This post completes the set of three basic grammar skills. After this, you'll know exactly what to focus on when dealing with the ACT's grammar questions. The number of grammatically really important words is actually very small: subjects, conjugated verbs, and conjunctions. Confusion about grammar arises mainly if you don't know which words to look for when looking for the right answer. This post is all about eliminating words that make sentences look more complicated than they are.
The last basic skill is find the preposition and its prepositional phrase. This is important not mainly because prepositions are important, but because they don't really matter and just clutter sentences. If you lose your way in grammar, prepositional phrases will probably be the reason.
First of all, let's clear up a very common misunderstanding about prepositions: they are not called prepositions because they indicate position, but because they are prepositioned to other words (i.e. put in front) with which they form a prepositional phrase. The name preposition is purely a structural description; it tells you where these words stand, not what they mean or do.
There are indeed prepositions that indicate position (i.e. in, at, on, under, etc.), but some of the most common ones are very different: of, with, from, for, to, etc.
So, by definition, prepositions can't be used on their own: they need something to lean against. They will always be part of a prepositional phrase, which is a bunch of words to which the preposition adds more precise meaning by creating a specific relationship with another word outside the phrase. Not complicated at all. Let's have a look at an example.
Let's take 'the car' and 'my father'. Just like that, we don't know anything about the relationship of these two. But if we add a preposition, the relationship becomes clear. E.g. the car of my father, or the car for my father. 'My father' has become part of a prepositional phrase that clarifies the relationship with 'the car'. The important thing to understand when thinking about grammar is that the words in the prepositional phrase will never really do anything in the sentence, nor is anything going to be done to them directly. In short, words in a prepositional phrase are neither going to be the object nor the subject of a sentence.
So we know that 'my father' will not do anything in either of the examples above. If we complete the examples to a full sentence with a verb, the verb is never going to go with 'my father. E.g. the car of my father really needs servicing. Who needs servicing? Not the father, the car does. A full sentence for the second example would be 'I bought the car for my father'. Here a subject 'I' has been added, which agrees with the verb bought.
This fact becomes a vital skill when you are dealing with confusing long sentences, such as 'the team of players from the most prominent South American football nations at the International tournament in Spain were disqualified due to a doping scandal'.
This sentence contains a mistake in subject verb agreement, but it is made difficult to pick up on because of the long string of prepositional phrases: of players from the most prominent South American football nations at the International tournament in Spain. The basic sentence without prepositional clutter is 'the team were disqualified'. Were? No, obviously not; the verb needs to be was. Your ear might take the players to be the subject, which makes the sentence sound sort of ok if you are not attentive, but this is not possible: 'the players' is part of a prepositional phrase: of players. The players are grammatically not important; they are not doing anything.
When combined, the three basic skills become a powerful tool to solve any ACT grammar questions with surgical precision. More importantly, these skills will also turn you into a better and confident writer who knows how to put together sentences that can cope with the scrutiny of any university professor. So, if you develop a good grasp of these three basic skills, you don't just learn something for your ACT English score but also for your academic career ahead and, ultimately, for life.
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