SAT Tip of the Week: Combining Sentences

SAT Tip of the WeekIn context, which of the following is the best way to combine sentences 1 and 2 (reproduced below)?

Marriage was once a sacred religious institution authorized only by sacred establishments. In contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

When the SAT asks students to combine sentences, it is testing the students’ ability to make logical connections between two separate ideas. Therefore, when stumbling upon one of these questions, we must first break down the sentences into their core concepts. Long sentences pertaining to subjects uninteresting to the reader can sometimes be too tedious to follow, so breaking them down into more general parts will help with focus and will alleviate the difficulty of the vocabulary.

The first sentence states that marriage was once strongly affiliated with religion and sacredness. The second sentence makes a claim that the concept of marriage as a religious and sacred affiliate has declined. At their most general breakdown, the two sentences are distinctly opposites. Now that we know the connection between the two sentences, we can find the appropriate combination of the two.

Now let’s take a look at the answer choices. Remember: all we are looking for is the proper connection signifying the opposite relationship between the two sentences. The meaning of the sentences will not change as they are converted into clauses, so all we have to watch out for are added words (in bold below). Do not waste time scrutinizing the entire sentence of each answer choice.

(A)  Marriage was once a religious institution authorized only by sacred establishments, in contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

In is neither an affirmative connection, nor a negative connection, but it cannot stand as a conjunction after a comma. If the comma before in were a semicolon, we would scrutinize this sentence more, but as it is not, we move on.

(B)  Marriage was once a religious institution authorized only by sacred establishments and in contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

And is an affirmative conjunction, which suggests that the main ideas of the separate clauses complement each other rather than contradict each other. This answer choice is wrong.

(C)  Marriage was once a religious institution authorized only by sacred establishments; however, in contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

However signifies disagreement between the two clauses, which is definitely the connection we’re looking for, so let’s make sure the other answer choices are wrong before we select this one.

(D)  Marriage was once a religious institution authorized only by sacred establishments, now in contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

Now has the same problem that in has, which is its invalidity as a conjunction after the comma, so we will not be choosing this answer.

(E)  Marriage was once a religious institution authorized by sacred establishments; therefore, in contemporary times the concept of marriage has become more of a state convention and less of a holy bond.

Therefore implies a cause-and-effect relationship, or an implicative relationship in which the first clause proves the second. This is the opposite of the connection we are looking for.

The correct answer is (C). 

Notice that we did not have to read the sentences the entire way through at any point, other than our first read-through of the original two sentences at the beginning of the question. If there had been doubt about the other answer choices, we would have fully read the remaining ones before selecting a final answer.

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Rochelle Glazman found a passion in education at an early age. She began tutoring in middle school, and in high school she also became a teaching assistant to two department chairs. She was Vice President of the Student Body, an AP Scholar, and a 4.0 student. Currently, Rochelle is studying Economics and Managerial Studies at Vanderbilt. 

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