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Elizabeth Peterson

New SAT Grammar Study Guide: Sentence Structure

The New SAT has a new format, but some things haven’t changed. Doing well still requires that you know and understand some basics of grammar.

When was the last time you had a grammar class?

If it’s been a while, you are not alone. Many students haven’t studied grammar in years when they begin preparing for the SAT. I’m here to give you a quick review of some of the most-tested concepts on the test.

First up, sentence structure. Okay, so this is treading the line between grammar and syntax, but it’s one of the fundamentals that snowballs into other things, so it needs to be covered. The SAT will test you on these concepts by asking you to spot and correct faulty combinations of clauses, but these skills will also help you craft beautiful sentences of your own in the essay.


What are clauses?

All sentences are made of clauses. Clauses MUST include two things: a noun, and a verb.

Nouns are (say it with me) people, places, things, or ideas. Verbs describe the actions nouns take or a state of being (like the verb “to be”).

Example 1: The puppy chewed the carpet.

In this case, “puppy” is the noun and “chewed” is the verb.

There are two basic types of clauses.

Independent clauses

Independent clauses can stand alone as sentences, just like example 1 above.

Dependent clauses

Dependent clauses cannot stand alone and depend on independent clauses to help them make sense.

Example 2a: Although Amy was tired.

This example makes no sense on its own. It is a dependent clause because it includes a noun (“Amy”) and a verb (“was”) but needs an extra clause to explain what happened despite Amy being tired. There are two ways to fix this example.

Example 2b: Amy was tired.

Example 2c: Although Amy was tired, she had to finish her project.

In 2b, we removed “Although” so the clause reads “Amy was tired.” In 2c, we added an independent clause to the end so the “Although” clause actually makes sense.


Combining clauses

Most sentences that you’ll see on the SAT are not simple, single clauses, but instead combine several clauses using certain strategies. These larger sentences fall into one of three categories.

1. Compound sentences

Compound sentences are made by joining two or more independent clauses in one of a couple of ways.

  • Using FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, & So, are the seven coordinating conjunctions.  FANBOYS is an acronym to help remember them. These words can act as glue between two independent clauses. The formula is simple:


Example 3: The puppy chewed the carpet, so Niki was upset.

Our chew-happy canine friend is back! This time, though, we wanted to add Niki’s reaction. To do this, we added a comma and the FANBOY “so” in between the two independent clauses. Simple, right?

  • Using semicolons: Semicolons can seem scary, but there are only two main uses of them on the SAT, and only one matters here. When two independent clauses are about the same idea but you don’t want to use a FANBOY, stick a semicolon between them. It’s that easy.

Example 4: James is taking his driving test today; he has been practicing for months.

Both independent clauses in example 4 are about James and his driving test, but there’s no need for a FANBOY, so a semicolon will do. Notice that you do not have to capitalize the first letter after the semicolon the way you would after a period.

2. Complex sentences

Complex sentences combine one independent clause and one dependent clause, like we did in example 2c. Either clause can come first, but if you start with the dependent clause, add a comma after it.

Example 5a: Because I ran out of Girl Scout cookies, I had to eat Oreos.

Example 5b: I had to eat Oreos because I ran out of Girl Scout cookies.


3. Compound-complex sentences

Not surprisingly, compound-complex sentences are a combination of compound sentences and complex sentences. They must include at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.

Example 6: Since I had no Girl Scout cookies, I ate Oreos, but I should have eaten carrots.

Can you see all three clauses? This example starts with a dependent clause, then has two independent clauses joined with “but.”

Whew! That was a ton of information, but you made it! Go craft some amazing sentences. I’m off to find more Girl Scout cookies.

New SAT Grammar Guide: Basic Sentence Structure



  • Sentences are made of clauses.
  • Independent clauses can stand alone, but dependent clauses cannot.
  • Independent clauses can be combined using FANBOYS or semicolons to make compound sentences.
  • Dependent clauses can be joined to independents to make complex sentences.
  • Compound-complex sentences use at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.


About Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!

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