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SAT Writing & Language: Grammar

Sentence Structures

Though sentence structures are rarely tested, you will need to understand the different components of sentence structures to understand and answer grammar based questions. The following are different components of a sentence:

1. Clauses

A CLAUSE is a group of words that includes at least a subject and a verb. A clause always contains a subject that acts through a verb. Clauses are categorized into two types to help us work with them:

1. Independent Clauses -  a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Example: I went to the bonfire after the game.

2. Dependent Clauses - a clause that contains elements of a sentence but can’t stand alone as a complete sentence.

Example: When the circus gets to town

If you’re still a bit confused about what makes up an independent clause vs. a dependent clause, simply remember what we like to call, “the AKWARD Rule.”

Dependent clauses, when said by themselves, sound awkward and incomplete. For instance:

  • so let’s find out why!
  • and that’s why I’ll never go to that store again
  • but who’s to say she isn’t?

Each of the above examples demand more information. In comparison, the following independent clauses make complete sense when said by themselves:

  • I’m in the mood for sushi
  • I have a pool in my backyard
  • there are five dogs in my local vet’s playpen
Examples 1-2
Claudia didn’t enjoy following the news. No matter the topic, every story seemed to fall under a general pessimistic trend. In every part of the world, [1] troubling developments in politics. [2] Worried about economic markets and concerned about environmental changes. So, while Claudia kept watching the news to remain up-to-date about current events, she started to seek out happy stories to balance out the negative ones.

1.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
trouble developments in politics.
C.
there were troubling developments in politics.
D.
politics was developing trouble.

2.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
People were worried about economic markets and concerned about environmental changes
C.
People worrying about economic markets and being concerned about environmental changes
D.
By worrying about economic markets and being concerned about environmental changes

Solutions:
1. The error in the sentence as it is written is that it is not a complete sentence. It also does not contain a verb - “troubling” is a not a verb (we’ll cover this more in the Verbs chapter). C is the correct answer choice, as it correctly inserts a verb and makes the sentence complete.

2. The sentence is incomplete as it does not contain a subject. Answer choices C and D are also incomplete as they do not contain a verb. Only answer choice B is correct because it creates a complete sentence that includes a subject and a verb.

Fragments

When a sentence does not contain an independent clause, it is called a sentence fragment. A fragment is basically an incomplete sentence, one that’s missing either a subject or a verb.

For example: Floating on the river.

Of course, that one’s fairly easy.. The SAT, on the other hand, will give you sentence fragments so long that by the time you’ve read to the end, you’ll have forgotten where you started. If you read a sentence out loud and it lacks a sense of completion or the whole thing just sounds weird, chances are it’s a sentence fragment.

Wrong: Because my broken heart, which you have left hardly beating in my chest, is the reason for my endless suffering

Correct: My broken heart, which you have left hardly beating in my chest, is the reason for my endless suffering

There is no one way to fix a sentence fragment. On the SAT, the simpler ones are easy to spot and fix. Other times, the trickier ones will involve removing words like “who,” “which,” “although”,” because,” “since,” and “despite.”

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that connects clauses or sentences together. There are two types of conjunctions that appear on the SAT: coordinating and subordinating.

1. Coordinating Conjunctions. Coordination means bringing things together, in this case, two independent clauses. A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects two independent clauses in a sentence.

Coordinating conjunctions are FOR, AND, NOR, BUT, OR, YET and SO, and are paired with a comma: Comma + Coordinating Conjunction.

Example: The girl walked in the door, and her mother gave her a huge hug.

Two independent clauses can also be connected using these methods:

  • Semicolon: The girl walked in the door; her mother gave her a huge hug.
  • Period: The girl walked in the door. Her mother gave her a huge hug.    

Therefore, if an answer choice joins two independent clauses using two of the above three options, then the answer choice is wrong.

Example 3
There are many good varieties of tomatoes available to growers - each grower should try a few plants of several varieties to determine which performs best.

Which of the following would NOT be an acceptable alternative to the underlined portion?
A.
growers. Each grower
B.
growers, each grower
C.
growers; each grower
D.
growers, and each grower

Solution:
The period in A), the semicolon in C), and the comma + and in D) are the same, so you can instantly eliminate all of those answers. Only B) remains.

2. Subordinating Conjunctions. Sometimes clauses in a complex sentence are connected by a subordinating conjunction. You may already know what “subordination” means and you can apply that definition here.

Subordinating conjunctions link a dependent clause to an independent clause, making one clause subordinate to (or dependent on) the other.  Often, a subordinating conjunction will show a time, place, or cause and effect relationship.

Example: Because she had gotten there just in time, her mother gave her a huge smile.

The important thing to remember is that conjunctions are necessary to connect independent and dependent clauses.

Example 4
If you grow tomatoes to sell at a market, remember that it will take about 70 to 80 days from the time you set plants in the field until you can pick ripe tomatoes from them.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
market, and remember
C.
market. Remember
D.
market; remember

Solution:
“If you grow tomatoes to sell at a market” is a dependent clause and “remember that it will take about 70 to 80 days from the time you set plants in the field until you can pick ripe tomatoes from them” is an independent clause. You connect a dependent clause with an independent clause with a comma. Therefore, A is the correct answer.
Example 5 
A recent study by two professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Chris Wilmers and James Esters, suggests, that kelp forests protected by sea otters absorb as much as 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as those where sea urchins are allowed to devour the kelp.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
suggests that,
C.
suggests, “that
D.
suggests that

Solution: The comma before “that” is unnecessary as that always starts an essential clause. A common error on SAT punctuation questions is to randomly place a comma or semicolon within a sentence, especially in sentences in which there are other commas. In this sentence, answer choice D is the correct answer. No punctuation is needed. Remember that if punctuation isn’t needed, you should leave it out.

Comma Splices and Run-On Sentences

Remember that independent clauses are complete sentences. When you connect two independent clauses with an unnecessary comma, you’ve created a COMMA SPLICE. Comma splices are grammatically incorrect.

The basic form of a comma splice is Independent Clause  ,   Independent Clause

Tip: Commas splices are often signaled by the construction “comma + pronoun” (e.g. it, he, she, they, I). When you see this construction underlined on the SAT, you should immediately be on your guard.

Wrong: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red today.

In comparison, when punctuation is needed to connect two independent clauses, but you haven’t used any, you’re left with a RUN-ON sentence.

The basic form of a run-on is Independent Clause      Independent Clause (No commas between the clauses)

There are three number of ways to fix comma splices and eliminate run-on sentences. Using this same example, let’s apply each approach.

1. Use Comma + FANBOYS

As covered in the previous section, we can use a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) along with a comma to correctly connect two independent sentences and avoid a comma splice or run-on.

Wrong: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red today.

Correct: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, but/yet they are mostly large and red today.

Important: If two independent clauses are connected by a word that’s not from the FANBOYS list, the sentence is STILL A RUN-ON. This is how the SAT tricks you.

Wrong: He was hungry, therefore, he bought a chipotle burrito.

This sentence is wrong because ‘therefore’ is not a coordinating conjunction/not on the FANBOYS list. Other words that the SAT might use to confuse you are however, moreover, in addition, nevertheless, and furthermore. These words are transition words pretending to be coordinating conjunctions.

2. Use Periods or Semicolons

Commas or semi-colons are the simplest way to correct comma splices and run-ons.

Wrong: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red

Correct: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored. They are mostly large and red today.

Correct: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored; they are mostly large and red today.

However, it’s important to remember that you should not use FANBOYS with a semicolon or period. Semicolons and periods require complete sentences on either side. If you add in a FANBOYS word, the second clause is no longer a complete sentence.

Wrong: He was hungry; and he bought a pizza.

3. Turn an Independent Clause into a Dependent Clause

Another option is to turn one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause, often by adding a subordinating conjunction. In the sentences below, the dependent clause is noted in orange.

Wrong: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red today.

Correct: While tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red today.

On the SAT or ACT, you will have answer choices to choose from. Therefore, it’s more important to be able to identify run-ons and be able to reword them.

Now, let’s complicate things by adding modifiers to each independent clause, making them complex independent clauses.

Wrong: When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night, after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

Correct: When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night; after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

Correct: When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night, yet after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

This sentence contains a ton of clauses, but essentially there are two independent clauses being mashed together.

Clause #1: When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night

Clause #2: after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

The SAT will try to trick you by putting stuffing many clauses into a sentence to keep you from realizing what you’re reading is a run-on. Read carefully and be on the lookout for where an independent clause ends and where another begins.

Example 6 
Choreographer and dancer Savion Glover aims to restore the African roots of tap dance, he eliminates hand gestures to focus on the feet as the primary source of movement.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
tap dance; and he eliminates
C.
tap dance, consequently he eliminates
D.
tap dance, eliminating

Solution: Answer choice B can be eliminated because and should only follow a comma, never a semicolon. Option C can be eliminated because consequently is not a FANBOYS conjunction and should only follow a semicolon or a period. A can also be eliminated because it contains a comma splice. Option D correctly joins the sentences using the participle eliminating.
Example 7 
Josh is one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He does everything so naturally and so confidently and he never misses a practice. Talent can only be fully realized when it is combined with hard work and a good mindset.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently plus he never misses a practice.
C.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently, and he never misses a practice.
D.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently; and he never misses a practice.

Solution:
“He never misses a practice” is an independent clause and therefore needs to be separated from the remaining sentence with appropriate punctuation: either a semicolon or a comma with a FANBOYS conjunction. The only answer choice that does that is answer choice C.

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