SAT English Grammar and Punctuation Summary sheet

SAT MAth and English  – full syllabus practice tests

Topic :Writing and Language Test 

35 MINUTES, 44 QUESTIONS

Each passage  is accompanied by a number of questions. For some questions, you will consider how the passage might be revised to improve the expression of ideas. For other questions, you will consider how the passage might be edited to correct errors in sentence structure, usage, or punctuation. A passage or a question may be accompanied by one or more graphics (such as a table or graph) that you will consider as you make revising and editing decisions.
Some questions will direct you to an underlined portion of a passage. Other questions will direct you to a location in a passage or ask you to think about the passage as a whole.
After reading each passage, choose the answer to each question that most effectively improves the quality of writing in the passage or that makes the passage conform to the conventions of standard written English. Many questions include a “NO CHANGE” option. Choose that option if you think the best choice is to leave the relevant portion of the passage as it is.

I.PERIODS AND SEMICOLONS

Semicolon = Period

On the SAT and ACT, these two types of punctuation are considered identical, and all other things being equal, you will never be asked to choose between them.

Semicolons and periods are used:

A. Between two complete sentences

Correct: London is an old city. It has been inhabited for around 2,000 years.

Correct: London is an old city; it has many new buildings.

B. Before conjunctive adverbs such as howevertherefore, or moreover at the beginning of a clause.

Correct: London is an old city; however, it has many new buildings.

Correct: London is an old city; therefore, it has buildings from many different eras.

Note: ACT grammar questions testing however use a semicolon in the correct version, whereas rhetoric questions use a period.

Important: Make sure to read through every sentence all the way through to the period. Otherwise, you might not notice when there are two sentences.

In particular, watch out for “sentence boundary” questions, in which the beginning of one sentence appears to be part of the previous sentence. If you don’t read far enough, you might think the sentence is fine as is.

Incorrect: Barbara McClintock is a scientist whose discovery of “jumping” genes helped earn her the Nobel Prize in 1983, she won the award in Physiology or Medicine.

Correct: Barbara McClintock is a scientist whose discovery of “jumping” genes helped earn her the Nobel Prize. In 1983, she won the award in Physiology or Medicine.

2. COLONS AND DASHES

Colons and single dashes are used to introduce lists and explanations. The SAT and ACT consider these types of punctuation grammatically identical and will never ask you to choose between them. Colons, however, tend to be tested more frequently.

Unlike a semicolon, a colon or a dash can be followed by either a full sentence or a fragment. (Stylistically, a dash creates a stronger, more dramatic break, but you do not need to worry about that for testing purposes.)

A colon or dash must always follow a full sentence that makes sense as a complete thought and logically sets up the information that follows.

For example, they made is a complete sentence, but it cannot stand by itself.

In contrast, they made an important discovery makes sense as a statement on its own.

A. Before a list

Incorrect: London is home to a variety of: museums, castles, and shops.

Incorrect: London is home to a wide variety of attractions including/such as: museums, castles, and shops.

Correct: Visitors to London often spend their time in three main types of attractions: museums, castles, and shops.

Correct: Visitors to London often spend their time in three main types of attractions museums, castles, and shops.

B. Before an explanation

Correct: When the Manchus took control of China, the Great Wall lost its protective purpose: the Chinese empire now extended well north of the wall, and its new enemies came from across the sea.

Correct: When the Manchus took control of China, the Great Wall lost its protective purpose—the Chinese empire now extended well north of the wall, and its new enemies came from across the sea.

In the example above, the second clause explains why the Great Wall ceased to have military significance. As a result, the colon or dash is acceptable.

Important: Note that when a colon or dash separates two sentences, as is common in explanations, it is grammatically identical to a period or semicolon.

In particular, watch out for colons on digital SAT questions requiring you to separate two sentences. Correct answers frequently involve colons (a period or semicolon option does not appear), presumably because fewer students know how to use this type of punctuation.

3. COMMA + FANBOYS

A. Comma + FANBOYS = Period = Semicolon

And & but are the two most popular conjunctions; so & yet are tested infrequently; and or & nor are almost never tested.

Correct: London is a very old city, but some parts of it are extremely modern.

Correct: London is a very old city, and it is very appealing to tourists.

B. Comma Splices

When two sentences are joined by a comma, the result is known as a comma splice. Comma splices are always incorrect.

Tip-off: comma + pronoun (e.g., it, they, s/heone, youI)

Incorrect: London is a very old city, it has some extremely modern parts.

Correct: London is a very old city. It has some extremely modern parts.

Correct: London is a very old city; it has some extremely modern parts.

Incorrect: London and Paris are two of the world’s most popular cities, they are visited by millions of tourists every year.

Correct: London and Paris are two of the world’s most popular cities. They are visited by millions of tourists every year.

Correct: London and Paris are two of the world’s most popular cities; they are visited by millions of tourists every year.

C. Comma + FANBOYS + Verb = WRONG

When two clauses in a row have the same subject, but the subject does not appear in the second clause, no comma is used before a FANBOYS conjunction.

Shortcut: comma + and/but = period, so plug in a period in place of comma + and/but.

Incorrect: London is a very old city, but has many modern buildings.

Plug in: London is a very old city. Has many modern buildings.

Correct: London is a very old city but has many modern buildings.

4. COMMAS & DEPENDENT CLAUSES

Dependent clauses (fragments) cannot stand on their own as complete sentences.

They begin with subordinating conjunctions, e.g., althoughbecausewhenuntilwhilesincebefore, and after.

  • Because the plant requires sunlight
  • When the exhibit opened
  • After the book was published

A dependent clause can be placed either before or after an independent clause to form a sentence. When the dependent clause comes first, it must be followed by a comma.

Incorrect: Because London is a very old city it has buildings from many different eras.

Correct: Because London is a very old city, it has buildings from many different eras.

Incorrect: Although London is a very old city it has many modern buildings.

Correct: Although London is a very old city, it has many modern buildings.

5. TRANSITIONAL WORDS & PHRASES

Many questions on the ACT and (especially) the SAT also test transitional words and phrases in terms of meaning. In such cases, all of the answers will be grammatically correct, and the correct choice will create the most logical meaning. There are three main types of transitions.

Continuers, e.g., in additionmoreoverin factfor example, and then, add new and similar ideas, emphasize previous ideas, and convey sequence of events.

Cause-and-effect words, e.g., thereforeconsequently, and thus, indicate that an action or event is the result of a previous action/event.

Contradictors, e.g., howevernevertheless, in contrast, signal opposing ideas.

Whenever you encounter a transition question, cross out or ignore the transition and state the relationship between the sentences (similar, opposite, cause-and-effect) before checking the answers.

The obvious reason for the construction of the Great Wall of China was protection. _________ China had no powerful enemies when the Wall began to be built.

The two halves of the sentence express opposing ideas, so a contradictor is needed.

Correct: The obvious reason for the construction of the Great Wall of China was protectionHowever, China had no powerful enemies when the Wall began to be built.

Important: when two transitions have the exact same meaning (e.g., therefore/consequently), both can automatically be eliminated because no question can have more than one right answer. Note, however, that this shortcut is generally more applicable to the ACT than the SAT.

In addition, if there is an OMIT/DELETE option on the ACT, or an option without a transition, check it first because it will usually be correct.

6. NON-ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Non-essential information (clause, phrase, or word) can be removed from a sentence without affecting its essential meaning. It’s like a little interruption. When the information between the commas is crossed out, the sentence still makes sense.

Non-essential information can be punctuated in three different ways:

  • 2 Commas
  • 2 Dashes
  • 2 Parentheses

Note that only one type of punctuation can be used—the options above cannot be mixed and matched. On the SAT and ACT, many incorrect answers involve this error.

A. Two Commas

Commas are the punctuation type most often used to mark non-essential clauses: one must be placed at the beginning, and one at the end.

Incorrect: London which is a very old city, has some extremely modern parts.

Incorrect: London, which is a very old city has some extremely modern parts.

Incorrect: London—which is a very old city, has some extremely modern parts.

Correct: London, which is a very old city, has some extremely modern parts. (London … has some extremely modern parts.)

Single words, generally transitions such as however and though, can be used non-essentially.

Incorrect: London is a very old city. It doeshowever have some modern parts.

Incorrect: London is a very old city. It does however, have some modern parts.

Correct: London is a very old city. It does, however, have some modern parts.

B. Two Dashes

Grammatically, dashes are identical to commas when used to set off non-essential information.

Correct: London—which is a very old city—has some modern parts.

The one exception involves non-essential words, which can be set off by commas only.

Incorrect: London is a very old city. It does—however—have some modern parts.

Correct: London is a very old city. It does, however, have some modern parts.

C. Two Parentheses

Parentheses can also be used to indicate non-essential phrases and clauses. (In fact, these elements are also sometimes referred to as “parenthetical” information).

Correct: London (which is a very old city) has some modern parts.

The main challenge with parentheses involves the unnecessary use of commas.

A comma before an open parenthesis is always incorrect.

Incorrect: London, (which is a very old city) has some modern parts.

A comma before a close parenthesis is almost always wrong as well.

Incorrect: London (which is a very old city), has some modern parts.

However, in some rare instances, a comma may be required after a close parenthesis for an unrelated reason, e.g., to set off FANBOYS + following sentence.

Correct: London has been inhabited continuously since Roman times (47 A.D., to be exact), but it has some very modern parts.

7. COMMAS WITH NAMES & TITLES

The use of commas around names and titles is frequently tested on both the SAT and ACT. These questions test whether the name or title in question is essential or non-essential.

In general, there are only two correct options:

  • No commas (essential)
  • Two commas, one before and one after (non-essential)

When a name/title appears in the middle of a sentence, a single comma before the name or title is incorrect. Answers with this construction can be eliminated automatically.

To determine whether commas are necessary, read the sentence without the name/title, and see if it still makes basic grammatical sense.

Incorrect: Researchers led by engineering professor, Vikram Iyer, have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

Cross out: Researchers led by engineering professor…have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

This does not make sense, so the name is essential. No commas are needed.

Correct: Researchers led by engineering professor Vikram Iyer have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

On the other hand:

Incorrect: Researchers led by a University of Washington engineering professor Vikram Iyer have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

Cross out: Researchers led by a University of Washington engineering professor…have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

The above sentence does make sense when the name is removed, so two commas are needed.

In rare instances, a comma may be required after a name/title for a separate reason, e.g., to mark a new clause.

Correct: Led by engineering professor Vikram Iyer, researchers at the University of Washington have created a set of robotic devices that can change shape in mid-air.

8. ADDITIONAL COMMA USES & MISUSES

Commas SHOULD be used:

A. To separate items in a list

Incorrect: Building muscle can boost metabolism aid weight loss, and increase endurance.

Correct: Building muscle can boost metabolism, aid weight loss, and increase endurance.

Note: the comma before and + final item is optional and is not tested on the SAT or ACT.

B. To separate adjectives whose order could be reversed.

Incorrect: Dinosaurs may have been active warm-blooded animals.

Correct: Dinosaurs may have been active, warm-blooded animals.
(You could also say active and warm-blooded, or warm-blooded, active)

Note: Commas should also be used after introductory words or phrases (e.g., howeverin the beginning, in fact), but this usage is not normally tested.

Commas should NOT be used:

A. Before or after a preposition (frequently tested)

Most common prepositions: oftobyfromforaboutwithinonat

Incorrect: Frida Kahlo is among the most famous artists, of the twentieth century.

Incorrect: Frida Kahlo is among the most famous artists of, the twentieth century.

Correct: Frida Kahlo is among the most famous artists of the twentieth century.

B. Between subjects and verbs

This rule holds true even when the subject is very long.

Incorrect: The oldest surviving bridge in London, is Richmond Bridge, completed in 1777.

Correct: The oldest surviving bridge in London is Richmond Bridge, completed in 1777.

C. Between compound items (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. linked by and)

Shortcut: comma + and = period, so fill in a period and check whether there are two sentences.

Incorrect: Many tourists travel to London, and Paris to visit museums, and monuments.

Plug in: Many tourists travel to London. Paris to visit museums, and monuments.

Correct: Many tourists travel to London and Paris to visit museums and monuments.

D. Before or after the word that

Incorrect: London is a city, that has many old buildings and monuments.

Incorrect: London is a city that, has many old buildings and monuments.

Correct: London is a city that has many old buildings and monuments.

No that = no comma: A comma should also not be used when that is optional and does not appear. This construction is tested regularly on the ACT.

Incorrect: The snow, used to build an igloo must have enough strength to be cut and stacked correctly.

Correct: The snow used (= the snow that is used) to build an igloo must have enough strength to be cut and stacked correctly.

E. Between two adjectives whose order cannot be reversed

Incorrect: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning, coral reefs.
(You cannot say “most coral and stunning reefs”)

Correct: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs.

F. Between adjectives and nouns

Incorrect: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning, reefs.

Correct: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning reefs.

9. APOSTROPHES (PLURAL VS. POSSESSIVE) 

A. Nouns

Apostrophe = Possessive, singular and plural

No apostrophe = Not possessive, plural only

To form possessives:

Singular nouns: add apostrophe + -s.

  • The cell’s DNA = the DNA in the cell
  • The dress’s buttons = the buttons on the dress
  • The person’s response = the response given by the person

Regular plural nouns: add –s or es + apostrophe.

  • The cells’ DNA = the DNA in the cells
  • The dresses’ buttons = the buttons on the dresses

Irregular plural nouns (do not end in -s): add apostrophe + -s.

  • The people’s responses = the responses given by the people

Tip: when apostrophes are tested with two consecutive nouns, the correct answer usually follows the pattern apostrophe-no apostrophe (noun’s noun, or nouns’ noun) because the first noun must be possessing the second.

B. Pronouns

Pronouns are the opposite of nouns: no apostrophe = possessive

It’s vs. Its

It’s = it is
Its = possessive form of it
Its’ & its’s = do not exist

Important: when the ACT tests it’s vs. its, the answer is almost always its because the test-writers know that many students associate apostrophes with the possessive.

Incorrect: London is a city known for it’s (= it is) many tourist attractions.

Correct: London is a city known for its many tourist attractions.

Incorrect: London is a popular destination; in fact, its among the world’s most visited cities.

Correct: London is a popular destination; in fact, it’s (= it is) among the world’s most visited cities.

They’re vs. Their vs. There

They’re = they are
Their = possessive form of they; plural of its
There = a place

They’re

Correct: London and Paris are two of the most famous cities and Europe, and they’re (= they are) known for having many tourist attractions.

Their

Correct: London and Paris, two of the most famous cities in Europe, are known for their many tourist attractions.

There

Correct: In the nineteenth century, Paris was considered the capital of the art world because so many famous painters lived and worked there.

Who’s vs. Whose (Primarily ACT)

Who’s = Who is

Correct: Barbara McClintock is a scientist who’s (= who is) best known for her discovery of “jumping” genes.

Whose = Possessive of who

Correct: Barbara McClintock is a scientist whose discovery of “jumping” genes helped earn her the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Note that whose, unlike who, can be used for both people and things/places.

Correct: London is a city whose museums, palaces, and shops make it a popular destination

10. PRONOUNS & NOUNS

A. Singular-Plural Agreement: Pronouns

Pronouns are words that replace and refer back to nouns.

  • Singular people = he or she (Note: the SAT and ACT do not use the singular they)
  • Singular things = it, its, itself
  • Plural = they, them, their, themselves

The noun to which a pronoun refers (antecedent or referent) may not appear in the same sentence.

Incorrect: Painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was best known for her portraits. It was strongly influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, as revealed by her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism.

Correct: Painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was best known for her portraitsThey were strongly influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, as revealed by her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism.

Pronoun agreement and apostrophes are often tested at the same time.

SAT:

Speed bumps are used in many countries around the world; _______ found most frequently in places where speed limits are legally imposed.

A) its
B) it’s
C) they’re
D) their

ACT:

Speed bumps are used in many countries around the world; it’s found most frequently in places where speed limits are legally imposed.

A. NO CHANGE
B. it’s
C. they’re
D. their

Because the referent speed bumps is plural, the plural pronoun they is required.

In addition, you would say they are found, so they’re is the correct form.

B. Singular-Plural Agreement: Nouns

Incorrect: The Kora, the balafon, and the ngoni are an example of African instruments that have strongly influenced certain types of rap music.

Correct: The Kora, the balafon, and the ngoni are examples of African instruments that have strongly influenced certain types of rap music.

C. People vs. Things

Who(m) = people
Which = things

Incorrect: Frida Kahlo was an artist which gained renown for her portraits.

Correct: Frida Kahlo was an artist who gained renown for her portraits.

D. Who vs. Whom

Whom before a verb = wrong

Incorrect: Frida Kahlo was an artist whom gained renown for her portraits.

Correct: Frida Kahlo was an artist who earned renown for her portraits.

Whom after a preposition = right

Incorrect: Frida Kahlo is a painter to who many artists owe their inspiration.

Correct: Frida Kahlo is a painter to whom many artists owe their inspiration.

Note: A verb can be placed after a phrase with pronoun + whom, e.g., many of whom believe.

11. SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

Forming verbs: 

  • Singular 3rd person verbs end in -s, e.g., it works
  • Plural 3rd person verbs do not end in -s, e.g., they work

Most common irregular verb = to be

Singular: is (pres.), was (past)
Plural: are (pres.), were (past)

Tip: If you’re unsure of a subject, check the beginning of the clause in which the verb appears.

A. Compound subject (noun and noun) = Plural

Incorrect: The highly textured bark and distinctive silhouette of the Dutch Elm tree distinguishes it from the equally common English Elm tree.

Correct: The highly textured bark and distinctive silhouette of the Dutch Elm tree distinguish it from the equally common English Elm tree.

B. Prepositional Phrase

Prepositional phrases begin with prepositions, e.g., oftobyfromforaboutwithinonat, and are often placed between subjects and verbs to distract from disagreements.

Incorrect: Illegal logging in Mexican forests have resulted in the destruction of the monarch butterfly’s habitat.

Correct: Illegal logging in Mexican forests has resulted in the destruction of the monarch butterfly’s habitat.

Also be on the lookout for compound subjects—two singular subjects connected by and.

Incorrect: The Monarch and the Red Admiral is among the most common butterfly species in North America.

Correct: The Monarch and the Red Admiral are among the most common butterfly species in North America.

C. Non-Essential Clause

Non-essential clauses can also be placed between subjects and verbs to distract from errors.

Incorrect: The cochineal, a small insect “discovered” by Hernán Cortés in present-day Mexico, were commonly used as a colorant in painting, sculpture, furniture and textiles from the mid-sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth century.

Correct: The cochineal, a small insect “discovered” by Hernán Cortés in present-day Mexico, was commonly used as a colorant in painting, sculpture, furniture and textiles from the mid-sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth century.

D. Each and Every = Singular

Incorrect: Each of the chiefdoms to which the members of the Taino tribe belonged were ruled by a leader known as a cacique.

Correct: Each of the chiefdoms to which the members of the Taino tribe belonged was ruled by a leader known as a cacique.

Other subject-verb agreement errors to know:

  • Collective nouns (group, country, school, team, board, government, etc.) = singular.
  • There is = followed by singular noun; There are = followed by plural noun.
  • In very rare instances, the verb may be placed before the subject, making errors difficult to hear, e.g., In the nucleus of an atom sit (pl.) elementary particles such as protons and neutrons.

12. VERB TENSE

A. Tense Consistency

Always keep verb tense consistent with that of other verbs in the paragraph. Paragraphs in the present should stay in the present; paragraphs in the past should stay in the past.

Start by checking the tense of the verbs in the sentence in question, as well as the surrounding sentences (before/after). The underlined verb must match the other verbs.

Incorrect: Painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) earned renown for her portraits. She is strongly influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, as revealed by her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. In her paintings, she combined elements of the classic Mexican tradition with modern surrealist techniques.

Correct: Painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) earned renown for her portraits. She was strongly influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, as revealed by her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. In her paintings, she combined elements of the classic Mexican tradition with modern surrealist techniques.

Important: Correct answers are usually in the simple past (wasdidfound) or the present. Answers with more complex tenses (would have donewill have gone) are virtually always wrong.

B. Present Perfect – has have + verb

Indicates an action beginning and the past and continuing into the present.

Tip-offs: for and since.

Incorrect: London and Paris are tourist attractions for hundreds of years.

Incorrect: London and Paris are tourist attractions since the eighteenth century.

Correct: London and Paris have been tourist attractions for hundreds of years.

Correct: London and Paris have been tourist attractions since the eighteenth century.

C. Simple Past – one-word past form

Describes a completed past action.

Incorrect: Rachel Carson has published Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book on environmental science, in 1962.

Correct: Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book on environmental science, in 1962.

The sentence describes a completed action that occurred in the past—the book’s publication occurred in 1962 only.

D. Past Perfect – had + verb

When a sentence describes two completed actions in the past, the past perfect can be used to describe the action that came first.

Most of the time, either the simple past or the past perfect can be used, e.g., Before Mae Jemison became an astronaut, she studied had studied science for many years. When this is the case, you will not be asked to choose between the simple past and past perfect.

When the phrase by the time appears, however, the past perfect must be used.

Incorrect: By the time Mae Jemison became an astronaut, she studied science for many years.

Correct: By the time Mae Jemison became an astronaut, she had studied science for many years.

E. Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the subject and object are flipped so that x did y becomes was done by x.

In many cases, this form is associated with incorrect answer choices because it creates sentences that are wordy and awkward.

Incorrect: Many people who seriously consider pursuing a career in politics decide against doing so because concerns are had by them about maintaining their privacy.

Correct: Many people who seriously consider pursuing a career in politics decide against doing so because they are concerned about maintaining their privacy.

In some instances, however, the passive voice may be required in order to create a grammatically correct construction (and no acceptable active answer choice will be provided).

Incorrect: The novel Things Fall Apart depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and wrestling champion in a fictional Nigerian village that inhabited by the Igbo people.

Correct: The novel Things Fall Apart depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and wrestling champion in a fictional Nigerian village that  is inhabited by the Igbo people.

F. TO vs. -ING

You may also be asked to identify whether the TO (infinitive) or -ING (gerund) form of a verb is appropriate in a given situation. There is no rule; these questions must be answered by ear.

Incorrect: In an effort to attract new patrons, some museums are attempting implementing an approach known as “visitor engagement.”

Correct: In an effort to attract new patrons, some museums are attempting to implement an approach known as “visitor engagement.”

Note that on the SAT and ACT, subject-verb agreement questions commonly “pose” as tense questions. That is, they contain answer choices in different tenses, but only one option is correct in terms of number.

SAT:

Modern conceptions of the Vikings as either violent brutes or intrepid adventurers owe much to the Viking myths that _______ since the early twentieth century.

A) has predominated
B) have predominated
C) predominates
D) is predominating

ACT:

Modern conceptions of the Vikings as either violent brutes or intrepid adventurers owe much to the Viking myths that has predominated since the early twentieth century.

A. NO CHANGE
B. have predominated
C. predominates
D. is predominating

The presence of different tenses is just a distraction here; the subject of the verb in question is myths, plural, and B is the only choice that contains a plural verb (have). As a result, it is the only possible answer.

13. PARALLEL STRUCTURE & WORD PAIRS

A. Lists (3 Items or More)

Keep all list items parallel: noun, noun, and noun; -ING, -ING, or -ING; verb, verb, and verb.

Incorrect: Deception expert Pamela Meyer has worked with a team of researchers to analyze studies on lying from scholars, police officers, and working as psychologists.

Correct: Deception expert Pamela Meyer has collaborated with a team of researchers to analyze studies on lying from academics, police officers, and psychologists.

B. Two Items

The same is true when there are only two items joined by and or but. Note that when parallel structure involves infinitives (to + verb), it is not necessary to repeat the to after the first verb.

Incorrect: Deception expert Pamela Meyer has collaborated with a team of researchers to survey and analyzing existing studies on lying.

Correct: Deception expert Pamela Meyer has collaborated with a team of researchers to survey and analyze existing studies on lying.

C. Word Pairs

Certain pairs of words/phrases must always appear together.

  • (N)either…(n)or
  • Not only…but (also)
  • As…as
  • More/less…than

Incorrect: Unlike a train, a tram can run either on tracks and directly on the street.

Correct: Unlike a train, a tram can run either on tracks or directly on the street.

In addition, the constructions following the two sides of a word pair must match, i.e., be parallel.

Correct: In the 1920s, the music industry expanded rapidly, not only because of its profitability (noun) but also because of its strong influence (noun) on popular culture.

14. DANGLING MODIFIERS

A. Dangling Modifiers

When a descriptive phrase begins a sentence, the noun (subject) it describes must be placed immediately after the modifier. If it does not, a dangling modifier is created.

Incorrect: Born in Mexico City in 1907, self-portraits were what Frida Kahlo was best known for.

(Who was born in Mexico City in 1907? Frida Kahlo, not her self-portraits.)

Correct: Born in Mexico City in 1907, Frida Kahlo was best known for her self-portraits.

B. Misplaced Modifiers

Incorrect: The Great Wall of China was constructed was by thousands of workers that originally consisted of separated military fortifications.

(This implies that the workers originally consisted of fortifications.)

Correct: Originally consisting of separated military fortifications, the Great Wall of China was constructed by thousands of workers.

(This version makes clear that the Wall consisted of fortifications.)

15. FAULTY COMPARISONS

Comparisons must be made between equivalent items: people must be compared to people (or other living creatures), and things must be compared to things.

On the SAT and ACT, comparisons can be tested in terms of both singular and plural nouns.

A. Singular Comparison

Incorrect: Though the work (thing) of architect Benjamin Marshall is just as well-known as Frank Lloyd Wright (person), Marshall’s name has largely been forgotten.

Correct: Though the work (thing) of architect Benjamin Marshall is just as well-known as the work of (thing) Frank Lloyd Wright, Marshall’s name has largely been forgotten.

Very often however, the phrases that of (sing.) and those of (pl.) replace nouns in correct answers.

Correct: Though the work of (thing) architect Benjamin Marshall is just as well-known as that of (= the work of) Frank Lloyd Wright, Marshall’s name has largely been forgotten.

An apostrophe can also be used to create a possessive.

Correct: Though the work of (thing) architect Benjamin Marshall is just as well-known as Frank Lloyd Wright’s (= Frank Lloyd Wright’s work), Marshall’s name has largely been forgotten.

B. Plural Comparison

Incorrect: Often nicknamed the daddy longlegs, the harvestman has limbs that are nearly twice as long as other spiders.

Correct: Often nicknamed the daddy longlegs, the harvestman has limbs that are nearly twice as long as those of (= the limbs of) other spiders.

Correct: Often nicknamed the daddy longlegs, the harvestman has limbs that are nearly twice as long as other spiders’ (= other spiders’ limbs).

C. Then vs. Than (ACT)

Use than, not then, to form comparisons.

Incorrect: The limbs of the harvestman spider are much longer then those of other spiders.

Correct: The limbs of the harvestman spider are much longer than those of other spiders.

D. “Quantity” Words

NumberManyFewer modify plural nouns.

AmountMuchLess modify singular nouns.

E.g., there were fewer people, NOT there were less people.

16. QUESTIONS MARKS

Question marks are tested rarely, but questions targeting them do appear occasionally.

Question marks are used only for direct questions—questions that are separate from the main body of a sentence.

Incorrect: Most of the experiments performed by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke have been designed to test one main question: how much do babies and young children understand about the world around them.

Correct: Most of the experiments performed by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke have been designed to test one main question: how much do babies and young children understand about the world around them?

When questions are asked indirectly—when they are integrated into a sentence—a period is used.

Incorrect: Most of the experiments performed by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke have been designed to test how much babies and young children understand about the world around them?

Incorrect: Most of the experiments performed by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke have been designed to test how much babies and young children understand about the world around them.

ACT & PAPER-BASED SAT

17. SHORTER IS BETTER

Avoid wordiness and redundancy (repetition).

When multiple answers are grammatically correct and express the same essential information, the shortest one will virtually always be correct.

Note that many questions can be answered visually: you can start with the assumption that the shortest answer is correct and then check it out to be safe.

The construction of the Great Wall of China was an enormous undertaking that occurred on a very large scale and required over 3,000 workers.

A. NO CHANGE
B. an enormously huge undertaking on a large scale
C. an enormous undertaking, which occurred on a very large scale
D. an enormous undertaking

The correct answer, D, can be determined with near certainty simply from its length. (This answer is right because an undertaking that occurs on a very large scale is by definition enormous. It is unnecessary to include both pieces of information.)

18. ADJECTIVES VS. ADVERBS (ACT ONLY)

Adjectives modify nouns: the good bookthe boring classthe exciting trip

Adverbs modify verbs and usually end in -ly: the girl ran quicklythe wind blew strongly

A. Adjectives and Adverbs Switched

Incorrect: Monkeys, a traditional Mexican symbol, appear frequent in Frida Kahlo’s paintings.

Correct: Monkeys a traditional Mexican symbol, appear frequently in Frida Kahlo’s paintings.

B. Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparative – adjective + -er, or more + adjective (e.g., betterstrongermore interesting)

Superlative – adjective + -est, or most + adjective (e.g., beststrongestmost interesting)

  • When -er is used, more should not also be used.
  • When –est is used, most should not also be used.

Incorrect: Mexican folk art exerted a more stronger influence on Frida Kahlo’s paintings than Surrealism did.

Correct: Mexican folk art exerted a stronger influence on Frida Kahlo’s paintings than Surrealism did.

19. PRONOUN CASE (ACT ONLY)

When pronoun case is tested, it will always be plural: usually proper name + pronoun (e.g., Rob and me) or two pronouns (e.g., him and me).

  • If name + pronoun, cross out the proper name and answer by ear.
  • If two pronouns, cross out each pronoun in turn and answer by ear.

Incorrect: Last year, my mother and me attended the Gathering of Nations, the largest annual meeting of Native Americans in the United States.

Cross out: Last year… me attended the Gathering of Nations, the largest annual meeting of Native Americans in the United States.

Because you would say “I attended,” you would also say “my mother and I attended.”

Correct: Last year, my mother and I attended the Gathering of Nations, the largest annual meeting of Native Americans in the United States.

Know: between should always be followed by an object pronoun (meherhimthemus).

20. DICTION & IDIOMS

A. Could, should, would, might HAVE, not OF

Any answer choice that includes of rather than have can be automatically eliminated.

B. Prepositions and Verbs

Unfortunately, there is no rule for these questions; they must be answered by ear.

Incorrect: The Great Wall of China might have been more effective with keeping people in than keeping invaders out.

Correct: The Great Wall of China might have been more effective at keeping people in than keeping invaders out.

Incorrect: Some people claim that The Great Wall of China was really built to capture the Emperor’s love of grandiose projects.

Correct: Some people claim that The Great Wall of China was really built to  satisfy the Emperor’s love of grandiose projects.

C. Register: Formal vs. Informal

Nearly all correct answers to these questions are, like ACT passage, not too formal or informal.

Incorrect: From the frigid lakes of the Himalayas to the tropical rain forests in the south, India’s natural resources house a whole bunch of birds and animals. (Too informal)

Incorrect: From the frigid lakes of the Himalayas to the tropical rain forests in the south, India’s natural resources house a sublime plethora of birds and animals. (Too formal)

Correct: From the frigid lakes of the Himalayas to the tropical rain forests in the south, India’s natural resources house a remarkable variety of birds and animals. (Just right)

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