SAT Writing: Subordination and Coordination Questions

To master the SAT grammar rules concerning subordination and coordination, you need to be comfortable with sentence structure basics, so check those out if you need a refresher.

Subordination and coordination questions ask you to identify and select the best way to combine sentences. Sometimes, the sentences will be incorrectly joined and your task is to fix their connection to be more appropriate. In other cases, the test will select two sentences that are separated by a period or a semicolon but may be improved by being combined into a single compound or complex sentence. It’s like a puzzle!

To make these combined sentences, you will have to use coordination and subordination techniques. 


There are two ways to coordinate sentences:

1. Coordinative conjunctions (FANBOYS)

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

These seven words can be used between independent clauses to connect ideas. Be sure the answer you choose uses the correct conjunction for that particular sentence. For example, use ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ when you are contrasting ideas. Whichever conjunction you choose should be preceded by a comma.

Example 1: The sun was shining, but I couldn’t shake my dismal mood.

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2. Semicolons & Colons

These can be placed between independent clauses where you would otherwise use a period. They should only be used to coordinate two sentences that discuss the same topic, and colons are only preferable if the second sentence explains or clarifies the first.

Example 2: Today is Lillian’s birthday; she plans to celebrate with her family.

Example 3: Tim is excited about the weekend: he has planned a hiking trip. 


This method of combining sentences requires one of the independent clauses to become dependent. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this.

1. Subordinating conjunctions

Because, Although/Though, After, Until, While, etc.

There are many subordinating conjunctions, but they all transform independent clauses into dependent ones. A comma should follow a dependent clause that begins a sentence, and, again, be sure the conjunction you choose fits the situation.

Example 4: Although the restaurant received rave reviews, its high prices kept customers away.

2. Descriptive phrases

Sometimes, removing the subject or verb from an independent clause and using what remains as a descriptive phrase may be an easier way to combine two ideas. Such phrases are usually, though not always, separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

Example 5: He practiced every day. He eventually became a master at the sport.

                      He practiced every day, eventually becoming a master at the sport.

Subordination and Coordination Practice

Now that we know what we’re looking for in our answers, let’s see an example of one of these questions in the wild, er, on the test. Below is an excerpt from a passage and a sample question.

Humans have been consuming coffee (1) for centuries. Coffee houses exploded in popularity during the Colonial Era. (2) They were protested by clergy and women. There were still over 2,000 of them in London in the 17th and 18th centuries.

B. for centuries, coffee houses
C. for centuries because
D. for centuries, but

B. Although they were protested by clergy and women, there were still
C. They were protested by clergy and women; there were still
D. Protested by clergy and women, there remained

Both of these questions involve joining two sentences using either coordination or subordination.

You might notice that there is nothing grammatically incorrect in the first selection, but don’t choose NO CHANGE unless you’re sure none of the other answer choices improve on the original. Answer B creates a comma splice, so that’s out. Answers C and D both join the two sentences using correct mechanics, but only D makes sense given the content of the selection and improves the flow of the information, so D is the correct choice.

While there is nothing truly wrong with the selection for question number two either, the flow of these two sentences is awkward and stilted. We should try to combine them. The version in answer C is, again, not grammatically wrong, but makes no difference to the flow of ideas, so it can be eliminated. Answer D makes an attempt at joining the two ideas, but introduces a modifier error, so it can be crossed off, too. That leaves B, which uses a subordinating conjunction (although) to make the first clause dependent. The conjunction and punctuation work, so B is our answer.

Now you know what you’re facing with subordination and coordination questions, take a Writing quiz to practice, or check out our top 10 tips for the new Writing section!

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  • 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!

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

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