psat-writing-language-sentence-structure

PSAT Writing and Language: Sentence Structure

On the PSAT, you will be need to be able to recognize and correct grammatically incomplete or substandard sentences. Additionally, you’ll have to recognize and correct inappropriate grammatical shifts in the construction of verb and pronoun phrases.

 

PSAT Writing and Language: Run-ons and Fragments

Run-ons and fragments create grammatically incorrect sentences. The PSAT requires that you know the specific rules governing sentence construction.

A complete sentence must have a subject and a predicate verb in an independent clause that expresses a complete thought. If any one of these elements is missing, the sentence is a fragment. You can recognize a fragment because the sentence will not make sense as written. A fragment lacks one of the three components.

  • Seth running down the street. (The fragment lacks a predicate verb.)
  • Because Michaela led the team in assists. (The fragment is a dependent clause and does not express a complete thought.)
  • Practiced the piano every day. (The fragment needs a subject.)

Definition

predicate is the part of the sentence that describes what the subject does (action), is (being), or has (condition); the predicate verb is the main verb in the sentence.

If a sentence has more than one independent clause, the clauses must be properly joined. Otherwise, the sentence is a run-on.

    • My friends and I usually walk home from school together, we ride the bus if the weather isn’t nice.
To Correct a Run-On Example
Use a semicolon. My friends and I usually walk home from school together; we ride the bus if the weather isn’t nice.
Make one clause dependent. Although my friends and I usually walk home from school together, we ride the bus if the weather isn’t nice.
Add a FANBOYS conjunction: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. My friends and I usually walk home from school together, but we ride the bus if the weather isn’t nice.

PSAT Writing and Language: Coordination and Subordination

Coordination and subordination questions focus on the relationship between clauses. On the PSAT, you will be asked to determine the best way to link clauses to most effectively express the writer’s intent.

Coordinate Clauses

Coordinate clauses are independent clauses that can stand on their own and express a complete thought. When two or more independent clauses are properly joined, they form a compound sentence.

Two independent clauses are coordinated by using a comma and the conjunction and:

  • The class was interesting, and we prepared thoroughly for each session. (Equal emphasis on the two ideas suggests that the class would have been interesting whether or not we prepared, and it suggests that we would have prepared whether or not the class was interesting.)
Subordinate Clauses

A subordinate clause cannot stand on its own and still make sense. Combining a subordinate clause with an independent clause by using a connecting word forms a complex sentence in which the independent clause expresses the central idea of the sentence and the subordinate clause provides additional support that modifies or clarifies the central idea.

The central idea of the sentence is changed depending upon which clause is subordinated:

  • Because the class was interesting, we prepared thoroughly for each session. (The main emphasis is on our preparation. The subordinate clause gives the reason for our thoroughness.)
  • The class was interesting because we prepared thoroughly for each session. (The main emphasis is on the class. The subordinate clause explains why it was interesting.)

PSAT Writing and Language: Parallelism

Parallelism questions on the PSAT test your ability to revise sentences to create parallel structure. Items in a series, list, or compound must be parallel in form. Series, lists, and compounds may contain nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or verb forms.

Check for parallelism if the sentence contains:

Feature Example Parallel Form
A list Before you leave, you should charge your phone, clean your room, and find your bus pass. 3 verb phrases
A compound Swimming and biking provide aerobic exercise. 2 gerund verb forms
A correlative The debate coach encouraged the students to listen carefully and to speak clearly. 2 infinitive verb forms
A comparison Your practice test sessions are just as important as your class sessions. 2 nouns
Related nouns Students who complete all of their homework assignments are more likely to earn higher test scores. 3 related plural nouns

PSAT Writing and Language: Modifiers

A modifier is a word or a group of words that describes, clarifies, or provides additional information about another part of the sentence. Modifier questions on the PSAT Writing & Language Test require you to identify the part of a sentence being modified and use the appropriate modifier in the proper place.

Expert Tip

On the PSAT, modifiers should be close to the words they modify.

Modifier Function Example
Adjective An adjective is a single word modifier that describes a noun or pronoun. Asara bought a blue backpack from the thrift shop.
Adverb An adverb is a single word modifier that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Ian carefully walked over the rapidly melting ice.
Modifying phrase Modifying phrases and clauses must be properly placed to correctly modify another part of the sentence. Wanting to do well at the competition, Sasha devoted extra time to her practice sessions.

Use context clues in the passage to identify the correct placement of a modifier; a misplaced modifier can cause confusion:

  • The restaurant provides carryout meals to its diners in recyclable containers.

Who or what is in the containers? The context of the sentence suggests that the meals are in the containers; however, because modifiers should be placed near what they modify, the sentence can be grammatically interpreted to suggest that the diners are in the containers! When the modifier is correctly placed near what it modifies, the meaning is clarified:

  • The restaurant provides carryout meals in recyclable containers to its diners.

Modifier placement can change the meaning of a sentence:

  • The waiter just described the dinner specials. (The sentence is about when the action took place.)
  • Just the waiter described the dinner specials. (The sentence is about who completed the action.)
  • The waiter described just the dinner specials. (The sentence is about what was acted upon.)

 

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