SAT Sentence Structure — Grammar Fundamentals

The most important, if not the most fundamental, thing you need to understand about SAT grammar rules, is how to construct sentences. Indeed, to truly understand punctuation you’ll need to apply the knowledge contained below. So if you are struggling with grammar on the new SAT, this is the place to start.

Sentence Boundaries



Sentences are made up of both a subject and a verb that tells us what the subject is doing. The exception would be commands, which aren’t tested on the SAT (study!).

Fragments are incorrect because they lack a verb that describes what a subject is doing. However, it’s not that straightforward, as the examples below show.

Many students with a test on Monday.

Correct: Many students with a test on Monday are preparing over the weekend.

With proper training, many athletes.

Correct: With proper training, many athletes should be able to avoid injury.

(The bolded parts are the verbs of each sentence.)



Daily vitamins and minerals that are important in healthy cellular functioning.

In this case, “that” begins a relative clause, which functions as a large adjective describing the subject. The verb that is part of this clause (in this case “are”) is not.

Correct: Daily vitamins and minerals that are important in healthy cellular functioning are in many of the foods we eat.


Comma Splices

There are several ways to connect complete sentences. The most obvious is by using a period. You can also use a semicolon or a comma AND a conjunction. The “and” is big; that’s why I put it in caps. If you have a sentence made up of two independent clauses and a comma without a conjunction connecting those sentences, you have a comma splice. (I have bolded the part that shows the comma splice).

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Incorrect: Studying every day is not how I want to spend my summer, I want to make lasting memories with friends.

Correct: (using a conjunction): Studying every day is not how I want to spend my summer, because I want to make lasting memories with friends.

Correct: (using semicolon): Studying every day is not how I want to spend my summer; I want to make lasting memories with friends.



Incorrect: Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, it also has the largest moon.

Correct: Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and it also has the largest moon.

Correct: Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system; it also has the largest moon.


Subordination and Coordination

There are two ways of approaching this, one of which is much more important for the SAT. The first way is to explore the difference between “subordination” and “coordination”. After all, that is the title that the College Board has given to this grammatical idea. However, getting tangled up in the nuances of the difference between subordination and coordination deflects from the purpose of the test: to determine whether you can tell the difference between a transition between clauses that suggests contrast (“however”, “nonetheless”, “on the other hand”), similarity (“additionally”, “furthermore”, “moreover”) and cause and effect (“because”, “therefore”, “thus”).



She practices tennis everyday, though she is still unable to hit a solid backhand.

Even though many students apply to out-of-state schools, they end up choosing a local college.

“Contrast words”: however, (even) though, although, nonetheless, notwithstanding, despite.



Climate change is causing many heat-related deaths. Moreover, it is leading to conditions that, in the long run, will harm us all.

Students feel overwhelmed with the number of hoops they have to jump through to get to college. Likewise, they feel flustered, once they get to college, by the many demands of their new environment.

Similarity words”: likewise, moreover, additionally, furthermore, also.


Cause and Effect

Because of tuition hikes at the private school, many parents are opting to send their children elsewhere.

The level of competition in college sports has become fiercer than ever. Therefore, athletes and coaches are seeking ever more sophisticated training regimens.

“Cause and effect words”: therefore, thus, because, so, since.


Mini-Quiz – Choose the Correct Conjunction

1. The SAT has historically been the test the majority of high school students take to enter college; additionally, with more students opting to take the ACT, the SAT has been forced to alter its content.

B) however
C) therefore
D) furthermore

2. The mean temperature of oceans has been rising significantly for the last ten years; however, many organisms have been forced to move from their traditional habitats or to simply perish.

B) moreover
C) therefore
D) nonetheless


Answers and Explanation:

1) B
A contrast exists between what has historically been the case (“The SAT has been the most popular exam for college-bound students) and what is now the case (“The ACT is becoming increasingly popular). This points to the contrast word, B) however.

C) and D) are tempting. However, that the SAT has had to alter its content does not result from the fact that the SAT has long been a popular test; the SAT altering the test is a result of the ACT becoming more popular.

2) C
There is cause and effect here: ocean temperatures increasing (cause) and organisms moving from their traditional habitat (effect). C) therefore.


A Quick Note on Subordination

There is still an important idea in subordination that is likely to come up on the test. If a clause is subordinate, it is a dependent clause, or not a stand-alone sentence. It depends on something; that something is an independent clause.

Because he was tired

Though he was smart

The above are both dependent clauses. They need an independent clause to complete them:

Because he was tired, he wasn’t able to study all the material before the test.

Though he was smart, he never cared to study.

On the SAT, they might test this in the following way:

Although El Nino is typically associated with a sharp spike in annual rainfall on the West Coast, though there are other meteorological factors that can offset this effect.

B) West Coast. Though there
C) West Coast, there are
D) West Coast. There

So what’s exactly wrong with this sentence? Well, a dependent clause depends on an independent clause, which is fancy-speak for a complete sentence. However, the part that comes after the dependent clause, which begins with “although”, also starts with “though”. When a phrase starts with “although”, “though”, “despite”, “because”, etc., it is a dependent clause. Therefore, we have back-to-back in dependents clauses—a big “no-no”. Getting rid of the “though” gives us a complete sentence (“There are other meteorological…offset). Answer C).


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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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