Sentence Formulas Guide for the ACT English Section

grammar guide act english

One of the most important grammar concepts to remember for the ACT English section is the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause.

Once you know these two pieces, you can shift them, switch them, and punctuate them in different ways to create different types of sentences. These sentences fall into “formulas” that are easy enough to remember. Learn these formulas and you’ll be on your way to a great score on the English section of the ACT test. 

Below, we’ll cover the difference between an Independent Clause and a Dependent Clause, and give example of how you can combine these clauses into different kinds of sentences. If you’d like to study these sentence formulas further, download the PDF study guide (one page & color coded) at the bottom of this post!

Independent vs. Dependent Clauses

An INDEPENDENT CLAUSE can stand alone as a complete sentence with a subject and verb. 

A Dependent Clause can take many forms but cannot stand alone.  There are certain words that introduce a dependent clause: that, when, which, who, while, whether, since, because, although, than.  A dependent clause can come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence.

Examples: 

Dependent: When I went to the store on Saturday with my friend Val 

INDEPENDENT: I went to the store on Saturday with my friend Val.

dependent, INDEPENDENT : When I went to the store on Saturday with my friend Val, I forgot to buy apples. 

INDEPENDENT dependent: I forgot to buy apples when I went to the store on Saturday with my friend Val. 

Sentence Formulas

Two independent clauses joined by a conjunction:

Consider a sentence made of two independent clauses joined by a conjunction:

INDEPENDENT , FANBOYS* INDEPENDENT .

*The term FANBOYS is an abbreviation for conjunctions that join two INDEPENDENT clauses: for, and, not, but, or, yet, so

Example: Sometimes I am unsure when to use a comma, so I check to see how many independent clauses I have.  

fanboys grammar guide

One subject and two verbs joined by a conjunction without a comma:

Consider a sentence with one subject and two verbs joined by a conjunction and does NOT have a comma:

SUBJECT VERB1  FANBOYS  VERB2

Example: I (SUBJECT) know (VERB1) not to use a comma when the sentence has only one subject and remember (VERB2) to look for multiple verbs.  

Two independent clauses joined by a semicolon:

Consider a sentence with two independent clauses joined by a semicolon:

INDEPENDENT ; INDEPENDENT .

Example:  Thinking about sentence structure as a collection of pieces makes it easier to create a grammatically correct sentence; there is often more than one way to arrange similar pieces.

Two independent clauses joined by a semicolon and a transition word:

Consider a sentence with two independent clauses joined by a semicolon and a transition word:

INDEPENDENT ; TransitionWord , INDEPENDENT .

Example:  Sentence structure can be thought of as a collection of pieces arranged to create a grammatically correct sentence; moreover, similar pieces can be arranged in more than one way.   

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One independent clause and a transition word in the middle:

Consider a sentence with one independent clause and a transition word in the middle:

partINDEPENDENT , TransitionWord ,  restINDEPENDENT .

Example: A good writer, in fact, uses a variety of sentence structures to create a rhythm and flow for her readers.   

Introductory clause followed by an independent clause:

Consider a sentence made of an introductory clause followed by an independent clause:

(Introductory Dependent Clause) , INDEPENDENT .

Example: Though I have read many books on a variety of topics, I find it helpful to review basic grammar rules.  

One independent clause with a nonessential dependent clause in the middle:

Consider a sentence with one independent clause and a nonessential dependent clause in the middle:

partINDEPENDENT , Nonessential Dependent Clause , restINDEPENDENT .

Example: In this type of sentence the subject (subject), even when separated from its verb by one or more dependent clauses , agrees (verb) with the verb on the other side of the clause.  

One independent clause followed by an essential dependent clause without a comma and a nonessential dependent clause with a comma:

Consider a sentence with one independent clause followed by an essential dependent clause which is followed by a nonessential dependent clause that needs a comma because it needs to be separated from the word that directly precedes it:

INDEPENDENT Essential Dependent Clause, Nonessential Dependent Clause .

Example:  It can be hard to decide if a dependent clause should have a comma precede it, especially when you can’t decide if the clause is essential.  

Independent clause followed by a colon and a list of examples:

Consider a sentence made of an independent clause followed by a colon and a list of examples of what came before:

INDEPENDENT : list that are examples .

Example:  You have many options for what can follow a colon: a list, a dependent clause, an independent clause, and even a compound-complex clause.  

Independent clause followed by a colon and a dependent clause:

Consider a sentence made of an independent clause followed by a colon and a dependent clause that is an example or equal in content to that which came before: 

INDEPENDENT : Dependent Clause .

Example:  It is grammatically correct for a dependent clause to follow a colon: as an example of what came before the colon.  

Independent clause followed by a colon and an independent clause:

Consider a sentence made of an independent clause followed by a colon and an independent clause that is an example or equal in content to that which came before: 

INDEPENDENT : INDEPENDENT equal in content to what came before the colon .

Example:  Regardless of what follows the colon, you must have an independent clause before the colon: an independent clause has a subject and a verb and stands alone as a complete sentence.  

Download the PDF study guide to ACT English sentence formulas!

The Olive Book ACT Grammar Guide to Sentence Structure

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