Sentence Combination—Up Close
Sentence Combination—Up Close
Some questions ask you to combine two or three sentences. Context often doesn’t play a role in answering this type of question, so you can skip step 3, which tells you to go back and read the context sentences. You should still read and outline the passage (step 1) and read the question without looking at the answer choices (step 2). Just skip ahead to steps 4 and 5, which tell you to generate your own answer (step 4) and then check it against the answer choices (step 5).
There are two ways the SAT tends to ask Sentence Combination questions:
Which of the following is the best way to combine and revise sentences 5 and 6?
How should the underlined portions of sentences 4 and 5, which are reprinted below, be revised so that the two sentences combine into one?
Only rarely will Sentence Combination questions require you to consider a sentences’s context. Here’s one example that does:
In order to vary the repetitive sentence structure of the sentences in the first paragraph, how should sentences 8 and 9 be combined?
On questions like this one, you must look back at the relevant paragraph to familiarize yourself with the repetitive sentence structure that the question addresses. All of this adds up to a lot of time invested in one question, so you may consider leaving questions like this blank or skipping them and returning after spending your precious time on easier questions that don’t require context analysis.
How to Combine Sentences
Most often you’ll combine sentences by using a comma and a conjunction (a conjunction is a connecting word like and, but, or so). You can also combine sentences using semicolons and colons. We explain all of the different combination methods below.
Comma and Conjunction
Say the question asks you to combine these two sentences:
She flushed her engagement ring down the toilet. The plumber got it back for her.
If you combine these two sentences through the power of a comma and a conjunction, you get
She flushed her engagement ring down the toilet, but the plumber got it back for her.
Just be careful that the conjunction you choose makes sense. The revision below is grammatically correct, but logically flawed:
She flushed her engagement ring down the toilet, because the plumber got it back for her.
The word because does not make sense, since it suggests that the woman in question flushed her ring down the toilet a second time as a result of the plumber initially retrieving it. Words like because, despite, and therefore indicate whether one-half of the sentence goes with the flow of the other half of the sentence. We call these words contrast words and noncontrast words, and we include a complete chart of the ones you need to know in our Beat Improving Sentences section on page .
Semicolon
If two sentences are closely related, you can combine them with a semicolon. Say you begin with these two sentences:
Margaret recently met her future mother-in-law. Problems ensued immediately.
The combination with a semicolon looks like this:
Margaret recently met her future mother-in-law; problems ensued immediately.
Expressing a Logical Relationship (Use the Answers!)
Remember how we said one type of Improving Paragraphs question requires an exception to the five-step strategy? This is it. Some Sentence Combination questions ask you to combine two sentences in a way that makes their logical relationship clearer. By logical relationship we mean the way the two sentences interact. On logical relationship questions, the answer choices can do a lot of the tough work for you, so you should read the answers first, before coming up with your own. That just means you should do step 4 by reading the answers first and then creating your own answer. A quick scan of the answers will make it clear what kind of possible logical relationship the test-writers see between the two sentences. Your job is then to pick the answer choice with the most perfect grammar and the most sensible logical relationship. Here’s an example:
To vary the pattern of sentences in the first paragraph, which of the following is the best way to combine sentences 2 and 3 (reprinted below)?
My sister eats nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch. I eat fresh tacos.
(A) While my sister eats nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch, fresh tacos are what I’m eating.
(B) In contrast to my sister eating nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch, I will be eating fresh tacos.
(C) My sister was eating nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch, I was eating fresh tacos.
(D) My sister eats nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch and I am not the same because I eat fresh tacos.
(E) Unlike my sister, who eats nasty cottage cheese and grapes for lunch, I eat fresh tacos.
To find your answer look for two things:
  • Contrast or no contrast?
  • Is the answer choice grammatically correct?
First, what’s the relationship between the two sentences? The speaker establishes a contrast between her sister’s eating habits and her own. Now let’s go through the answer choices.
By using the word while, A does a good job of expressing the relationship, but it has a parallelism error. It begins by saying my sister eats, so the second half of the sentence should say I eat (not I’m eating) in order for both halves of the sentence to match up. B also does a good job with the logical relationship, but it has a tense problem; the sister is eating in the present tense, but the speaker is eating sometime in the future. This changes the original meaning of the two sentences, in which both people are eating at the same time. Answer choice C doesn’t express the logical relationship at all and is also a run-on sentence. Answer choice D expresses the relationship but is awkward and wordy because of the phrase and I am not the same. That leaves answer choice E, which expresses the basic logical relationship between the two sentences, and does it grammatically.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error