10 SAT Grammar Rules Cheat Sheet - You Need to Know

February 20, 2024
7 min read

If you’re looking for an SAT grammar rules cheat sheet, we’ve got you covered! Read on for an easy-to-follow guide that covers all the essential grammar rules you need to know for the SAT.

Understanding grammar is incredibly important, especially when it comes to exams like the SAT. It's the backbone of clear communication, helping to make your writing precise and easy to understand. 

But with so many grammar rules to learn, it can be tough to figure out which ones to focus on. However, taking the time to grasp key grammar concepts is crucial for doing well on the SAT and beyond. While some colleges have dropped SAT/ACT requirements, there are still many schools that require a good score for admission.

By improving your grammar skills, you'll boost your test scores and also become a better communicator in school and your future career.

Why Proper Grammar Matters on the SAT

A significant portion of the SAT Writing and Language section tests your knowledge of grammar rules and your ability to identify and correct grammatical errors in passages. Having a solid grasp of grammar concepts can boost your score on this section.

Download Our Grammar Cheat Sheet PDF Guide

Let's break down some essential grammar tips for SAT prep. Below, we'll cover the top 10 SAT grammar rules you need to know to ace the test.

1. When to Use Possessive or Plural Nouns

Understanding how possessive and plural nouns should be used is essential for performing well on the SAT.

Singular Possessive Nouns

When dealing with singular nouns, forming the possessive is straightforward. You simply add an apostrophe followed by an "s." For example:

  • "The cat's tail twitched." (The tail belongs to the cat.)
  • "My friend's house is nearby." (The house belongs to my friend.)
  • "The boss's office is on the top floor." (The office belongs to the boss.)

Plural Possessive Nouns (not ending in "s")

Similarly, when working with plural nouns that do not end in "s," like "children" or "women," the same rule applies. You add an apostrophe followed by an "s" to indicate possession. For example:

  • "The children's toys were scattered across the room." (The toys belong to the children.)
  • "The women's soccer team won the championship." (The soccer team belongs to the women.)
  • "The men's clothing department is on the second floor." (The clothing department belongs to the men.)

Plural Possessive Nouns (ending in "s")

When the plural noun already ends in "s," you simply add an apostrophe after the "s" to indicate possession. For example:

  • "The students' assignments were due yesterday." (The assignments belong to the students.)
  • "The employees' break room is undergoing renovations." (The break room belongs to the employees.)
  • "The cats' food bowls were empty." (The food bowls belong to the cats.)

Your SAT study prep should include going over these rules. With a solid understanding of possessive and plural noun usage, you'll be better equipped to tackle the test's challenges.

2. Making Pronouns Match Their Antecedents

Matching pronouns with their antecedents is crucial for clear communication on the SAT. Here's why it's important and how it works.

For Singular Antecedents

When you're referring to one specific thing or person, such as "the cat" or "the student," use singular pronouns like "it," "its," or "he/she":

  • "The cat chased its tail." (Here, "its" refers back to the singular antecedent "cat.")
  • "The student completed his assignment." (In this case, "his" matches with the singular antecedent "student.")

For Plural Antecedents

When you're talking about multiple things or people, like "the dogs" or "the students," use plural pronouns like "they" or "their":

  • "The dogs barked loudly, and they chased after the squirrel." (Here, "they" refers to the plural antecedent "dogs.")
  • "The students submitted their projects on time." (In this example, "their" corresponds to the plural antecedent "students.")

By ensuring that your pronouns agree with their antecedents in number, you maintain clarity and coherence in your writing. This clarity is essential for effectively conveying your ideas and arguments on the SAT. So, always double-check that your pronouns match their antecedents correctly to avoid any confusion for the reader.

3. Keeping Verb Tenses Consistent

Consistency in verb tense is essential for ensuring clarity and coherence in writing. It means that once you choose a specific tense to start a sentence, whether it's past, present, or future, you should maintain that same tense throughout the entire sentence.

For instance, consider the sentence:

"She walked to the store, buys groceries, and then returns home." 

Here, the verb tense shifts from past ("walked") to present ("buys" and "returns"), creating confusion for the reader.

To fix this problem with verb tenses, you need to make sure they stay consistent throughout the sentence. For instance, you could change it to: "She walked to the store, bought groceries, and then returned home."

Consistently using the same verb tense throughout your writing makes it easier for readers to follow the flow of events and grasp the intended message clearly. This ability is vital for both expressing yourself effectively and accurately answering grammar questions on the SAT.

4. How to Avoid Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments occur when a group of words is punctuated as a sentence but lacks a subject, verb, or complete thought. To ensure that your sentences are complete and grammatically correct, it's important to follow certain rules, particularly regarding gerunds and past participles.

Gerunds and past participles are verb forms that often function as nouns or modifiers in a sentence. However, to avoid creating fragments, they must be accompanied by a helping verb or another main verb.

For example, consider the fragment: 

"Running quickly down the street." 

In this case, "running" is a gerund functioning as the subject of the sentence, but there is no accompanying verb to complete the action. To correct this fragment, you could add a helping verb: "I was running quickly down the street."

Similarly, if the sentence lacks a main verb, such as in the fragment "Excited about her new job." adding a main verb completes the sentence: "She is excited about her new job." By ensuring that all sentence components are present and properly connected, you can avoid creating fragments and construct grammatically correct sentences on the SAT.

5. Ensuring Subjects and Verbs Agree

Subject-verb agreement is crucial for constructing grammatically correct sentences. To ensure agreement, you first need to determine the number of the subject: whether it is singular or plural. Once you've identified the subject's number, you must match it with the appropriate form of the verb.

If the subject is singular, the verb should also be singular. For example, 

"The cat sleeps on the mat." 

Here, "cat" is singular, so the verb "sleeps" is also singular.

On the flip side, when the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural. For example, in the sentence "The cats sleep on the mat," since "cats" is plural, the verb "sleep" also needs to be plural.

By ensuring that subjects and verbs agree in number, you can construct sentences that are clear, concise, and grammatically correct on the SAT.

6. Knowing When to Use "Who" and "Whom"

Understanding when to use "who" and "whom" is essential for constructing grammatically correct sentences on the SAT.

Here's a straightforward way to differentiate between them:

    "Who" as the Subject:

  • Use "who" when referring to the subject of a verb.
  • For example: "Who ate the cake?" (Think of it as "He ate the cake.")

   "Whom" as the Object:

  • Use "whom" when referring to the object of a verb or preposition.
  • For example: "To whom did you give the book?" (Think of it as "I gave the book to him.")

A helpful trick is to substitute subjective pronouns like "he" or "she" for "who," and objective pronouns like "him" or "her" for "whom." If the subjective pronoun fits, use "who;" if the objective pronoun fits, use "whom."

By applying this substitution technique, you can confidently choose the correct pronoun—"who" or "whom"—in a sentence, ensuring clarity and accuracy in your writing on the SAT.

7. Using Commas Wisely: What to Avoid

Understanding the correct use of commas is crucial for success on tests like the SAT, where punctuation skills are put to the test.

Separating Items in a List

When you're listing multiple items in a series, it's essential to use commas to separate them. This helps to ensure clarity and prevent confusion for the reader. Remember to include a comma before the conjunction ("and," "or," or "nor") preceding the final item in the list.

  • Example 1: "For breakfast, I had eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice."
  • Example 2: "My shopping list includes apples, bananas, grapes, and strawberries."

Using Commas after Introductory Phrases

Introductory phrases, which provide context or transition into the main part of the sentence, should be followed by a comma. This comma signals the beginning of the main clause and helps readers understand the structure of the sentence.

  • Example 1: "After finishing my homework, I went for a walk in the park."
  • Example 2: "In the early morning, the birds chirped loudly outside my window."

Offsetting Non-Essential Information

Commas are used to set off non-essential or additional information within a sentence. This includes descriptive phrases that provide extra details but are not essential for the sentence's main meaning. By enclosing such information with commas, readers can distinguish it from the essential components of the sentence.

  • Example 1: "Jane, my best friend since childhood, loves to travel."
  • Example 2: "The new restaurant, known for its delicious pasta dishes, opened last week."

By getting a handle on these comma rules and being mindful of common errors, you can effectively communicate your ideas with clarity and precision on standardized tests like the SAT. Understanding when to use commas appropriately enhances your writing skills and improves your performance on punctuation-related questions.

8. Don't Forget Necessary Commas

Commas play a significant role in punctuation, and using them correctly can greatly impact your SAT score. Here's why:

  • Clarity: Commas help clarify the meaning of a sentence by indicating pauses and separating different elements. Without them, sentences can become confusing or ambiguous.
  • Grammar: Proper comma usage demonstrates your understanding of grammar rules, which is essential for scoring well on the SAT Writing and Language section.
  • Concision: Commas can help make sentences more concise by separating unnecessary information or clauses, which is important for achieving clarity and conciseness in your writing.
  • Avoiding Run-on Sentences: Commas help prevent run-on sentences by separating independent clauses or items in a series, ensuring that each idea is clearly presented.

Overall, remembering to use the necessary commas is crucial for demonstrating your writing skills and maximizing your score on the SAT.

9. Steering Clear of Dangling Modifiers

Avoiding dangling modifiers on the SAT is crucial because they can make sentences unclear and disrupt the flow of your writing. Let's break down why this is important with some examples:

1. Unclear Meaning

Consider the sentence: 

"Walking to the store, the trees seemed taller." 

Here, it's unclear who or what is walking to the store. Is it the trees? To avoid this confusion, you need to ensure that every modifier in your sentence clearly fits with the noun or pronoun it's supposed to describe.

2. Disrupted Flow

Dangling modifiers can disrupt the flow of your writing and make it sound awkward. For example, 

"Running down the street, my shoe fell off." 

This sentence suggests that it's the shoe that's running down the street, which is illogical. To maintain a smooth flow, you need to place modifiers correctly and ensure they directly relate to the subject of the sentence.

To correct these errors and avoid dangling modifiers, always make sure that the subject being modified is clearly stated in the sentence. For instance, you could rewrite the first example as: "While Sarah was walking to the store, she noticed that the trees seemed taller." This revision clarifies who is walking and removes any ambiguity.

Also, pay attention to where you place introductory phrases and clauses. These should be directly connected to the subject of the sentence to avoid creating dangling modifiers. By taking care to structure your sentences properly, you'll improve the clarity and coherence of your writing, ultimately leading to better performance on the SAT.

10. Being Mindful of Word Choice

When tackling the SAT, mastering word choice is essential for selecting the most appropriate term within each context. While we can't cover every potential scenario, understanding how to discern between different words is key to achieving success on the exam. Consider these examples:

Clarity is Key

Opt for words that clearly convey your intended meaning, avoiding unnecessary complexity.

  • Example: "The novel didn't gain widespread popularity until it achieved a substantial number of readers."
  • Correct Answer: "popular" (Choice A), succinctly communicating the idea without adding unnecessary details.

Formality Matters

Maintain a formal tone by choosing words that align with the context and level of discourse expected on the SAT.

  • Example: "After the concert, the band members hung out backstage and relaxed."
  • Correct Answer: "relaxed" (Choice C), which maintains the appropriate level of formality for the situation.

Precision Enhances Clarity

Select words that accurately and precisely convey your intended meaning, avoiding vague or ambiguous language.

  • Example: "The professor ensured there was an abundance of educational resources available for the students."
  • Correct Answer: "abundance" (Choice B), providing a clear and concise description of the situation.

Beware of Confusion

Exercise caution with words that sound similar but have different meanings, ensuring you choose the correct option based on context.

  • Example: "Sarah expressed her gratitude for the advice of her mentor."
  • Correct Answer: "advice" (Choice A), accurately reflecting the guidance provided by the mentor.

By expanding your understanding of word choice and practicing with examples, you'll develop the skills needed to navigate word choice questions effectively on the SAT. Remember, consistency and practice are key to mastering this aspect of the exam.


Let's move on to the FAQ section of the SAT Grammar Rules Cheat Sheet, where you'll find answers to commonly asked questions about mastering grammar for the SAT.

1. What Grammar Rules Are Tested on the SAT?

The SAT Writing and Language section tests your understanding of essential grammar and usage rules. Here's a breakdown of the key areas:

  • Sentence Structure: Subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage, verb tenses, avoiding fragments and run-on sentences.
  • Punctuation: Correct use of commas, periods, colons, semicolons, and apostrophes.
  • Word Choice and Clarity: Choosing precise words, maintaining a consistent style and tone, and ensuring logical sentence construction.
  • Conventions of Standard English: Proper spelling, capitalization, and commonly tested grammatical patterns.

2. What Grammar Do You Need to Know for the SAT?

The SAT Writing and Language section tests your command of grammar in the context of improving written passages.  Key areas to master include:

  • Parts of Speech: Understanding the roles of nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions.
  • Sentence Structure: Subject-verb agreement, proper use of modifiers, avoiding run-ons and fragments, and parallel structure.
  • Punctuation: Correct usage of commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, and dashes.
  • Usage and Word Choice: Distinguishing between commonly confused words (like "affect" vs. "effect"), choosing precise vocabulary, and ensuring clarity.

3. How Can I Improve My Grammar for the SAT?

The best way to ace the SAT Writing and Language section is to strengthen your grammar foundation. Here's how:

  • Focus on the Fundamentals: Review the core grammar rules tested on the SAT, including subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage, verb tenses, punctuation, and word choice. Online resources and grammar guides can help.
  • Practice with Context: Don't just memorize rules. Use official SAT practice tests and questions to apply your knowledge to realistic passages like those you'll see on the test.
  • Analyze Your Mistakes: When you make a mistake, understand why it's wrong. This will help you avoid similar errors in the future.
  • Read Actively: Pay attention to grammar and sentence structure in high-quality articles, books, and publications. This will subconsciously improve your grasp of language.
  • Consider Targeted Resources: If you struggle with specific areas, invest in a prep book or online course that focuses on those weaknesses.

Final Thoughts

Mastering grammar rules is your key to unlocking a strong SAT score. Understanding concepts like subject-verb agreement, pronoun reference, and sentence structure will not only improve your writing clarity but also equip you to conquer tricky SAT questions. 

Consistent practice and a targeted focus on the most common grammar traps will pave your path to success. Invest the time, create a study plan, use our SAT grammar rules cheat sheet, and watch your grammar skills – and your SAT score – soar!

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