If you’ve been reading our articles, you already know that there are only so many techniques and tricks that the SAT can use to make questions difficult. On the writing multiple-choice section, there about only a dozen grammar and style rules that you need to know in order to get a perfect Writing score. On the SAT, it is particularly important to pay attention to one specific punctuation mark: the comma.
The comma can play many roles and functions on an SAT Writing question and is therefore a bit of a chameleon. Think of the classic Culture Club song “Karma Chameleon”, but the hook is “comma comma comma chameleon…” That’s what comes to mind when thinking about how commas are used on the SAT. When you come across a comma on the SAT, you should pay particular attention to how it’s used and what role it’s playing. Often times, a comma can help you find where an error in a sentence might be. In another blog post, we talked about how a comma can mark the beginning or end of a modifier and how you should pay attention to make sure the modifier is followed logically by what it is modifying.
Another “role” that a comma can play is not so much of a “role” so much as a common error that appears on the SAT: The Comma Splice. A comma splice sounds fancy, but it’s really not. It occurs when a comma is used to separate two independent clauses. An independent clause must contain both a subject and a predicate and is a “complete thought” whereas a dependent clause will only contain one of those elements and cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. Here are some examples of independent and dependent clauses:
That should give you an idea on how to identify independent and dependent clauses. On the SAT, you should be alert to spot any comma splices where a comma is used to separate two independent clauses. Instead of a comma, a period, semi-colon or a transition word such as a conjunction should be used. Here are some examples:
Jon ran quickly to the store, he was eager to buy supplies for his party.
Jon ran quickly to the store because he was eager to buy supplies for his party.
Jon ran quickly to the store; he was eager to buy supplies for his party.
Jon ran quickly to the store. He was eager to buy suppliers for his party.
You can also correct the comma splice by making one of the clauses dependent as follows:
Eager to buy supplies for his party, Jon ran quickly to the store.
The structure of this sentence is now [dependent clause], [independent clause] and is a correct way of using a comma to separate the two clauses.
As you practice writing problems on the SAT, watch out for commas used as comma splices!
Jason Sun is the Director of College Prep for Veritas Prep. When he’s not in the office, he can be found competing in swing dance competitions or defending his title as a table tennis champion.