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SAT Grammar: Common Questions

Review common questions and answer frequently asked writing questions modeled from the actual SAT exam. Skills assessed include: coordinating conjunctions, punctuation (commas), pronouns, verb tenses, and conciseness. Go to http://sat.uworld.com to get a FREE subscription to practice high-quality SAT questions, paired with concise, easy to understand explanations.
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While I still viewed anthropology as an intellectual discipline, ____ I thought that if someone wanted to "help" people, that individual should become a social worker.

a. yet
b. and
c. so
d. DELETE the underlined portion.
d. DELETE the underlined portion.

Coordinating conjunctions like "yet," "and," or "so" are necessary after a comma to connect two complete sentences.

However, the "while" at the beginning of the sentence clarifies that everything before the underline is just there to explain when the rest of the sentence occurred, so the first half is not a complete sentence. Therefore, no conjunction is necessary.
One can only have the audacity of hope and believe that some can be led to the habit of unmasking ideological ____ those that surround us on all sides in the U.S. today.

a. aberrations such as
b. aberrations: such as
c. aberrations, such as
d. aberrations such as:
a. aberrations such as

When a sentence's meaning is already clear, punctuation makes it more awkward and confusing.

Here, "such as" introduces an example at the end of the sentence, so there is nothing it needs to be separated from by punctuation, and no punctuation is necessary.
After reading about Fortune ____ I decided to go and study this geologic treasure myself.

a. Head.
b. Head;
c. Head,
d. Head, then
c. Head, then

Introductory phrases that function as adverbs—describing WHEN, why, or how an action occurs—must be set off by commas.
"After reading about Fortune Head" describes WHEN the writer "decided to go and study," so the phrase must end in a comma.
____ meat, eggs, and dairy products became the large food items composing main and side dishes in Japanese kitchens.

a. After World War II polished rice,
b. After, World War II polished rice,
c. After World War II, polished rice,
d. After World War II polished rice,
c. After World War II, polished rice,

Extra information at the beginning of a sentence should be set off with a comma to clarify where the extra information stops and the sentence starts.

In this case, placing the comma after "After World War II" clarifies that the phrase is extra information stating when the sentence takes place.
The ____ the period preceding the Cambrian, was an era of soft-bodied and frond-like creatures.

a. Ediacaran, this is
b. Ediacaran:
c. Ediacaran,
d. Ediacaran and
c. Ediacaran,

When appositives (words or phrases that rename a noun) can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning (as they usually can), they should be set off from the sentence by commas.

"The Ediacaran" occurred just before the Cambrian. Therefore, the appositive "the period preceding the Cambrian" can be taken out without changing the sentence's meaning and should be set off with commas.
Hopkins had no idea what was causing the phenomenon, but he grew fascinated by the daily atmospheric displays, tracking ____ changing appearances over the course of that winter.

a. its
b. his
c. their
d. there
c. their

Pronouns must match their antecedents (the thing they stand for) in number, whether singular (one) or plural (more than one).

In this sentence, the "changing appearances" are of the "atmospheric displays." Because the "displays" is plural, the plural pronoun "their" is used.
The British lacked the capacity to enter the continent and intervene in ____ affairs.

a. its
b. it's
c. their
d. there
a. its

Because pronouns (ex. his, its, their) take the place of nouns, they must mean the same thing as the nouns they replace. Here, to decide which noun is being replaced, ask, "Whose affairs (business) did the British lack the capacity to...intervene in"?

The British could not intervene in their own affairs, so it must have been the "continent's." "Continent's" is singular, possessive and not a person, so "its" is the appropriate pronoun. ("It's" is not possessive, but a contraction for "it is.")
We spend a lot of time talking to business leaders ____ invest in their workforce.

a. that
b. which
c. who
d. whom
c. who

Relative pronouns (that, which, who, whom) begin phrases that describe a noun (ex. the tailor who made your suit). "Who" and "whom" both refer to people, but "who" is used as a subject (a person doing something) and "whom" is used as an object (a person having something done or given to him/her).

Here, the pronoun refers to "business leaders." Because those leaders are presumably people, and because they are doing something (investing in their workforce) the appropriate pronoun is "who."
When they were alive, these small, soft-bodied animals ____ through the ocean strata while eating the sediment that collected there.

a. burrow
b. burrowed
c. can burrow
d. have burrowed
b. burrowed

Verb tense indicates when an action occurred.
Because the sentence begins "when they were alive," we can assume the "small, soft-bodied animals" are not alive anymore, so it is appropriate to say they "burrowed" (past tense). For further evidence, notice that the only other verbs in the sentence ("were" and "collected") are written in the past tense.
But ____ many difficulties in turning attention into action over a long period of time.

a. their are
b. there are
c. there is
d. their is
b. there are

Verbs must agree with their subjects. Usually, the verb comes after the subject, but phrases that begin with "here" or "there" often place the verb first. Either way, find the subject by asking what noun is using the verb.

In this sentence, "there are" what? Many difficulties.

"Difficulties" is plural (more than one), so the plural "are" is appropriate. Also, "their" (rather than "there") is not correct because it is a pronoun that indicates possession, but "is/are" is not a thing that can be owned.
That's an experiment you don't want to ____ would potentially wipe Florida off the map.

a. run. That's an experiment that
b. run, and such an experiment
c. run because it
d. run. That experiment
c. run because it

In general, use the fewest words possible to say the same thing, and don't split up ideas that are closely connected.

That the experiment could "wipe Florida off the map" is the reason "you don't want to run" it, so "because" is appropriate. Since the "experiment" is the same in both sentences, replace "experiment" with "it" to avoid unneeded repetition.
The expedition consisted of ____ 69 Royal African Corps troops (40 white, 29 black), 32 African civilians, 200 pack animals, several field cannons, various other weapons, plentiful gifts for local rulers, and the standard necessities for such a force.

a. a small military force,
b. food for several months,
c. horses and camels to carry supplies,
d. DELETE the underlined portion.
d. DELETE the underlined portion.

Avoid redundancy (saying the same thing more than once) whenever possible. Here, the text following the underline contains a list of the groups participating in the expedition:

69 Royal African Corps troops—a military force
32 African civilians—non-military people
200 pack animals—animals that carry supplies
Various weapons—guns and swords
Plentiful gifts—presents for leaders in the area
Standard necessities—food, water, and clothing

Because each choice restates something already listed in the rest of the sentence, the phrase should be deleted.
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