If you cringe when you hear things like “dependent clause,” you’re not alone…but you didn’t need me to tell you that. You know and I know that grammar is not a crowd favorite, and possibly as a result of that, few teachers bother parsing sentences in English class nowadays. The SAT, though, doesn’t care. It wants you to know the difference between subjects and objects, how to use a semi-colon, and how to recognize run-ons and fragments.
Let’s not worry about the terminology—since the SAT doesn’t care, we don’t need to either. Which names grammarians give to what things isn’t relevant. What counts is whether or not you follow the rules in practice while writing your essay and can find the mistakes when dealing with the writing multiple choice. First, let’s look at a complete sentence.
✓ My dog is satanic.
No problem there, right? (Other than occasional cat sacrifice, of course.) So how do we make it wrong? There are two ways, essentially: we can take a piece away or we can add a piece.
✗ My dog.
✗ Because my dog is satanic.
Pay careful attention to that second example. Why is it wrong? Clearly, there’s one word that does it: because. In conversation, making a statement like this wouldn’t be wrong, exactly, and in text messages it could be sent as is pretty comfortably. But on the SAT writing sections, the sentence needs both halves that because implies, including both the cause and the effect.
✓ Because my dog is satanic, I have to keep the matches in a locked drawer.
There are a number of other words that set up relationships between two thoughts which this also true of. Since, although, even if, unless, in order to, and many others are among the culprits.
How It Gets Confusing
Just as those words above mark a thought that needs to be joined up with another one (yes, a dependent clause), there’s a whole list of words that actually do just the opposite. However, therefore, similarly, namely, still, and anyway sit in this second group. Instead of requiring a two-part sentence, they should be attached to only one sentence; they can’t come after a finished sentence plus a comma.
✗ My dog is satanic, still, he’s just so cute when he begs at the table.
✓ My dog is satanic. Still, he’s just so cute when he begs at the table.
By the way, commas should immediately follow all those words when they’re used as introductions like above.
Spending a bit of time memorizing which list various connecting words fall under can bump you up a few points on the SAT and take out some glaring errors from your essays in general.
About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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