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Course: SAT > Unit 11

Lesson 3: Writing: Grammar

Writing: Semicolons — Video Lesson

David works through a Semicolons question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user ruthu2803
    Why did David cancel out the first choice isn’t it a nonessential element which has been correctly punctuated?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ibangapraise2
    Is covered in luxurious velvet an independent clause?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby blue style avatar for user ChipJolly
      No, it's actually a dependent clause. Remember that independent clauses have a subject and a predicate. The subject tells us whom the sentence is about. The predicate tells us what the subject does. For example in the sentence: Sally screamed. Sally would be the subject. Screamed would be the predicate. The phrase "Covered in luxurious velvet" doesn't have a subject, so it isn't a independent clause. Dependent clauses always have to be linked to independent clauses. In this case the dependent clause "covered in luxurious velvet" was linked to the independent clause "They are characterized by elegantly curved arms and legs." Since, they got linked together by a comma it became a sentence/independent clause.

      Hope this helps! :)
      Have a good day!
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] Let's take a look at question 16, which is from a passage about the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. 'The couch and chairs are in keeping 'with the style of the time. 'Covered in luxurious velvet, 'they are characterized by elegantly curved arms and legs.' Okay, and our choices are: A, no change. So a comma after time and a comma after velvet. B, a semicolon after time and a comma after velvet. Choice C, 'being covered in luxurious velvet' with no punctuation after time and a comma after velvet. And choice D, a semicolon after time and then no punctuation after velvet. Alright, I think I can quite reasonably infer that we're working with the punctuation question here. And we're looking at commas and semicolons here. So I have some notion of where I want to push this work example. There's going to be five or six questions about punctuation on your official SAT. Our top tips for punctuation questions are as follows. Top tip. Identify all independent clauses. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences. They have a subject and a main verb. Remember that semicolons link two independent clauses as in 'I like bananas, semi-colon, 'they're full of potassium.' Single commas can link two independent clauses only if they are paired with a conjunction like 'and' or 'but' as in 'I like bananas, comma, 'but I'll only eat them with ice cream.' And remember that paired commas can be used to set off nonessential elements as in 'Bananas, comma, which grow on trees, 'comma, are technically a kind of berry.' Top tip. Avoid comma splice errors. When only a comma is used to link two independent clauses without one of those conjunctions like 'and', 'but' or 'for', it results in a comma splice error, which isn't grammatical. An example of a comma splice would be: 'Teddy likes bears, comma, 'he has 32 in his collection.' And both of those clauses are independent. Both 'Teddy likes bears' and 'he has 32 in his collection' are independent clauses. So a comma is not sufficient. Think about these tips as I take us back to the question and give you some space to pause the video if you want to solve this one on your own. Okay, let's do it together. Okay, 'The couch and chairs are in keeping 'with the style of the time.' Okay, that's an independent clause. What's our subject? Couch and chairs. What's our verb? Are. Let's keep going. 'Covered in luxurious velvet.' Okay, this is an interesting phrase. Is it describing the time, the style? 'Covered in luxurious velvet, 'they are characterized 'by elegantly curved arms and legs.' Okay, so 'covered in luxurious velvet' is describing they as in 'the couch and chairs'. So this whole part of the sentence from 'covered' to the end 'legs' is another independent clause. They is the subject and are characterized is the verb phrase. So now that we know we're dealing with two independent clauses, we know that we need to find a choice that either uses a semicolon or a comma with a conjunction to combine them. And choice A only uses a comma to combine the two independent clauses. And that's a comma splice. There's no conjunction here. So it's no good. Now, some of you out there might be thinking, hold on, David, there's two commas there, right? Aren't they surrounding that nonessential element? Isn't that okay? And I would say to you, first of all, good listening. Yes, 'covered in luxurious velvet' is a nonessential element. Okay, so one way to check whether the paired commas are working correctly to set off a nonessential element is to cross the element out and read the sentence through without it. So here we go, I'm gonna cross out 'covered in luxurious velvet'. 'The couch and chairs are in keeping 'with the style of the time. 'They are characterized by elegantly curved arms and legs.' That didn't sound so good to me. It sounded like two separate sentences. And now, I've taken out the nonessential element. It's even more clear that we're dealing with two independent clauses that need to be separated either with a semicolon or a period, but not with just a comma. So I'm gonna cross out choice A. Choice B uses a semicolon. This looks like our answer. This semicolon fixes our comma splice error and doesn't introduce any new errors. Now, on test day I'd circle B and move on. But for the sake of completeness I'll show you why C and D are wrong. So choice C. 'The couch and chairs are in keeping 'with the style of the time 'being covered in luxurious velvet, comma.' That sounds awkward to me. And also this choice only has one comma at the end, which leaves us with a comma splice error, right? Bye-bye choice C! And interesting choice D also has the semicolon. Both B and D fix our comma splice error. Hmm. The only difference between them is the comma after velvet in choice B. So what does that comma do and is it necessary? So we saw earlier that this phrase, 'covered in luxurious velvet', is describing they. It's a nonessential phrase that needs to be separated from the rest of the clause with a comma. So it turns out we do need this comma. And that's why choice D is wrong, and choice B is our answer. Let's review the strategy here check for independent clauses. How many are there and what punctuation makes sense to join them together? And then avoid comma splice errors. Practice recognizing those pesky comma splice errors. If you see two independent clauses joined by a comma, fix the comma splice error by changing the offending comma to a semicolon or a period. Colons and dashes can fix them sometimes too. You can find colon and dash rules in our article on punctuation. Review your punctuation rules and you'll be golden. Good luck out there! You've got this.