22 Critical SAT Grammar Rules
These key rules will help you answer the grammar questions in the SAT Writing section.
Most of the SAT Writing section is focused on grammar. Sometimes you can rely on your instinct for what sounds right to answer grammar questions, but sometimes you just need to know the rules.
But, never fear, these 22 rules will help you face any SAT grammar question fearlessly.
Definition of a Sentence
A complete sentence requires 3 things -
A subject, like I
A verb like eat
It must express a complete thought.
So, this is a complete sentence: I eat. It's got a subject, verb, and it's a complete thought.
But, something like this is not: When I am hungry, tired, angry, or sleepy. In this case, we do have a subject and a verb, but we don't have a complete thought. What happens when you're hungry, tired, angry, or sleepy? Without this info, we don't have a complete sentence, we just have what we call a fragment.
Connecting a Sentence with a Fragment
We can connect a complete sentence and a fragment in two ways:
Fragment + comma + Sentence: When I am hungry, tired, angry, or sleepy, I eat.
Sentence + Fragment: I eat when I am hungry, tired, angry, or sleepy.
Connecting Two Sentences
There are three ways to combine two complete sentences. Let's say we have these two complete sentences:
My brain is like an internet browser.
I have too many tabs open and half of them are playing music.
We can connect them in two ways:
Adding a comma and a transition word. There are 7 transition words, called conjunctions, that you can use. You can remember them this way:FANBOYS - F: for, A: and, N: nor, B: but, O: or, Y: yet, S: so My brain is like an internet browser, for I have too many tabs open and half of them are playing music.
Adding a semicolon. My brain is like an internet browser; I have too many tabs open and half of them are playing music.
Don't Be Wordy
In general, we want to say things in clear, simple ways. Don't use more words than necessary.
Two things to remember here -
Don't repeat words unnecessarily. Instead of saying "watch and observe" just say "watch" - they mean the same thing.
Don't overcomplicate things. Instead of saying "At the end of a duration nine months long," just say "Nine months later," - it's simpler.
The shorter & simpler, the better. Instead of saying "Beyonce has many people who love her," say "Many people love Beyonce."
Use an Active Voice
An active voice means our sentence order is [subject, verb, object]. A passive voice means our subject order is [object, verb, subject]. Always use active voice if possible. For example -
🚫 "Remind me tomorrow" on my computer has been hit by me for 100 years.
✅ I've been hitting "remind me tomorrow" on my computer for 100 years.
List of Items
There are two things you should remember about a list of items.
If the items themselves do not contain commas, they should be separated with commas:
My favorite actors are Simu Liu, Michael B. Jordan, and Utkarsh Ambudkar.
If the items themselves DO contain commas, they should be separated with semicolons:
At some point in my life, I want to visit Lagos, Nigeria; Bangalore, India; and Manila, Philippines.
The items should be the same verb tense, style, and form. Like this:
My pet peeves are when people chew with their mouths open, wear socks with sandals, or steal my fries.
See how the verbs are all present tense (chew, wear, steal) and come first?
Dashes can be used to separate small details from the rest of the sentence. They can be used in a pair in the middle of the sentence - like this - or one can be used alone to separate something at the end of the sentence - like this. They also provide more emphasis - like you're taking a long pause. Something like this:
Jane's passions included - in no particular order - her family, God, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Parentheses are kind of like dashes. They can be used in a pair to separate a detail from the rest of the sentence. So, something like this:
I watched my own birthday party through the keyhole of a locked closet (which also happened to be my bedroom). - Deadpool
An apostrophe and the letter s can be used to show that something belongs to someone, like Lando's Cheetos. If the owner is singular, we always, add the apostrophe and the letter s. So, even if the Cheetos belong to Lewis, we would say they are Lewis's Cheetos.
If the owner is plural and does NOT end in s, then we still add an apostrophe and the letter s, like everybody's Cheetos. But, if the owner is plural and DOES end in s, then we just add an apostrophe to the end, like drivers' Cheetos.
|Type of Noun||Ends in s?||Example||Possessive||Possessive Example|
|Singular||No||Lando||add 's||Lando's Cheetos|
|Singular||Yes||Lewis||add 's||Lewis's Cheetos|
|Plural||No||Everybody||add 's||everybody's Cheetos|
|Plural||Yes||drivers||add '||drivers' Cheetos|
Cool - we're going to get some Cheetos now.
We can also use apostrophes to combine words - think of the apostrophe as a replacement for a couple of letters. So, for example, it is can be combined into it's and they are can be combined into they're. The apostrophe just helps shorten things.
Colons are used to introduce a detail that helps clear up something mentioned before. That detail can be anything from one word to a full, independent sentence. For example:
There is only one man who should be the next James Bond: Idris Elba.
There is only one man who should be the next James Bond: that man is Idris Elba.
Both are correct! Just remember, colons can't be used to separate a detail in the middle of the sentence. Something like this is wrong:
🚫 There is only one man: Idris Elba: who should be the next James Bond.
As we talked about before, semicolons are sometimes used to separate items in a list. But, they can also be used to separate two sentences, like a period. We use it instead of a period if the two sentences are talking about the same topic.
I almost always have 50 apps open on my phone; it's probably why my phone dies every 5 hours.
You'll know you have a comparison because you'll see the word like, than, or as. Sometimes there'll be a comparison word like richer or bigger as well. So, a sentence like this:
Rihanna is richer than any other female musician is.
First, we need to figure out what two things are being compared. The first will come before our comparison words and the second will come after. In this case, it's Rihanna is and any other female musician is. There are two things to check in this sentence.
Structure: The two things being compared are structured the same way. This means that if the first item has a noun, the second should have a noun. And if the first has a verb, the second should also have a verb. So, if the sentence were "Rihanna is richer than any other female musician," we'd have a slight problem. Rihanna is has a verb (is), but any other female musician doesn't.
It makes sense: The two things being compared make sense. In this case, it makes sense that Rihanna is being compared to all other female musicians. If the sentence were "Rihanna is richer than any female musician is," we'd have a problem. Rihanna is a female musician, and she can't be richer than herself.
I & me
We use I when you're the subject, and we use me when you're the object.
I can beat anyone at Mario Kart.
Anyone can be beaten by me at Mario Kart.
And, if there are two people including I or me, then the other people come first.
Jasmine and I can beat any other team at NBA 2K.
Any other team can be beaten by Jasmine and me at NBA 2K.
Pronouns are nouns that refer to people. They can be used as subjects in a sentence or as objects in a sentence. A subject comes before the verb and an object comes after the verb.
Now, the SAT is not super progressive when it comes to pronouns.
So bear with us as we go through the rules:
|Subject Version||Object Version|
Anytime you use a pronoun, it should be clear what the pronoun is referring to. Check out this sentence:
In a moment of desperation, the young militant rushes out firing at Black Panther to no effect. Then, as he walks towards him, Nadia dives out, kicking the young militant's gun from his hand and grabs him in a neck-lock.
If we look at the bolded section, it's not actually clear who he and him are. Which one is Black Panther and which one is the young militant? To clear things up, we can keep one pronoun, but we should replace the other with a clearer option:
In a moment of desperation, the young militant rushes out firing at Black Panther to no effect. Then, as Black Panther walks towards him, Nadia dives out, kicking the young militant's gun from his hand and grabs him in a neck-lock.
We also need our pronouns to match the nouns they refer back to. So if the noun is singular, the pronoun should be singular. If the noun is plural, the pronoun should also be plural.
🚫 I need to find the creature who escaped before they get hurt.
✅ I need to find the creature who escaped before he gets hurt.
Because the creature is singular, the pronoun we use also needs to be singular.
If you see a verb underlined in the question, you should double-check that the subject and verb agree. We do this in three steps. Let's start with this sentence:
A person who disappears into the mountains wants to be left alone. - Frozen
Simplify the sentence into the bare minimum, which means getting rid of extra details that start with words like which or who. This will help you identify the subject in the sentence.In this case, our subject is A person.
A person wants to be left alone. - Frozen
Determine whether the subject is singular or plural. In our example, a person is singular, since there's just one person. If our subject was people, it would be plural.
Make sure the verb used matches the subject. Wants is the singular form of the verb want, which matches the subject, which is also singular. Sometimes it might be tough to tell whether a verb is singular or plural, but a rule that will work most of the time is that a singular verb ends in s and a plural verb does not.
Let's check out the many verb tenses and what they're all used for.
|Name||Usage||What it Means||Example|
|Present||verb on its own||Something that happens regularly in the present.||I come to the coffee shop every Monday to see the cute barista.|
|Present Continuous||am + verb + ing||Something is currently happening||Today, I am trying to flirt.|
|Present Perfect||have + verb + ed||Something that recently happened or is still happening or happened at some, uncertain time in the past.||I have flirted before, but he's never noticed.|
|Present Perfect Continuous||have been + verb + ing||Something started in the past and is still happening.||And now, I have been smiling awkwardly at him for at least a minute.|
|Past||verb + ed||Something already happened||Last week I ordered a latte and said, "Thanks a latte," which he laughed at.|
|Past Continuous||was + verb + ing||Something was happening in the past when something else happened||As I was thinking of something else charming to say, it suddenly became my turn in line.|
|Past Perfect||had + verb + ed||Something happened before something else in the past||I had reached the time limit on awkward silences before he finally said, "Sir?"|
|Past Perfect Continuous||had been + verb + ing||Something happened over a period of time before something else in the past||I realized I had been staring at him blankly, and then I panicked.|
|Future||will + verb||Something will happen in the future||I blurted out, "I have to espresso myself - will you go out with me?"|
|Future Continuous||will be + verb + ing||Something will be happening in the future when something else happens||He smiled and said, "My shift ends at 5pm, I will be waiting at the restaurant next door."|
|Future Perfect Continuous||will have + verb + ed||Something will happen in the future before something else happens||I'm so happy, but I know I will have panicked a million times before 5 pm comes.|
Make sure that the text doesn't suddenly jump from one verb tense to another for no good reason. Like, we don't want to see this:
We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind will do this without us ever knowning - Inception
See how create and perceive are both present tense, but then for some reason will do changes to future tense? There's not a good reason for this switch, so we should fix it:
We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this without us ever knowning - Inception
No time traveling unless necessary.
Adverbs describe verbs or other adjectives. They answer questions like how often something happens, or how strong something is, or where something is. Like:
I frequently jiggle my foot when I'm nervous.
Adverbs should generally end in -ly, so when you see something like this:
I eat healthy by limiting the number of Cheetos I eat to at most two bags worth per day. #progress.
The correct way to write this sentence is by changing it to: I eat healthily.
Modifiers are parts of the sentence that help describe our subject, verb, or object. They aren't totally necessary, and you can identify them by removing parts of the sentence and seeing if you still have a complete sentence.
Modifiers usually describe whichever word they're closest to. This means that our job is to make sure the word they're closest to makes sense. Let's look at some examples:
Like all babies, his potential is enormous - Incredibles 2
See how like all babies is next to his potential? That's kind of weird, because it's not that his potential is like all babies, it's that he is like all babies. So, we should rewrite this sentence to be:
Like all babies, he has enormous potential.
Modifiers can also be a single word, which we also need to make sure is in the right place:
His face almost lights up as bright as the screen.
Depending on the rest of the text, the placement of almost may change. In its current place, it means his face doesn't actually light up - it almost lights up. If we move it:
His face lights up almost as bright as the screen.
It means that his face did light up and it's almost as bright as a screen. Placement is important!
Remember these rules and the SAT Writing section won't know what hit it.