modifier that ends a sentence.
  • If the modifier appears in the middle of the sentence, surround it with commas on both sides.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: US President, Barack Obama, will meet with his counterparts from the European countries for the multinational summit.

Fix: US President Barack Obama will meet with his counterparts from the European countries for the multinational summit.

(Since “Barack Obama” is key to the sentence's meaning, no commas are needed.)

Error: The daisy, a perennial plant, sometimes known as bruisewort, grows low to the ground.

Fix: The daisy, a perennial plant sometimes known as bruisewort, grows low to the ground.

(The modifier just needs to be surrounded by commas, and doesn’t need any commas inside it.)

Error: Started on a whim by an eccentric resident; the project to clean up the abandoned lot soon became a popular neighborhood pastime.

Fix: Started on a whim by an eccentric resident, the project to clean up the abandoned lot soon became a popular neighborhood pastime.

(The modifier should be set off by a comma, not a semicolon.)

Error: This last part of the minuet should be played with steadily increasing volume, or crescendo; until the final chord.

Fix: This last part of the minuet should be played with steadily increasing volume, or crescendo, until the final chord.

(“Crescendo” is being defined, so it needs to be set off by commas, not semicolons.)

 

Using Dashes

Think of dashes as being kind of like parentheses. Dashes separate out a sentence piece that is explanatory, but isn’t crucial, like an aside, or something muttered under your breath. Sometimes this piece is a digressive thought; sometimes it's a list of examples.

Typically, the phrase inside the dashes has commas in it, so dashes are the best way to set it off from the rest of the sentence. If the phrase is in the middle of the sentence, it needs to be surrounded by dashes on both sides.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: The hairstylist picked up the scissors – the kind that usually sit in the jar of blue liquid, and started to snip bits of hair off his client’s head.

Fix: The hairstylist picked up the scissors – the kind that usually sit in the jar of blue liquid – and started to snip bits of hair off his client’s head.

Error: The best hotel concierges have many skills: knowledge of foreign customs, the ability to speak several languages, and a charming manner, that put even the most diffident guests at ease.

Fix: The best hotel concierges have many skills – knowledge of foreign customs, the ability to speak several languages, and a charming manner – that put even the most diffident guests at ease.

Error: After readers found the errors, all 243 of them – the publishing company was forced to issue a reprint of the book.

Fix: After readers found the errors – all 243 of them – the publishing company was forced to issue a reprint of the book.

 

Punctuating “Such As”

The phrase “such as” introduces a series of examples to back up the point that’s just been made. The correct way to punctuate it is to put a comma before “such as,” and then no comma before the first list item or example.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: Teachers give out a variety of homework assignments, such as, worksheets, hands-on projects, and online quizzes.

Fix: Teachers give out a variety of homework assignments, such as worksheets, hands-on projects, and online quizzes. 

Error: The antique book shop also sold other paper ephemera such as, maps and newspapers.

Fix: The antique book shop also sold other paper ephemera, such as maps and newspapers.

 

Formatting Lists

A list is a series of people, ideas, objects, actions, or conditions that follow each other, play the same role in the sentence, and are typically separated by commas. In fact, the last sentence has two lists: “people, ideas, objects, actions, or conditions” and “follow each other, play the same role in the sentence, and are separated by commas.” See what I did there?

Punctuation rules for lists:

  • They should be separated by commas, with a comma coming before the “and” or “or” that precedes the last list item: dogs, cats, gerbils, and fish.
  • If one of the list items has a comma within it, then all the list items should be separated by semicolons: shaggy, purebred dogs; white cats; soft, cuddly gerbils; and fish.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: The market stall sold ripe apples, dark red cherries; and sometimes even apricots.

Fix: The market stall sold ripe apples, dark red cherries, and sometimes even apricots.

Error: The class focused on programming languages, algorithms and documentation.

Fix: The class focused on programming languages, algorithms, and documentation. 

 

Using Colons

Colons are used in two different ways.

First, they can indicate that a list is coming up, and that after the list the sentence will end.

Here is my list of acceptable pets: dogs, cats, gerbils, and fish.

Second, they are used to indicate that an explanation, a definition, or an example of what has just been said is coming.

My search for the perfect pet came down to man's best friend: a dog.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: It’s easy to explain why many 12th graders start taking school less seriously toward the end of the year; senioritis.

Fix: It’s easy to explain why many 12th graders start taking school less seriously toward the end of the year: senioritis

("Senioritis" is the defined term.)

Error: The more I cook at home, the more kitchen techniques I learn, knife skills, mise en place, and cooking several dishes simultaneously.

Fix: The more I cook at home, the more kitchen techniques I learn: knife skills, mise en place, and cooking several dishes simultaneously.

(“Learn” introduces a list.)

Error: Consider lobsters for example, with age, they only get stronger and more fertile.

Fix: Consider lobsters for example: with age, they only get stronger and more fertile.

("Example” introduces an explanation.)

 

Using Semicolons

Semicolons have two basic functions.

First, in lists they separate list items that have commas:

We ate mushrooms, which had been picked in a nearby forest; herbs, nuts, and berries foraged from a public park; and champagne.

Second, they fix run-on sentences by separating two independent clauses without a conjunction:

Jim rode his bike; Mary walked.

 

Examples

Incorrect and correct punctuation are underlined.

Error: The State Department completed three assignments: diplomatic talks, led by an expert in arms control, a bilateral meeting, chaired by an assistant director, and a state visit.

Fix: The State Department completed three assignments: diplomatic talks, led by an expert in arms control; a bilateral meeting, chaired by an assistant director; and a state visit. 

(Two of the three list items have commas in them, so they are separated by semicolons.)

Error: The architect worked on the model all night, he was bleary-eyed during the presentation.

Fix: The architect worked on the model all night; he was bleary-eyed during the presentation.

(These are independent clauses, so they should be connected by a semicolon.)

 

The Bottom Line

Here is a quick summary of all the grammar rules we talked about in this article:

  • Faulty Modifierswords or phrases that describe something
    1. Dangling Modifier - a descriptive phrase that begins a sentence, has a comma after it, and has the noun it describes NOT placed right after the comma 
    2. Misplaced Modifier - a descriptive phrase that's not close enough to the thing it's supposed to be describing, making it sound like it's referring to the wrong thing 
  • Parallel Construction - a list where all the items have the same grammatical format
  • Sentences - made up of independent and dependent clauses
    1. Sentence Fragments - sentences made of anything less than an independent clause
    2. Run-on Sentences - multiple independent clauses joined by only a comma or no punctuation at all
    3. Dependent Clauses as Subjects - sentences can use a whole dependent clause as subjects; treat the dependent clause as a singular noun
  • Plurals and Possessives - plural is when there is two or more of something; possessive is when something belongs to something else
    1. Plural Noun - add “s” to the end of a singular noun
    2. Possessive Singular Noun - add "apostrophe+s" to the end of a singular noun
    3. Possessive Plural Noun - add an apostrophe to the end of a plural noun
  • Pronouns - parts of speech that stand in for a noun (its antecedent)
    1. Subject vs. Object Pronouns - pronouns change form depending on whether they are subjects or objects
    2. Who vs. Whomwho is the subject form, and whom is the object form
    3. Pronouns and Antecedents - it should be obvious which noun each pronoun is referring back to
    4. Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement - pronouns have to match their antecedents' person and number
    5. That vs. Whowho is for a person or people, and that is for everything else
    6. Indefinite Pronouns - pronouns like "everyone" that seem plural are actually singular
    7. Its/It’s, Their/They’re/There, Your/You’re, Whose/Who’s - you have to memorize these
  • Verbs - the SAT tests tense agreement and subject-verb agreement
    1. Verb Tense - keep verbs in a single sentence within the same time period: present, past, or future 
    2. Subject/Verb Agreement - a noun and its verb have the same number (singular or plural)
  • Illogical Comparisons - you can only compare things that are alike in some way; you can't compare something to all things of that type
  • Concision and Redundancy - the SAT is all about being as succinct and to the point as possible
    1. Overly Wordy Phrases - often, one word is better than many; sometimes, extra words should just be deleted
    2. Redundancy - if a sentence expresses the same bit of information two or more times, delete the repetition
    3. Combining Simple Sentences - make one sentence into a dependent clause of the other through a repeated noun, using prepositions like “before,” “after,” or “following,” or by inserting whatever is being defined into the defining sentence
  • Idioms and Standard English
    1. Verbal Phrases - verb + preposition pairs that always go together
    2. Prepositional Idiomsgroups of words that always end on a specific preposition
    3. Commonly Confused Words - English has a lot of homonyms (words that sound similar to each other but mean very different things)
    4. Language Formality - avoiding slang and words and phrases that sound too casual
  • Conjunctions and Conjunctive Adverbs - words that explain how two clauses in a sentence or successive sentences relate to one another
    1. Explanation - conjunctions like "because," "consequently," and "for example" link events in a cause and effect relationship
    2. Contradiction or Digression - conjunctions like "however," "but," and "nevertheless" describe a negative or opposing relationship between events
    3. Similarity and Emphasis - conjunctions like "moreover" and "likewise" connect things that are equal or similar, or add examples to the argument
  • Punctuation
    1. Punctuating Modifiers - if the sentence needs the modifier in order to make sense, then the modifier doesn’t need commas; if you can take out the modifier without losing meaning, then the modifier should be surrounded by commas 
    2. Using Dashes - separate out a sentence piece that is explanatory, but isn’t crucial
    3. Punctuating “Such As” - put a comma before “such as,” and then no comma after it 
    4. Formatting Lists - list items are typically separated by commas, with a comma before the “and” or “or” that precedes the last list item
    5. Using Colons - indicating that a list is coming up, and that after the list the sentence will end; indicating that an explanation, a definition, or an example is coming
    6. Using Semicolons - separating list items that have commas; fixing run-on sentences by separating two independent clauses without a conjunction

 

What's Next?

Knowing the grammar rules is just the beginning. Check out our complete guide to SAT Writing for a comprehensive take on all of the topics and strategies you need to know

Excelling on the writing also requires a lot of practice, so make sure to check out our complete list of SAT practice tests.

Want an 800 on SAT Reading and Writing? First, start by checking out our comprehensive advice on how to study for the new SAT. Then,  read our detailed guide on how to get a perfect Writing score and how to get a perfect Reading score.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written an eBook guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. This includes advice on how you should be practicing your SAT Grammar rules to improve the fastest:

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Laura Registrato
About the Author

Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.



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