SAT Grammar Rules: Everything You Need to Know

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SAT grammar rules…there are so many. Don’t worry, this guide covers everything you need to know.

The SAT tests your ability in three main areas: Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. That means writing makes up over 30% of your score. (And if you decide to complete the optional Essay section, it becomes even more important!)

A lot of students tend to overlook Writing when they prepare for the SAT. They focus more on Reading and Mathematics, drilling vocabulary words and practicing math problems. Don’t make this mistake—remember, all three sections are equally important.

And if you think that the other two sections are easier to study for, think again. In this guide, we’re providing a list of the grammar rules you need to know for the SAT Writing and Language Test. Using this list, along with the examples and tips we’ve included, you can brush up on grammar and boost your Writing and Language score—and your overall score too!

About the Writing and Language Test

As the College Board explains, you have three main tasks on the Writing and Language Test: “Read, find mistakes and weaknesses, and fix them.” Basically, you’re being asked to proofread and edit.

All questions on the Writing and Language Test are passage-based and multiple choice. Within the passages, you’ll correct words and sentences (or, if there is no error, you’ll select “NO CHANGE”). For questions based on Science passages, you may have to choose a sentence that more accurately represents the data provided in a table or other graphic.

TIP: It may be tempting to read only the sentences you’re asked to correct. However, context is important for many of the questions in this section. It’s best to read the passage first, then answer the questions. If time is an issue for you, try to at least skim the passage before you tackle any questions.

Writing and Language questions cover five main topics:

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions

Grammar Rules for the Writing and Language Test

In this guide, we’ll focus on Standard English Conventions. The College Board describes conventions as “the building blocks of writing.” This includes topics like comma use, parallel construction, subject-verb agreement, and verb tense. (If you’re wondering, “What’s that?” don’t panic—we’ve got you covered.)

Now, let’s take a look at the grammar rules you’ll need to know. The rules we’ve included are based on the College Board’s official study guide for the Writing and Language Test. For each rule, we’ll provide an example and some strategies you can use to sharpen your skills in this area.

1. SENTENCE STRUCTURE

“Recognizing and correcting sentence formation problems and inappropriate shifts in sentence construction”

Rule #1: A complete sentence (also known as an independent clause) must have a subject and a verb, and it must express a complete thought.

A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb. There are two types of clauses: independent clauses and dependent clauses.

Independent clauses can stand on their own as a sentence. To function independently, they must have a subject and a verb, and they must express a complete thought.

Without these three elements, you have a fragment instead of a complete sentence. On the SAT, you’ll be asked to recognize and correct incomplete sentences.

Example:

INCORRECT: Because she ran.

CORRECT: Because she ran, she managed to catch the bus just in time.

CORRECT: She only caught the bus because she ran.

The incorrect example is a fragment. Although it does contain a subject (she) and a verb (ran), it does not offer a complete thought.

To fix this fragment, we need to complete the thought. We could say something like, “Because she ran, she managed to catch the bus just in time.” Now that’s a sentence!

Strategies:

  • When you read informal writing like social media posts and text messages, you likely encounter a lot of fragments. Practice identifying them and recognizing what makes them fragments. What is missing? How could you fix the fragment and complete the sentence?
  • Come up with a mnemonic device to remember the three elements of a sentence (subject, verb, complete thought). What could the letters “NVC” stand for? For instance, Sarah Vacuums Carpets or Sam Values C Pick something that’s easy for you to remember.

Rule #2: When combining two independent clauses, you MUST use either a semicolon or a comma with a coordinating conjunction. Otherwise, the sentence is a run-on.

You know that independent clauses are complete sentences that can stand alone (that’s why they’re independent). As we mentioned above, these clauses contain a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. You can combine independent clauses into longer sentences, but there are rules you must follow when doing so.

There are two acceptable ways to combine independent clauses. You can link the clauses with a semicolon, or you can use a comma and a coordinating conjunction. The seven coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.

If you don’t follow these rules, you have a run-on sentence, and that’s a grammatical no-no.

Sometimes, students confuse “run-on sentences” with “really long sentences.” That’s not necessarily true. Regardless of length, a sentence is a run-on sentence when two independent clauses are squished together in a way that is not grammatically correct.

Example:

INCORRECT: I love tacos I would eat them every day if I could.

CORRECT: I love tacos; I would eat them every day if I could.

CORRECT: I love tacos, and I would eat them every day if I could.

Strategies:

  • Continue practicing your mnemonic device for complete sentences/independent clauses. Your ability to recognize an independent clause is crucial to identifying run-on sentences.
  • Another trick to recognize a run-on is to see whether there is more than one complete thought in the sentence you are reading. If so, are the two ideas separated by a semicolon or a comma and a coordinating conjunction? If not, it’s likely a run-on that needs to be corrected.
  • Remember that the length of a sentence does not determine whether it’s a run-on. It’s a run-on if two independent clauses are fused together without correct punctuation.

Rule #3: When independent clauses are combined using a comma, a coordinating conjunction is also required. Otherwise, it is a comma splice.

One specific type of run-on sentence is a comma splice. A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are connected with a comma and no coordinating conjunction.

Example:

INCORRECT: I love tacos, I would eat them every day if I could.

CORRECT: I love tacos, and I would eat them every day if I could.

“I love tacos” is an independent clause because it contains a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. “I would eat them every day if I could” is an independent clause for the same reason. To combine these two independent clauses with a comma, we must also use a coordinating conjunction (like and).

Strategies:

  • Use the acronym FANBOYS to remember your coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
  • Consider using flash cards as you practice grammar. On the front of one card, write “Coordinating conjunctions.” On the back, list all coordinating conjunctions and practice naming them.

Rule #4: Understand the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions and when to use them.

Conjunctions are sometimes called “joiners” because they join two sentences together. There are two types of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions link an independent clause to another independent clause. Subordinating conjunctions link a dependent clause to an independent clause. Dependent clauses are a type of sentence fragment. They contain a subject and a verb but do not form a complete thought.

Dependent clauses must be linked to independent clauses to form complete sentences. They can’t stand alone. Subordinating conjunctions signal a cause and effect relationship between the two clauses, or they indicate a shift in time and place.

Examples of subordinating conjunctions include:

  • Although
  • After
  • As
  • Before
  • Because
  • By the time
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • If
  • Until
  • Unless
  • Since
  • Wherever
  • While

On the SAT, you may be asked to find errors with subordination and coordination. For example, you may need to recognize issues like a coordinating conjunction being used when the sentence logically calls for a subordinating conjunction instead.

Example:

INCORRECT: Work on Sundays, and you’re hired.

CORRECT: If you can work on Sundays, you’re hired.

INCORRECT: Bobby always overslept, and he was late to class.

CORRECT: Bobby was late because he always overslept.

Strategies:

  • Remember that two independent clauses need a coordinating conjunction. A dependent clause that is linked to an independent clause requires a subordinating conjunction.
  • Print or write a list of subordinating conjunctions and familiarize yourself with them. You do not need to attempt to memorize all of these, although some students choose to memorize nine of the most common subordinating conjunctions using the mnemonic A WHITE BUS.
  • Note that these words do not function ONLY as subordinating conjunctions. Most of them can also be used as prepositions or adverbs. They are subordinating conjunctions when followed by a subject and verb.

Rule #5: Parallel structure means that elements of a sentence that are alike in function must also be alike in structure.

Parallel structure requires you to use consistent form throughout a sentence. You must use parallel structure in various situations, including the following:

  • With two elements that are joined by a coordinating conjunction
  • With elements that appear in a list or series
  • When comparing two elements

Example:

INCORRECT: I love biking, hiking, to run, and swimming.

CORRECT: I love biking, hiking, running, and swimming.

INCORRECT: I like to bike more than running.

CORRECT: I like biking more than running.

INCORRECT: The teacher said Xavier was a good student because he participated in class, studied frequently, and never turned his work in late.

CORRECT: The teacher said Xavier was a good student because he participated in class, studied frequently, and turned his work in on time.

Strategies:

  • When words are joined by “and” or “or,” check to see if the words on either side are parallel.
  • As you read sentences, “listen” for parallel structure. Are you hearing the same sounds (e.g. -ing at the end of words)? Is there a rhythm to the sentence? If something breaks the rhythm or the repetition, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.

Rule #6: In order to avoid confusion, modifiers should be placed close to the noun they modify.

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that add explanation, emphasis, or detail to a sentence. They are typically descriptive words or phrases, and they are generally placed right next to the word they’re describing.

For instance, consider the sentence: Mr. Barnhart, the principal, knew the name of every student in the building. In this sentence, “the principal” is a modifier. It modifies the noun “Mr. Barnhart” by adding more detail. If you refer to a “red hat,” red is a modifier providing more detail about the hat.

Sometimes, modifiers are misplaced. A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifier is too far away from the noun it modifies, causing confusion (and sometimes unintentional humor).

Example:

INCORRECT: We bought a cat for my sister named Socks.

CORRECT: We bought a cat named Socks for my sister.

As you can see, misplaced modifiers appear to modify the wrong word—it looks like the sister’s name is Socks. When you move the modifier closer to the noun it is meant to modify, the sentence becomes much clearer.

Strategies:

  • When looking for misplaced modifiers, ask yourself if there is any way the sentence could be misinterpreted. If there is, it’s helpful to move the modifier closer to the noun it modifies.
  • If you’re correcting a misplaced modifier, move it as close to the noun it modifies as possible.

Rule #7: Dangling modifiers don’t actually describe any of the words or phrases in the sentence.

When it comes to modifiers, misplacing them isn’t the only common error. Sometimes, writers forget to include a target word for the modifier to describe, creating a dangling modifier. Just like misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers cause confusion for the reader.

Example:

INCORRECT: Starving, the chicken wings were devoured in ten minutes or less.

CORRECT: Starving, we devoured the chicken wings in ten minutes or less.

INCORRECT: With a sad sigh, the empty mailbox was closed.

CORRECT: With a sad sigh, Jessica closed the empty mailbox.

In both examples, the modifier has nothing to modify. Chicken wings can’t be starving—so who does the modifier “starving” describe? Mailboxes can’t sigh sadly, so who does the modifier “with a sad sigh” describe?

Strategies:

  • As with misplaced modifiers, ask yourself if it’s possible to misinterpret the sentence. When you see descriptive words and phrases, is it clear who or what these words and phrases are describing?
  • Misplaced modifiers require you to move the modifier, while dangling modifiers typically require you to add something new to the sentence. Figure out what the dangling modifier is meant to describe, then add it to the sentence.

Rule #8: Verb tenses in a sentence must be logical and consistent.

Verbs may appear in present, past, or future tense. These tenses indicate time, showing when the action occurred.

In general, all verbs in a single sentence should use the same tense (because they occur in the same time period). In some cases, a sentence may involve a shift in time, and verb tenses should change logically to account for this change.

Example:

INCORRECT: Since Derek is injured, the soccer team had to substitute Antonio to play center midfield.

CORRECT: Since Derek is injured, the soccer team has to substitute Antonio to play center midfield.

CORRECT: Since Derek was injured, the soccer team had to substitute Antonio to play center midfield.

INCORRECT: Although Jamie is once afraid to ride roller coasters, she loves them now.

CORRECT: Although Jamie was once afraid to ride roller coasters, she loves them now.

Strategies:

  • If you see a verb underlined on the SAT, make sure that the verb tense naturally fits with the other verb tenses and time frames in the sentence.
  • When you have a good grasp on basic verb tenses, it’s helpful to become familiar with present perfect and past perfect, as well as the imperative mood and subjunctive mood. Flash cards with definitions and examples are helpful.

Rule #9: Nouns and verbs must agree in number (singular or plural).

Both nouns and verbs are written differently when they are singular vs. when they are plural. For example, we say one pizza and two pizzas. We also say that one person eats while two people eat.

When a noun and a verb are in the same sentence, they must “agree.” This means they should both be plural, or they should both be singular.

Example:

INCORRECT: The bathroom in most people’s homes are the smallest room.

CORRECT: The bathroom in most people’s homes is the smallest room.

INCORRECT: There is a cake and three types of cookies on the dessert table.

CORRECT: There are a cake and three types of cookies on the dessert table.

Strategies:

  • Ask yourself what the subject of the sentence is. Next, find the verb. Are they both singular or both plural? If not, which one is incorrect and needs to be fixed?
  • Here’s an important rule to remember: Collective nouns are singular. A collective noun is a noun that stands for a group (e.g. class, family, herd, pack, set). Grammatically, a collective noun is treated as a singular unit. For instance, your family enjoys going on bike rides together and the herd of cows is loose.
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II. CONVENTIONS OF USAGE

“Observing standard usage practices”

Rule #10: Pronouns must have clear antecedents.

A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. Examples of pronouns include I, me, he, she, they, you, and it. An antecedent is the word that the pronoun is referring to or replacing. For instance, if “he” refers to Sam, then Sam is the antecedent.

Sometimes, antecedents are unclear. This occurs when a pronoun has more than one possible antecedent or no obvious antecedent at all. On the SAT, you’ll need to recognize when it’s not clear what noun the pronoun is referring to, then make corrections.

Example:

INCORRECT: After the students brought the wrong forms to school, the teacher sent them back home.

CORRECT: After the students brought the wrong forms to school, the teacher sent the forms back home.

In this case, it was unclear whether the teacher sent the students home or the forms home. Replacing the pronoun “them” with the noun “students” clarified the meaning.

Strategies:

  • Although you should learn to recognize pronouns, there’s no need to memorize them. In fact, there are over 100 pronouns. Simply think of pronouns as general terms that refer to nouns.
  • When you see a pronoun, see if you can easily find the antecedent. What noun is the pronoun replacing? If you’re unsure, some clarification may be necessary.
  • The easiest way to clarify a confusing pronoun is to replace it with the noun it’s meant to reference. Sometimes, you may also choose to rewrite and simplify the sentence.

RULE #11: Understand the difference between its and it’s.

The SAT is tricky. It’ll try to trip you up with a variety of commonly confused words, including possessive determiners like your, its, and their. If you’ve already mastered these terms, great! If not, it’s a good idea to get some practice in before taking your test.

We’ll start with its and it’s.

Its with no apostrophe is possessive. “Its” indicates that something belongs to something else.

Sound confusing? Here’s an example: “The tennis racket was missing its strings.” In this sentence, the strings belong to the tennis racket. (This is where confusion comes in for many people, who often assume that apostrophes indicate possession. This is not always the case.)

It’s with an apostrophe is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” For example, “It’s time for school,” means, “It is time for school.”

Example:

INCORRECT: Florida is known as a great summer vacation spot, with it’s warm weather, beautiful beaches, and numerous theme parks.

CORRECT: Florida is known as a great summer vacation spot, with its warm weather, beautiful beaches, and numerous theme parks.

Strategies:

  • Break the sentence down. Does “It is” or “it has” make sense here? Read the sentence in your head, replacing “its” or “it’s” with “it is.” Does it work? If so, you need an apostrophe. If not, there should be no apostrophe.
  • Flash cards with definitions and examples are also helpful in learning the difference between “its” and “it’s.” In addition, you can find plenty of practice exercises online.

RULE #12: Understand the difference between your and you’re.

Similarly, your with no apostrophe is possessive. Your indicates that something belongs to you. For example, “This is my pen, and that is your pen.”

You’re with an apostrophe is a contraction of “you are.” The sentence, “You’re my favorite sister,” for example, means “You are my favorite sister.”

Example:

INCORRECT: Like many other high school students, your excited to see what the future holds.

CORRECT: Like many other high school students, you’re excited to see what the future holds.

Strategies:

  • If you’re confused between “your” and “you’re,” replace either term with “you are.” Does it make sense? If yes, then you need an apostrophe. If not, there should be no apostrophe.
  • Find online exercises to practice the difference between “your” and “you’re.” Try to recognize errors in everyday casual conversation. Text messages are probably full of them! And again, flash cards come in handy.

RULE #13: Understand the difference between their, there and they’re.

Their is possessive. It means something belongs to them. For instance, “Brian’s family is going back to their house.” In this sentence, the house belongs to Brian’s family (them).

There refers to a place. For example, you could say, “The books are over there.” There can also simply mean that something exists, such as the sentence, “There are many books in the library.”

They’re is a contraction of “they are.”  The sentence, “They’re going home soon,” means, “They are going home soon.”

Example:

INCORRECT: After a challenging day at school, all of the students were eager to get back to they’re own homes and relax.

CORRECT: After a challenging day at school, all of the students were eager to get back to their own homes and relax.

Strategies:

  • If you’re struggling with their, they’re, and there, make flash cards to help you. Include both the meaning of each term and a few examples.
  • Pay attention to their, they’re, and there in your everyday reading and conversations. When you see any of these terms used in a sentence, think about why that particular term is correct. If possible, practice recognizing errors in casual conversation.
  • Complete online exercises on the difference between their, they’re, and there.
  • Remember that if “they are” makes sense in the sentence, the correct term is “they’re.”

RULE #14: Understand the difference between affect and effect and other commonly confused words.

Another pair of commonly confused words is affect and effect. Affect is a verb that means “to influence,” while effect is a noun that means “result.”

For example, you could say, “Drinking too much caffeine affects my ability to sleep at night.” The amount of caffeine you drink influences your ability to sleep.

You could also say, “The effect of drinking too much caffeine is that I struggle to sleep at night.” In this case, you’re explaining that one result of too much caffeine is difficulty sleeping.

Example:

INCORRECT: Pollen has a strong affect on my sinuses, causing my eyes to water and my nose to run.

CORRECT: Pollen has a strong effect on my sinuses, causing my eyes to water and my nose to run.

Strategies:

  • Remember that affect=a This should help you recall that affect is a verb, while effect is a noun. If the word has “the” or “an” in front of it, it’s a noun, meaning you should use “effect.”
  • Make flash cards for other commonly confused words. Examples include accept vs. except, proceed vs. precede, complement vs. compliment, sight vs. site vs. cite, then vs. than, conscious vs. conscience, and elicit vs. illicit.

RULE #15: Avoid illogical comparisons.

There are two types of illogical comparisons you may encounter on the SAT. First, keep in mind that you can only compare two things if they are alike in some way. The SAT may try to trick you with a sentence like the following:

“I like Angelo’s shoes better than Peter.” This sounds like you’re comparing Angelo’s shoes (a clothing item) to Peter (a human). That’s illogical.

Instead, you could say, “I like Angelo’s shoes better than Peter’s shoes,” or even, “I like Angelo’s shoes better than Peter’s.”

Second, note that you can’t compare an object to all things of that type or category. This is because that type or category includes the object itself. Instead, you would use a phrase like, “all other” or “any other.” Sound complicated? Check out the example below.

Example:

INCORRECT: In my family, we eat pizza more than any food.

CORRECT: In my family, we eat pizza more than any other food.

The phrase “any food” in the first sentence is illogical, because pizza is also a type of food. You can’t eat pizza more than pizza. That’s illogical! Therefore, it makes sense to use the phrase “any other food” instead, excluding pizza.

Strategies:

  • The word “than” indicates a comparison. When you see the word “than,” check to make sure that the comparison being made is logical. Are the words on both sides of “than” in the same category?
  • When you see the word “than,” you should also be wary of comparisons that include the words “any” or “all.” Would it make more sense to use the phrases “any other” or “all other?”

III. CONVENTIONS OF PUNCTUATION

“Observing standard punctuation practices”

RULE #16: Know when to end a sentence with a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

There are three appropriate ways to end a sentence: with a period, with a question mark, or with an exclamation point. On the SAT, you’ll need to know how and when to use each type of end-of-sentence punctuation. The test may asked you to correct punctuation, or you may need to add punctuation.

A period ends a declarative statement, or a statement of fact. It can also end an imperative statement, which gives a command, such as, “Clean your room.”

A question mark, naturally, ends a question. Sometimes, it can indicate surprise or disbelief, such as, “Really? You didn’t clean your room?”

Exclamation points show emphasis or excitement. They can also be used at the end of interjections, such as, “Wow!” Typically, exclamation points should be used sparingly.

Example:

INCORRECT: I often wondered about my future, like where I would go to college and what I would be when I grew up?

CORRECT: I often wondered about my future, like where I would go to college and what I would be when I grew up.

A period is needed because this is declarative statement. The writer of the sentence is stating that he or she often wondered about the future. A question mark would be needed if the sentence said, “Where will I go to college?” or, “What will I be when I grow up?”

Strategies:

  • If you’re not confident with end-of-sentence punctuation, start paying attention to it in everything you read. Each time you see a period, question mark, or exclamation point, ask yourself why it was the correct choice to end the sentence.
  • Read the sentence in your head with a declarative voice (like you’re making the statement, “The sky is blue”), a questioning voice, and an excited voice. Which makes the most sense?
  • Note that sentences that require a question mark typically begin with words such as “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” or “how.” You can also find online exercises related to end-of-sentence punctuation.

RULE #17: Know how to correctly use a colon.

Colons may be used after independent clauses in two scenarios.

1) Colons may separate two independent clauses if the second clause provides a definition, example, or explanation of the first clause. Note that a colon is not required in this case, as you can still choose to separate the sentences with periods or a semicolon.

Here’s an example: “Our school was one of the best in the state: we had high test scores, notable alumni, and a strong STEM curriculum.”

2) Colons may be used after an independent clause when the independent clause is followed by a list.

For instance, you could write, “I have many after-school activities: band, soccer, robotics club, and babysitting my younger siblings.”

INCORRECT: There are only a few foods that my younger brother will eat, chicken nuggets, pasta, pizza, and sometimes fries.

CORRECT: There are only a few foods that my younger brother will eat: chicken nuggets, pasta, pizza, and sometimes fries.

Strategies:

  • Memorize these two uses for colons. If the colon is not performing one of these two functions, it should not be present in the sentence.
  • A flash card with “colon” on the front and “indicates a definition, example, explanation, or list” on the back may be helpful. You can even come up with a mnemonic device for DEEL.

RULE #18: Know how to correctly use a semicolon.

Semicolons are most commonly used to link two independent clauses that contain two closely related ideas. When you use a semicolon for this purpose, you do not use a coordinating or subordinating conjunction. The semicolon on its own does the job.

You can also use a semicolon with the word “however,” as in the following example:

“I like dogs; however, I know that some people do not.” Note that the first independent clause is followed by a semicolon, while the word “however” is followed by a comma.

Example:

INCORRECT: Some people like to write by hand; and others prefer to use a computer.

CORRECT: Some people like to write by hand; others prefer to use a computer.

INCORRECT: I was going to go to the store, however; my mom went instead.

CORRECT: I was going to go to the store; however, my mom went instead.

Strategies:

  • Notice the use of semicolons in your readings, and make a note of when and why they are used.
  • Refer to Rule #3 above. When a comma splice occurs, one way to fix it is by replacing the comma with a semicolon (if there are two independent clauses that are closely related).
  • Complete practice exercises focused on semicolons online.

RULE #19: Know how to use commas.

Commas have many different uses, which makes them challenging. Below, we’ll list the uses of commas, plus an example for each.

Keep in mind that you should never use a comma “just because.” Every comma that you use should be related to one of the uses listed here. Some SAT questions will require you to eliminate unnecessary punctuation, so it’s important to remember when commas are actually necessary.

Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are linked with a coordinating conjunction (see Rules 1-3 for additional information).

Example:  I like to ride bikes, and I like to read books.

Use commas after introductory words and phrases.

Example: When school is over, let’s go to the mall.

Use commas before and after words and phrases that are not essential to the sentence’s meaning.

Example: Next Thursday, which is my sister’s birthday, is the first day of basketball try-outs.

Use commas to separate items in a list.

Example: My favorite drinks are iced coffee, green tea, and water.

Use commas to separate adjectives that describe the same noun. This is only necessary when the adjectives are coordinate, meaning the order of the adjectives does not matter. Another test for coordinate adjectives is to see whether they can be separated by the word “and” and still make sense. If yes, use the comma.

Example: Your daughter has a happy, sunny personality.

Use commas in geographical names and in dates.

Example: We traveled to Orlando, Florida on October 27, 2005.

Use commas before (and sometimes after) quotation marks.

Example: “During lunch,” she said, “let’s study for our exam.”

Use commas when addressing someone by name.

Example: Mrs. Stevens, when is our test?

Strategies:

  • For the purposes of this guide, this is a simplified explanation of how to use commas. Sources like Grammarly, Grammar Girl, the Transizion blog, and Purdue Online Writing Lab are excellent places to go if you need more in-depth information.
  • Fold a sheet of paper in half. In one column, list each proper use of commas. In the other column, provide an example.
  • Pay attention to commas when you read and write. Is that comma necessary? Why? Which rule of comma usage is being demonstrated?

RULE #20: Use commas and sometimes semicolons to separate items in a list.

As mentioned in Rule #19 above, commas can be used to separate items in a list. However, there is an exception to this rule. If any of the items in the list contain a comma, you can separate them with a semicolon instead.

Here’s an example: “The parents chaperoning the dance included Mr. Parker, Steve’s dad; Mrs. Grant, Tevin’s mom; and Mrs. Thompson, Delilah’s mom.”

Using semicolons in this case avoids a confusing or odd-looking sentence full of excessive commas.

Example:

INCORRECT: The band members include Joe, who sings, Sarah, who plays guitar, Peter, who plays the drums, and Omar, who plays the keyboard.

CORRECT: The band members include Joe, who sings; Sarah, who plays guitar; Peter, who plays the drums; and Omar, who plays the keyboard.

Strategies:

  • If you notice a list with excessive commas, see whether any of the items themselves contain a comma. If so, know that you can separate the list items with semicolons instead.
  • Remember that the semicolons go at the end of each item. You will still use commas within the list items if they are needed.

Final Thoughts: SAT Grammar Rules

Grammar is a struggle for many, but it mostly comes down to memorizing and following a series of rules.

In addition to studying the rules in this guide, improve your grammar by doing the following:

  • Read often, paying attention to grammar and punctuation.
  • Complete SAT practice questions from the Writing and Language test.
  • Review your completed practice questions, and notice if there are any specific areas that you find challenging. If so, do extra work on those pieces by creating flash cards, completing exercises online, or asking a teacher or knowledgeable peer for help.
  • After doing extra work in areas of weakness, complete more practice tests and see if you’ve improved. If not, continue practicing until you’ve made progress!

Whether you’re correcting errors, adding something that’s missing, or otherwise improving a sentence, knowing these rules will give you the confidence and ability to answer grammar questions correctly. And earn a high SAT score!

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