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SAT Grammar Rules

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SAT Grammar Rules: Subject-verb agreement is one of the most frequently tested topics when preparing for the SAT Writing Section, as most of the SAT prep books and courses we reviewed state. The “subject” and the “verb” must be in “agreement,” as the name implies. In other words, if the subject is singular (i.e., there is only one person, place, or thing), then the verb should also be singular. On the other hand, if the subject is plural (there are multiple instances of the same person, place, or thing), a plural verb needs to be used in the sentence.

1. The Subject and Verb Must Agree in Number

Subject-verb agreement is one of the grammatical principles that is most often examined on the SAT Writing Part. Simply said, there should be a single verb for a singular subject (one) and a plural verb for a plural subject (more than one). Here is a simple illustration that you were probably taught in school:

Singular: Jack runs down the street. (Jack is a singular subject, and runs is a singular verb)

Plural: Jack and Jill run down the street. (Jack and Jill is a plural subject, and run is a plural verb)

If each test question was as simple as this, every student would be on their way to the Ivy League, but SAT test-makers often like to complicate this question type. This leads us to our second rule.

2. Collective Nouns are Singular

To complicate basic subject-verb agreement, the SAT Writing and Language Test often uses things like collective nouns to trick test-takers. For SAT review, remember that group words used to refer to multiple individuals are singular subjects. For example,

Incorrect: The jury are convinced that John is guilty.

Although the subject jury refers to more than one person, as a collective noun, we take jury as a singular subject.

Correct: The jury is convinced that John is guilty.

Some examples of other collective nouns to look out for are: team, group, committee, crowd, class, and panel. Note that multiple groups (panels, juries, groups, etc.) are used with plural verbs.

3. Prepositional Phrases DO NOT Make a Subject Singular or Plural

Prepositions are not used to indicate whether or not a subject is singular or plural, which is one of the most crucial grammar principles to keep in mind as you study for the SAT Writing and Language Exam. Instead, we employ the verb form indicated by the head noun or the noun being changed. Examples of how prepositions are used on the SAT include:

Incorrect: The group of members are extremely passionate.

Correct: The group of members is extremely passionate.

Incorrect: The book with five chapters are well written.

Correct: The book with five chapters is well written.

As you can see, the topic may be quickly determined if the prepositional phrase is completely removed. Prepositional phrases may cause test-takers to get distracted from straightforward grammatical mistakes under the pressure and rush of the SAT. We immediately make the text simpler and more readable by erasing the prepositional phrase.

4. Pronouns Must be Clear in Reference and Number

On the SAT  Writing and Language Test, you should always be able to circle a pronoun and draw an arrow to the exact person, place, or thing being referenced. In your SAT review, practice connecting pronouns to their nouns. For example,

Even though John was tired, he still went running.

Here, we can see that the he being referenced is John. To test your ability to identify proper pronoun usage, the SAT  Writing and Language test often employs ambiguous pronoun (pronouns in the presence of more than one possible noun):

Incorrect: John, Jim, and Carl were running when he got tired and stopped.

Because there is more than one possible he, we cannot logically deduce who got tired and stopped. Instead, a correct answer would be one that specifies a specific individual.

Correct: John, Jim, and Carl were running when Jim got tired and stopped.

Along with using ambiguous pronouns to test your knowledge, the SAT employs sentences in which the pronoun does not agree with the number of nouns being referenced.

Incorrect: The mile times of the students in Jim’s class were higher than that of Carl’s class.

As we learned above, prepositional phrases do not make a subject singular or plural. Here, we cross out the prepositional phrase to clearly see that the pronoun that is used in reference to the noun mile times. Since mile times are a plural subject, the pronoun must also be plural. To correct the error, the sentence should read:

Correct: The mile times of the students in Jim’s class were higher than those of Carl’s class.

Remember that the words I, me, you, she, her, it, and him are singular while we, us, you, and they are plural when studying for the SAT Language and Writing Exam. Every time you see a pronoun in a question, circle it in the text and add an arrow to the noun it refers to to make life easy for yourself.

5. Modifiers have to Appear Next to Whatever they’re Modifying

The use of dangling and improperly positioned modifiers is a frequent mistake type on the SAT Writing Part. Modifiers are words or phrases that, as their name implies, add information to another term.

Throughout your SAT prep, keep in mind that the word immediately after the comma must be the term being modified anytime you encounter a modifier, particularly at the start of a sentence. Typical mistakes include the following:

Incorrect: A very precocious young boy, engineering came easily to Billy.

Because the word being modified must appear directly after the modifier, the modifying phrase (A very precocious young boy) is incorrectly referring to computer engineering. To fix the error, the sentence should read,

Correct: A very precocious young boy, Billy found engineering easy.

Along with these modifiers at the beginning of a sentence, the SAT® Writing and Language Test regularly uses modifiers in incorrect or ambiguous positions. For example,

Incorrect: The basketball player announced his plans to train harder during the meeting.

The modifying phrase (at the meeting) is positioned ambiguously in this improper use. Will the basketball player work out more intensely at that particular meeting? Will he put in more work throughout the season? We must relocate the modifier in order to make the mistake clear and fix it.

Correct: During the meeting, the basketball player announced his plans to train harder.

In this case, it is quite evident that the basketball player is the one who is being changed and that he plans to train more rigorously overall than during the meeting. It is particularly crucial to pay great attention to the use of modifiers throughout the SAT Writing and Language Test and during your SAT Writing prep since, idiomatically, we often accept both statements as meaning the same thing. A modifier should always be able to be circled with an arrow pointing directly to the term it is changing. If you are unable to, you must choose the response that is most obvious.

6. Each Word Should Make Sense in Context


The old SAT test’s terrible vocabulary part is permanently gone, much to the relief of test-takers worldwide. This means you don’t have to remember 500 esoteric words a day, but you still need to comprehend words of a medium level of complexity. The SAT Writing and Language Test uses word choice questions that, like the ACT English Test, will test your understanding of concepts like homophones (words that sound similar but have various meanings) and terms with many definitions. Be sure to devote some time to studying key phrases and often occurring homophones as you prepare for the SAT.

For homophone questions, the sentence will usually read something like:

There are a number of dogs without there collars.

    B) There, their (Correct Answer)
    C) Their, there
    D) They’re, their

For word choice questions, the sentence will usually look like:

Although fitness advocates preserve that the supplement is beneficial, the FDA has yet to release positive results.

    B) sustain
    C) maintain (Correct Answer)
    D) endure

Keep in mind that these phrases will be included in a longer paragraph on the actual SAT and ACT. Even though phrases like these provide you with the background information you need to respond to the question, you must read the chapter as a whole to determine which definition is most appropriate given the tone and overall message. Since the SAT test creators anticipate that you’ll be pressed for time, they provide response options that are accurate meanings of the term but inappropriate for the phrase. Always consider the larger context of the phrase or paragraph while making your decisions.

7. Commas Separate Main and Subordinate Clauses

A subject and a predicate make up a sentence. Or, to put it more simply, a noun and a verb. The SAT Writing and Language exam uses a technique known as a comma splice to evaluate your understanding of what makes a sentence. When two grammatically sound phrases are connected with a simple comma, this happens. For instance,

Incorrect: Pandas are my favorite animal, they are so cute.

Each of these statements contains a noun (Panda/They) and a verb statement (are my…/are so), and are therefore complete on their own. To correct the error, each main clause must be separated by a period, semicolon, or coordinating conjunction.

Correct: Pandas are my favorite animal. They are so cute.

Correct: Pandas are my favorite animal; they are so cute.

Correct: Pandas are my favorite animal, for they are so cute.

With this knowledge, we can better understand our next essential grammatical rule.

8. Follow Sentence Rules to Avoid Run-Ons and Fragments

Run-ons and fragments are just clauses that don’t adhere to the grammatical conventions for entire sentences, despite the fact that many people identify wordiness with run-ons and brevity with fragments. A sentence must include at least one major clause (subject and predicate), and all main clauses must be joined by the appropriate punctuation in order to be considered complete. As was evident from the preceding rule, this mandates that coordinating conjunctions and commas, or semicolons, be used to separate major clauses. Similar to this, if a sentence lacks a primary clause, it is a fragment.

Run-On: My wife comes from the city and I come from the Suburbs.

Fragment: My wife coming from the city and I from the suburbs.

Correct: My wife comes from the city, and I come from the suburbs.

9. Verbs and Sentence Structure must Remain Parallel

All verb tenses and grammatical structures must stay parallel for a phrase to be considered grammatically sound. Simply said, this indicates that repetition is necessary to keep a pattern. During your SAT writing preparation, be sure to rehearse this highly prevalent mistake type. An example of a word choice that may appear on the SAT is:

Incorrect: John wanted to buy a new car, partly because of his need to have a reliable vehicle, but mostly because of his greatly desiring to look cool.

Correct: John wanted to buy a new car, partly because of his need to have a reliable vehicle, but mostly because of his desire to look cool.

As you can see in the first example, the term because of is repeated, and the sentence is connected with the conjunction but. The noun phrase his much desire must match the noun phrase structure of his need in order to retain the parallel structure. Verb tenses must also be constant throughout the phrase, along with word order.

Incorrect: John loved running with his friends, swimming in the ocean, and walk through the valley.

Correct: John loved running with his friends, swimming in the ocean, and walking through the valley.

10. Correlative Coordination Means Two Parts

The usage of a coordinator without its corresponding word is one of the most frequent yet simplest mistake kinds to spot. You should circle the word whenever you see it and rapidly determine whether its partner word is included in the phrase since the first coordinator needs its companion word to be full.

  • ..or – Either John or Jim is the club leader.
  • ..and – Both John and Jim are funny.
  • not so much…as – He’s not so much funny as he is annoying.
  • just as…so
  • ..nor
  • not only…but(also)
  • at once…and

Although by no means comprehensive, if you adhere to these Top 10 Important SAT Grammar Rules during your test prep, you will be well on your way to passing the SAT Writing and Language Test as well as the almost equivalent ACT English Exam with the desired score. Please feel free to add any other fundamental laws to this list in the comments area below.


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