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'Combine the Sentences' Questions On the SAT Writing and ACT English Sections

"Combine the Sentences" questions are just as they sound. The question indicates two sentences in the passage - usually containing an element of repetition - and asks you to combine them. Usually these questions come in one of two slightly different forms.


FORM #1

Both sentences are underlined, and you're asked to pick a single sentence to replace them. Here's an example:

'The proposition was clearly relevant. There was a desperate need at the time for a more streamlined approach to the group's advertising and marketing approach.'


There is one important principle to remember regarding the first form. When the passage has two sentences underlined and asks you to combine them, the answer almost NEVER involves rearranging the words. Remember this important rule, as it will appear in one of the examples below.


FORM #2

In the second form, only a small part of the two sentences are underlined, and that's the part you're required to replace. That is, a transition has to be found from one sentence to another. An example:

'He thought that the coming days would provide an excellent opportunity for aspiring lawyers. He suggested a particular lawyer whom he found particularly apt to lead the proposition.'


For Form #2 questions, always mentally insert the option you've chosen between the two sentences and reread the entire two sentences from beginning to end. Does the newly combined sentence make sense? Or does it sound...well...off?



Sometime a small phrase in the options sounds fine in isolation, but in the context of the two sentences, it becomes obvious that the grammar doesn't work. So after you've chosen the phrase for Form #2 questions, always substitute it for for the current underlined phrase to verify that it makes sense. Some of my brightest students don't check the phrase within its proper context and then end up choosing the wrong option.


As you can see, the two forms are similar, and the way to approach them will also be similar. The most important principle you need to remember regarding either form of "combine" questions is thus:


The answer is the shortest, simplest phrase which is still grammatically correct.

In picking an answer, try to always find the shortest, simplest option. Test it out; does the new, combined sentence sound okay? If it does, choose that option and move on. You don't have to dissect WHY it sounds okay, or what the underlying grammar principles in the transition phrase are. Time on the SAT is short, and the overwhelming probability is that you've found the right answer.

In order to understand more about the simpler/shorter principle, please read our "Rewording" article.


Before we start examples, let's review a few common ways two sentences can be combined into one:


Mode #1: Use a semicolon

A semicolon simply replaces the period. When semicolons are used, the first part of the second sentence usually remains unchanged. (Aside from getting rid of the capital, of course.)


Mode #2: Use a comma

In this case, the first part of the second sentence must be amended to render it grammatically correct.

Examples: "I hurried to the kitchen and cooked a meal. The kids were hungry."

-> "I hurried to the kitchen and cooked a meal, because the kids were hungry."


"I drank from the milk. The milk was fresh."

-> "I drank from the milk, which was fresh."



In the first case, a transition word needed to be added. In the second case, a noun which was mentioned in both sentence was removed. It was replaced by a relative pronoun (which).


Mode #3: Use a colon

Colons can be used when the second sentence explains or illustrates an idea in the first. If you can use "in fact", "namely", or "that is" between the two sentences, it' okay to use a colon there.

Now that we've reviewed the common principles for answering this question type, let's look at some examples:

Example #1

'Georgia Elliott and Carmen Santura, two experts in their respective fields, seemed especially critical regarding the efforts of the industry to cut off the new technology, which was decreasing the companys' assets. The titans of the older technology attempted this by attacking the new technology on several fronts.


Question: Which choice most effectively combines the sentences at the underlined portion?

A) assets and attemped to do this by attacking

B) assets, through which the older technology attacked

C) assets, which is what the titans of the older technology attempted to do when it attacked

D) assets, by attacking


The shortest answer, D), is grammatically correct. (Makure you insert it into its correct slot and reread the new sentence with option D in it. Do you see how it still makes grammatical sense?)

Note that the first sentence in the excerpt (the one that starts with 'Gerogia Elliott') is fairly long. So in this question, choosing the shortest answer has an added dimension, which is to avoid a run-on sentence if so possible.

Example #2

'In addition to the old man's cantankerous and sanctimonious nature, his house was debilitated. The house felt unsound, and lent itself to dolorous surroundings in the winter.'


Question: Which choice most effectively combines the underlined sentences?

A) In addition to the old man's cantankerous and sanctimonious nature, his house was debilitated: the result being that it felt unsound, and lent itself to dolorous surroundings in the winter.

B) In addition to the old man's cantankerous and sanctimonious nature, his house was debilitated; the old man's debilitated house felt unsound, and lent itself to dolorous surroundings in the winter.

C) In addition to the old man's cantankerous and sanctimonious nature, his house was debilitated, and the debilitated house felt unsound and lent itself to dolorous surroundings in the winter.

D) In addition to the old man's cantankerous and sanctimonious nature, his house was debilitated, which caused it feel unsound and lent itself to dolorous surroundings.



The shortest option is D). It doesn't shuffle the words, and it sounds fine. This is the correct answer.


Note that in the original two sentences in the excerpt, the end of the first sentence and the beginning of the second one refer to the same subject: the debilitated house. These are two sentences which are fairly crying to be combined, since it would save the 'debilitated house' from being mentioned twice back-to-back, a mark of ugly writing. The easiest way to do this is to add a comma and then the relative pronoun "which" to reference 'the debilitated house', so you don't have to mention it again. That's exactly what occurs in option D).


I'm explaining this so that you understand the grammar principles behind the questions on the SAT Writing section or the ACT English one. Understand: you don't have to understand the grammar principles to get the question correct. In fact, you don't even have to read the other options. Option D) is obviously the shortest. Read it. Does it reshuffle the words? No. Does it sound okay? Yes. Check it and move on.


Example #3

'The CEO of the leading company heard of the proposed legislation and decided to become involved. He thought that the coming days would provide an excellent opportunity for aspiring lawyers. He suggested a particular lawyer whom he found particularly apt to lead the proposition.'



Question: Which choice most effectively combines the sentences at the underlined portion?

A) lawyers, and he

B) readers; and the CEO

C) lawyers. In the time that remained, he

D) readers - in particular, he


Option A) is the shortest and simplest. If you plug it into the sentence, you'll see that it's grammatically correct in context as well. This is the answer.


Example #4

'They congregated several times before drafting a resolution, as well as publicizing a detailed proposition they thought might pinpoint the multifaceted problems they found during the meetings. The proposition was clearly relevant. There was a desperate need at the time for a more streamlined approach to the group's advertising and marketing approach.'


Question: Which choice most effectively combines the underlined sentences?

A) With the preposition being clearly relevant, there was a desperate need at the time for a more streamlined approach to the group's advertising and marketing approach.'

B) The proposition was clearly relevant: there was a desperate need at the time for a more streamlined approach to the group's advertising and marketing approach.'

C) An obscure method of photography, an idea that is obviously very attractive, may be made available to many at little expense.

D) There was a desperate need at the time for a more streamlined approach to the group's advertising and marketing approach, and the proposition was clearly relevant.


The answer to this question is B).

There are two indications that B) is the correct answer, both of which rely on principles we outlined in the beginning of this article. Firstly, note that B) is the only answer which doesn't shuffle the order of the words and clauses. According to the principle we delineated earlier, that means it's almost certainly the right answer.


Let's also check the colon. As noted earlier, colons are an appropriate replacement for the period between the two sentences when the first sentences illustrates or explains the first. Is that true here? It is. The second sentence explains why the 'proposition' mentioned in the first sentence relevant.


Again: there's no reason to analyze colon use on the actual test. The moment you notice that B) retains the original wording: ask yourself: does it sound okay? Nothing jars on the ear? Great. Check off that answer and move on. One of your main goals on the SAT or the ACT is not to analyze every detail, but rather to actually get answers correct within a short time frame. In order to do that, it's optimal to utilize a combination of analysis as well as intuition. Don't abandon intuition; it's an immensely useful tool. Just make sure that it's built upon a rational foundation. Otherwise, it might mislead you.


For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.


Happy learning, Tova