Sometimes, grammar just seems like a nit-picky thing your teachers always nag you about, right? Well, it turns out they might be on to something. Having good grammar can help your writing become more understandable. Not only that, more than a few times, knowing grammar rules has helped average folks beat big corporations and win thousands and even millions of dollars in court.
If that isn’t enough to get you to buckle down with your grammar studies, there is also the SAT. Most colleges require that you submit test scores with your application. You can opt to take the ACT or the SAT. A stellar knowledge of grammar can help you ace both.
On the SAT, the Writing and Language section is where you’ll encounter the most questions about grammar and writing. If you’ve been practicing using correct writing mechanics all year round, then this part of the SAT should be no sweat. However, if you’re like a lot of students, many of the basic concepts of grammar might not have clicked yet. In that case, use this SAT grammar guide to brush up on the fundamentals that you’ll definitely see on the test.
About This SAT Grammar Guide
In this SAT grammar guide, you will go over the grammar rules that you will see on the SAT more than once. If you know these SAT grammar rules – not just why they exist but how they work – you will be able to answer most of the questions on the Writing and Language section correctly without pausing to think.
However, this SAT grammar guide should not be the only thing you read to prepare for the SAT. This guide only talks about the most common grammar rules. The odds are that you’ll run into some lesser-known grammar conundrums as well. So, if you want to get a high score, you will benefit from brushing up on more obscure grammatical constructions too.
In the same vein, don’t neglect practicing your writing skills. Writing style questions will also be covered in the Writing and Language section, but they are not part of this guide.
What Are the Most Common SAT Grammar Rules?
There are several SAT grammar rules that will appear on most tests. You will be expected to use all punctuation correctly, including colons and semicolons.
Some questions will seem to relate more to writing. Can you choose the best words to complete the sentence? Is your choice as concise as possible? You will also need to know how to understand idioms and arrange clauses so they make sense.
Agreement is also a major concern for SAT grammar. This doesn’t mean that all of the questions will be friendly and amicable. Rather, “agreement” in grammar means that words and phrases are conjugated properly for their place in a sentence. Questions will ask you about verb-tense agreement, modifier agreement and subject-verb agreement too.
Choosing the Right Word in Context
One of the most common types of questions on the Writing and Language section of the SAT is the one that requires you to choose the best word to fit the context of a sentence. This type of question will give you a sentence or slightly longer excerpt from a text. That sentence will have a blank in it, and you will have to choose the best word or phrase to complete the sentence from the answers given.
If you think that sounds easy, make sure you watch out for common words that might trip you up. One strategy the SAT test writers have implemented to try to trick you is using homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings. You’ll probably recognize the most common ones: then and than; their, there and they’re; its and it’s; or sight, cite and site. Make sure you know the difference so you can choose the correct answer on the test.
The other type of question that will ask you to choose the correct word to fit the context will give you answer options that include two or more related words. For these questions, sometimes multiple answers will fit the blank given in the sentence, so you will have to choose the best option. To prepare for this kind of question, study vocabulary, paying special attention to how a word is usually used and not just its dictionary definition.
How Concise Can You Be?
In general, on the SAT Writing and Language section, the shortest answer that completes a sentence and is also grammatically correct tends to be the best answer choice. In other words, when it comes to SAT grammar, short sentences are king.
When you’re answering questions in this section, be especially wary of redundancy. Sometimes, a word may complete a sentence correctly, but it will add information that is already present in the sentence. Here’s an example: Every morning, Adam takes a shower daily.
If the word blank was at the end of the sentence, “daily” would not be a correct choice because it repeats the information that’s already available in the beginning. Try to choose answers that allow example sentences to be as short and concise as possible. In some cases, the correct answer may be “No Change.”
Know Your Idioms
An idiom is a commonly used phrase, like “it’s raining cats and dogs.” You probably use them all the time without thinking about it. In fact, idiomatic expressions and phrases are often what make our speech sound most colloquial and natural.
Even though we use idioms all the time, we aren’t always conscious that we’re using them. That means that some of us may have issues with recognizing them in a reading passage. If this is you, you need to brush up on idioms quickly for the SAT’s grammar questions.
On the SAT, you may be asked to choose the phrase that completes a sentence correctly. The difference between two answers that seem correct may come down to specifics of the phrases which you would know if you were already familiar with the phrase. For example, you might have to choose between “look at” and “look into,” which have completely different meanings.
Are You in Agreement?
In grammatical terms, agreement means that two parts of a sentence match each other with correct conjugation. There are several types of agreement, but the ones SAT grammar will focus on specifically are subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement. To show your knowledge of this concept, you may be asked to choose the word or phrase that correctly completes a sentence.
Subject-verb agreement is when a sentence’s noun and verb match each other, with the number of the noun changing the verb from singular to plural. This is something that you use every day when you speak. For example: “The team was” versus “the teammates were.”
Pronoun-antecedent agreement, which is very similar to subject-verb agreement, is when the number of a pronoun matches the number of the noun to which it refers. In other words, you have to use a plural pronoun to replace a plural noun, such as in “The lionesses stalked their prey” or “The dog caught his tennis ball.”
Learn to Spot Verb Tense Inconsistency
The past should stay in the past and not just when you’re on the lam from the law. When you’re writing a story or an essay, you know that all of your verb tenses should be the same throughout your work unless you have a specific artistic reason for changing them. Otherwise, you might run into a problem called tense inconsistency.
On the SAT Writing and Language section, the same tense consistency rule applies, but instead of writing a story yourself, you’ll have to learn to spot inconsistencies in the writing of others. For example, you may be asked to choose a word to complete a sentence like this: “Last month, Jamel _ a song.” If one of the choices was “sings” and another choice was “wrote,” you would have to use context clues to decide which of them fits best.
Since you already know that the scenario is occurring in the past because of the phrase “last month,” you can deduce that the word you choose needs to be in the past tense. Therefore, “wrote” is the correct answer.
Forming and Punctuating Compound Sentences
One of the most common mistakes high school teachers see in their students’ writing is the dreaded comma splice, or when the writer attempts to separate two complete thoughts with a comma. Knowing this common hangup, the writers of the SAT made questions to test your understanding of how to form and punctuate a compound sentence correctly.
Questions about comma splices might also involve semicolons. Unlike commas, semicolons can be used to separate two complete thoughts, which are also known as independent clauses.
For example, consider the sentence “The dogs howled all night, the neighbors had a few choice words for us in the morning.” This sentence could be corrected in a few ways, including inserting a conjunction like “and” after the comma. You can also use a semicolon in place of the comma to render the sentence grammatically correct, like so: “The dogs howled all night; the neighbors had a few choice words for us in the morning.”
Getting Colons Right
You might already know how to use semicolons, but colons themselves are a whole different story. You may even be used to seeing them at the beginning of a list. Did you know that the clause that comes before a colon must be an independent clause?
An independent clause is a complete grammatical thought that can act as a sentence on its own. Remember that both sides of a compound sentence must be independent clauses. Now we know that the clause that comes before a colon must be independent also.
For example, this sentence is incorrect: "Penelope enjoys fruit like: apples, bananas and pears." This sentence would be correct: "Penelope enjoys all kinds of fruit: apples, bananas and pears."
Other Important SAT Grammar Rules to Remember
Remember that apostrophes should be used to make nouns possessive. They should never be used to make a noun plural.
Watch out for dangling modifiers, which happen when a modifying word or phrase, usually at the beginning of the sentence, is not placed next to its object in the independent clause that follows it. Here is an example of a dangling modifier: “Intent on winning the heart of Daisy Buchanan, the novel 'The Great Gatsby' follows the eponymous Gatsby’s fated quest.”
The correct way to write that sentence might be something like: “Intent on winning the heart of Daisy Buchanan, James Gatz, one of the main characters in the novel 'The Great Gatsby,' changes everything about himself.”
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.