Is it "it's" OR is it "its"? Good question! Here are the TOP 10 most tested Grammar Rules on the SAT I Writing and Language Test and the ACT English Test. Take the time to study them. Good Luck!
1. SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT: The subject of a sentence (or clause) must agree in number with the verb. To find the subject, first find the verb, and ask “who?” or “what?” before the verb.
- The performance of the four jugglers was entertaining. (What was entertaining?)
- The ability to quickly answer the questions determines the winner. (What determines the winner?)
- The decision of the Supreme Court judges was reversed. (What was reversed?)
A singular subject requires a singular verb even when phrases such as as well as, in addition to, and together with are positioned between the subject and the verb.
Example: George, as well as the girls, is flying to the reunion.
The subject of a sentence can never be in a prepositional phrase. Putting parentheses around all prepositional phrases makes it easier to identify the subject of the sentence.
- The formation (of geese) is attempting to fly over the burning forest. (The subject is formation, not geese, because of geese is a prepositional phrase. Therefore, the verb must be the singular verb is, not are, in order to agree with a singular subject.)
- The sequence (of events) is very logical.
Each (of the children) is writing his own letter
Every one (of the candidates) wants publicity.
Sometimes a subject will follow a verb, instead of its more common position of coming before a verb. When a sentence has this inverted word order, be careful to determine the correct subject and to make sure the verb agrees in number with its subject .
Typically, such inverted subject-verb word order occurs in sentences beginning with there and here or in sentences that are questions.
- Incorrect: There was only one dog and one cat on the farm.
- Correct: There were only one dog and one cat on the farm.
- Incorrect: Where’s your brother and sister?
- Correct: Where are your brother and sister?
- Incorrect: Have any of the boys or girls confessed?
- Correct: Has any of the boys and girls confessed?
2. WHO vs. WHOM:
Who is used when referring to the subject of a clause.
- Who is going with us? (He is going with us.-subject)
- I think I know who did the crime. (He did the crime.-subject)
Whom is used as the object of verbs, prepositions, infinitives, etc.
- I know whom Sue is asking. (Sue is asking him.-direct object)
- Whom do you like? (You like him.-direct object)
- I know who is asking Bill. (Ann is asking Bill-subject of asking)
- For whom is Jill responsible? (Jill is responsible for him.-object of preposition)
- I will give the gift to whomever I choose. (I choose him.-direct object)
3. PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION: Similar ideas must be expressed in the same (“parallel”) grammatical structure. For example, if one idea is expressed as an infinitive, then other equal ideas must also be expressed as infinitives.
- Incorrect: I love to golf, to swim, and playing tennis.
- Correct: I love to golf, to swim, and to play tennis.
- Incorrect: Most days they spent swimming, and they would listen to records.
- Correct: Most days they spent swimming and listening to records.
- Incorrect: I will use the money either to take a vacation or for completing my education.
- Correct: I will use the money either to take a vacation or to complete my education.
3. DANGLING MODIFIERS: Modifiers are participial phrases, prepositional phrases, or infinitive phrases used as adjectives that describe nouns or pronouns. These modifiers must be close to the noun or pronoun they are modifying. If not, they are considered “dangling” or misplaced.
- Incorrect: Driving home at midnight, a deer hit my car. (a deer cannot drive- Participial Phrase)
- Correct: Driving home at midnight, I was hit by a deer.
- Incorrect: To be successful, good grades are important. (successful grades? - Infinitive Phrase)
- Correct: To be successful, one must have good grades.
- Incorrect: A car stopped in front of my house with Ohio license plates. (house or car with license plates? -Prepositional Phrase)
- Correct: A car with Ohio license plates stopped in front of my house.
- Incorrect: Of all the teachers in the school, I liked Ms. Atkins the best. (I am a student, not a teacher-Prepositional Phrase)
- Correct: Of all the teachers in the school, Ms. Adkins is the best.
4. POINT OF VIEW SHIFT: A sentence must carry the same point of view (1st, 2nd, 3rd person) throughout. Shifting the point of view obscures the meaning.
- Incorrect: If one prepares well, you will have little trouble on the exam. (Shifts from 3rd person, singular to 2nd person)
- Correct: If one prepares well, he will have little trouble on the exam.
- Incorrect: If a person works hard, they will be successful. (Shifts from 3rd person, singular to 3rd person, plural)
- Correct: If a person works hard, he will be successful.
5. PUNCTUATION: Much of punctuation is arbitrary; that is, the rules apply only in so far as the intended meaning is conveyed. Therefore, the punctuation rules tested on the SAT I and ACT are the very basic rules which clearly create major grammatical errors, such as run-on sentences. In general, these rules focus on the use of semicolons, commas (as pauses), and apostrophes in the possessive form of nouns.
A SEMICOLON is used to separate two complete thoughts (independent clauses) that are not joined by the conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, yet.
- The music was so loud; no one could hear.
- I want to leave; please get my coat.
- All the people were in favor of the proposal; however, no one was willing to put up the money for the project (Note: “however” is not a conjunction so a semi-colon is needed.)
To test correct usage: try to state the expression on each side of the semicolon as a complete thought. Each expression must be able to exist on its own.
A COLON means “note what follows” However, “what follows” does not have to be a list. “What follows” could also be another main clause.
- I could put everything in my suitcase: my computer, my clothes, and all of my books.
- The man has no brains: his IQ must be less than a whole number!
A colon can never come directly as a verb. (It is redundant.)
A DASH is used primarily to indicate a sudden break in thought. It cannot be used with a common to set off the break.
Incorrect: The winner-as luck would have it, is already a millionaire.
- Correct: The winner-as luck would have it-is already a millionaire.
PARENTHESES are used to surround information that is incidental and not of major importance to the meaning of the sentence.
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6. NON-ESSENTIAL CLAUSES and PHRASES: are not essential to the meaning of the sentence, but simply add an idea to the sentence. Commas must be used to set off nonessential clauses and phrases.
Essential clauses and phrases are essential to the meaning of the sentence. They are not set off by commas.
- The college that I like best is Dartmouth.
- Dartmouth, which is on the East Coast, is my favorite college.
- The nurse who gave me the medicine is my neighbor.
- The nurse, who is my neighbor, gave me the medicine.
- The student who studies diligently can increase his SAT scores.
- Bill, who studied diligently, significantly raised his SAT scores.
- Children tutored by their parents usually do not respond well.
- The children, both friends of mine, won first place
7. PRONOUN AGREEMENT: A pronoun takes the place of a noun or another pronoun. A pronoun must agree in number and gender with the noun or pronoun to which it refers (its antecedent).
- Incorrect: Does anyone want to share their pizza?
- Correct: Does anyone want to share his pizza?
- Incorrect: Neither admitted that they are wrong.
- Correct: Neither admitted that he is wrong.
- Incorrect: When an employee is interviewing you, they want to know about your experience.
- Correct: When an employee is interviewing you, he wants to know about your experience.
- Incorrect: Either Jane or Sara will take their camera with them.
- Correct: Either Jane or Sara will take her camera with her.
- Incorrect: Every one of the students likes their teacher.
- Correct: Every one of the students likes his teacher.
8. IT'S/ITS AND THERE/THEIR: Possessive pronouns are often confused with contractions:
It’s is a contraction; it stands for it is.
Its is a possessive pronoun: The dog chased its tail.
There’s is a contraction; it stands for there is.
- Theirs is a possessive pronoun.
- It’s time to begin prepping for the SAT II’s. (Contraction: it is)
- The book was missing its cover. (Possessive Pronoun)
- There’s only one month of school left. (Contraction: there is)
- Theirs is the house on the left. (Possessive Pronoun)
Note: Their’s, her’s, your’s, and its’ are commonly used in place of theirs, hers,
yours and its. There are no such words in the English language.
9. REDUNDANCY AND WORDINESS: Redundancy is repeating something that is needless and thus exceeding what is necessary, making the writing wordy.
- Incorrect: Rap was first introduced in the United States.
- Correct: Rap was introduced in the United States.
- Incorrect: Eight people is sufficient enough to complete the task.
- Correct: Eight people is sufficient to complete the task.
- Incorrect: He received the exact same score as I did on the SAT I.
- Correct: He received the same score as I did on the SAT I.
- Incorrect: Both the parents as well as the students have the day off.
- Correct: Both the parents and the students have the day off. - or - The parents as well as the students have the day off.
10. FAULTY COMPARISON: When making a comparison, (usually using than or as), you must be sure to compare similar things.
- Incorrect: Many of his songs on the album are similar to his last album.
- Correct: Many of his songs on the album are similar to those on his last album.
- Incorrect: My average in the class is higher than any other student.
- Correct: My average in the class is higher than the average of any other student.
- Incorrect: Until my salary as an educator is equal to any other professional, I will not be satisfied.
- Correct: Until my salary as an educator is
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