Writing Tip Wednesday

2/6/2019 4:53:24 PM
Breaking Down Sentences

Almost half the questions on the SAT Writing and Language section test your knowledge of grammar, so being able to identify the various grammatical parts of a sentence is essential. Here are a few big ones to look out for:

Independent Clauses
More casually referred to as "complete thoughts" (because they make sense when read alone), these are what make a sentence a sentence. All contain one subject (the person or thing doing something) and one verb (what the subject is doing). For example, in "the student studies," the subject is "student" and the verb is "studies."

Dependent Clauses
Sometimes called "incomplete thoughts," these tell us more about the context of the sentence, but never make a complete sentence on their own. While all of these have a subject and a verb, you can tell them apart from independent clauses because they are set off with a dependent marker, like "although," "which," "because," "while," or "where." For example, you can tell the clause "as soon as they're ready" is dependent because of the marker "as" and because it leaves its thought incomplete (what happens when they're ready?).

Prepositional phrases
So named because they always start with a preposition (ex. "to," "on," "with," or "among"), these phrases give us more detail about something else in the sentence. Regardless of what types of words appear in the prepositional phrase, they never contain a sentence's subject or verb, so they can usually be crossed out when you're making sure a sentence is complete. For example, in "the man with the red shoes runs," the prepositional phrase "with the red shoes" can be ignored, leaving just the complete thought "the man runs."

These marks help break up sentences and tell us what sort of information, phrases, and clauses should go on either side.:

Commas can separate items in lists or set off a dependent clause from an independent clause, but they never separate independent clauses unless they're paired with a conjunction (ex. "and," "or," and "but").

Periods and semicolons always separate sentences, so both sides of one should contain an independent clause. (Note: semicolons are almost never right on the SAT!)

Colons always follow complete thoughts, so the text before them must contain an independent clause, but they can come before anything (ex. words, phrases, lists, or other complete thoughts).

Finally, when dashes are used on the SAT, they come alone or in pairs. When they're alone, they must follow complete thoughts. When they're paired, all the text inside is extra information that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, so make sure that the sentence still makes sense without the dashed information before you place one!

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