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Sentence Structure

Writing: Improving Sentences


Part or all of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.  

Read the entire sentence to yourself, listening for errors.  Then evaluate the underlined portion using the Big 8 Grammar Rules.  Focus on the first error that you find to eliminate wrong answer choices. 

The North American continent, first colonized by people from Siberia, crossing the now sunken land bridge between Siberia and Alaska about 15,000 years ago.

Something is clearly wrong with this sentence.  Can you identify the main subject and verb? The subject is North America, but there is no main verb!  As it is written, the sentence seems to say that the continent was “crossing” a land bridge – a nonsensical statement.  The people crossed the bridge.  This sentence is a fragment.  To fix it, you need to add a verb.  Verbs often come right after the subject, so the sentence should say something like “The North American continent was first colonized.”  There is another issue with this sentence, but use the first error that you see to quickly eliminate any answer choices that do not fix this problem. 

(A) The North American continent, first colonized by people from Siberia, crossing
(B) People from Siberia first colonized the North American continent, who crossed
(C) First colonized by people from Siberia was the North American continent, they crossed
(D) First colonized by people from Siberia, who crossed the North American continent,
(E) The North American continent was first colonized by people from Siberia, who crossed

You probably noticed right away that only two choices use the word “was”: (C) and (E).  Of those two choices, only (E) puts the “was” where you predicted it would go.  If you are not always able to identify how to fix the errors that you find, don’t worry; you can also eliminate each other answer choice based on specific flaws.

(A) You know this sentence is a fragment because (A) always matches the original sentence.  Eliminate it without looking at it.

(B) In this case, “people” has become the subject of the sentence.  When the subject of the sentence is people, you do not need the pronoun “who” to link “crossing” to people – it is already understood.  Eliminate this choice.

(C)  In this sentence the subject follows the verb: “was” comes before “continent.”  Your Knowsys handbook tells you to avoid these constructions whenever possible.  This sentence is also a comma splice, which means that there are two complete sentences incorrectly joined by a comma.  Eliminate it.

(D)  This answer changes the intended meaning of the original sentence.  Now people are crossing North America instead of the land bridge, and they are colonizing the land bridge instead of colonizing North America.  Eliminate this choice.

(E) This sentence has a main subject followed by a main verb.  That verb is not “people,” so the sentence has further been clarified by explaining that it is the people “who” crossed the bridge.

The correct answer is (E).


On sat.collegeboard.org, 71% of the responses were correct.

For more help with SAT writing, visit www.myknowsys.com!