SAT 2016



Rule 10: Know How to Punctuate

Lesson 31: Know how to use apostrophes

Which is correct?

A.   Its hard to know when you’re dog has reached the limit of it’s stamina if your not checking it regularly during your run.

B.   It’s hard to know when your dog has reached the limit of its stamina if you’re not checking it regularly during your run.

C.   It’s hard to know when you’re dog has reached the limit of it’s stamina if you’re not checking it regularly during you’re run.

Apostrophes serve two main functions: to indicate missing letters in a contraction as in can’t (from cannot), and to indicate possession, as in we went to Jacob’s house.

When turning a singular noun into a possessive adjective, simply add ’s, as in the committee’s decision. If the noun is a plural ending in s, simply add an apostrophe, as in the sisters’ relationship.

Several common contractions are homophones (sound-alikes) of possessives, and so the two are commonly confused. Fortunately, there is a simple rule to keep them straight: the contraction always gets the apostrophe:


Notice that sentence B above is the only one of the three that uses apostrophes correctly and avoids the its/it’s and your/you’re confusion.

Lesson 32: Know how to use commas

What is wrong with these sentences?

A.   The subject that intimidates me the most, is calculus.

B.   I could not help Justine with her project, I had just begun a new job.

C.   As we passed through Springfield, Massachusetts we stopped at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

D.   We will be discussing my favorite poem“Leaves of Grass,” next semester.

E.   I would like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand.

Sentence A suffers from the stray comma syndrome. Simply put, the comma doesn’t belong. Chuck it.

The primary job of the comma is as a separator. It is used to separate

•   items in a list (e.g., He was fat, dumb, and lazy.)

•   coordinate adjectives (e.g., She gave a droning, uninspired speech.)

•   modifying phrases from the main clause (e.g., In summary, I am appalled.)

•   dependent clauses that precede independent clauses (e.g., Whenever I try, I fail.)

•   (with a conjunction) independent clauses from other independent clauses (e.g., I think, therefore I am.)

It can also be used to

•   introduce a quotation (e.g., Tom said, “I ain’t goin’ where I ain’t needed.”)

•   format an address or date (e.g., Saturday, July 19, 2014; Cleveland, Ohio)

•   to signal an addressee in dialogue or colloquial prose (e.g., Get going, buster!)

Sentence B commits a comma splice (Lesson 6). Two independent clauses cannot be joined with just a comma. Either change the comma to a colon or semicolon, or insert a conjunction:

I could not help Justine with her project, because I had just begun a new job.

Sentence C omits the comma after the state name. It should read

As we passed through Springfield, Massachusetts, we stopped at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Notice that this treats Massachusetts as an interrupter (Lesson 3), which is fine because the sentence reads correctly even when it is omitted.

Substantial modifying phrases in the middle of a sentence are called interrupting modifiers (Lesson 3) and should be separated from the main clause by commas. Remember that a sentence should read properly even when the interrupters have been removed.

In sentence D, the title of the poem works the same way as the state name in sentence C. It is a specifying modifier and requires commas before and after:

We will be discussing my favorite poem, “Leaves of Grass,” next semester.

When a comma follows a title or phrase in quotes, the comma must precede the end quote.

Sentence E omits the serial comma, the comma that separates the second-to-last item in a list from the conjunction and. The serial comma is almost universally accepted as proper and necessary in Standard American English, because without it sentence E becomes absurd. In this apocryphal dedication of a book, the lack of a serial comma makes it seem like the author believes she is the offspring of a deity and a childless woman. Of course, the author intends her dedication as a list of four, not two:

I would like to thank my parents, God, and Ayn Rand.

Two notable authorities that do not accept this rule are the New York Times and the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook, which recommend against the Oxford comma except to prevent an ambiguity such as that in sentence E.

The use of the serial comma (the second comma in the phrase A, B, and C) in Standard American Usage is still a matter of debate and therefore will almost certainly not be tested on the SAT.

Lesson 33: Know how to use dashes

What is wrong with this sentence?

A.   The best that they could do—at least without a splint, was to set the broken bone and wait for help to arrive.

The dash (or, as it is sometimes known, the em dash) is used to insert an abrupt break in thought in the middle or at the end of a sentence. If the break comes in the middle, then two dashes signify the beginning and the end of the interruption. In this case, the end of the interruption is indicated by a comma, where it should be a dash:

The best that they could do—at least without a splint—was to set the broken bone and wait for help to arrive.

If the interruption is not much of a departure from the main idea, then commas will work also:

The best that they could do, at least without a splint, was to set the broken bone and wait for help to arrive.

The punctuation on the two sides of an interrupter must be identical: either both em dashes or both commas.

Exercise 15: Punctuation

Correct any errors in punctuation (apostrophes, commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons) in the following sentences.

1.  Truman Capote’s nonfiction book, In Cold Blood is considered the first, greatest true crime novel.

2.  I could not see clearly, until my eyes adjusted to the bright lights.

3.  Runners, who step out of they’re lanes during the first lap, will be disqualified.

4.  Contrary to popular belief water will reach it’s boiling point more slowly, when its under greater pressure.

5.  In my opinion the most interesting part of the trip, was the river cruise.

6.  Its easy to see, even on the dreariest of days—how Paris has earned it’s reputation as the City of Love.

7.  Having decided to postpone her college education Jill began looking for a job.

8.  Regardless of who’s phone rings the entire class will be punished for any disruption.

9.  Isabella sprained her ankle, now she won’t be able to practice for several weeks.

10.  If you can’t take care of you’re own dog don’t expect me to pay for it’s grooming.

11.  Don’t expect this to be cheap, perfection has it’s price.

12.  What disappoints me most, is that you didn’t even tell me you were leaving.

13.  I told you, don’t go near the street!

14.  I remember that, The Monkey’s Paw, was my favorite short story in the ninth grade.

15.  The DVD’s that they just received, don’t seem to work in they’re player.

16.  A cyclotron, like the one Ernest Lawrence built at Berkeley—accelerates particles in a spiral path.