Sunday, November 11, 2012

SAT Question: Appositive Feedback

Shane writes:
Hi Snarky. Yesterday's SAT Question of the Day is my nightmare. I always get this kind of question wrong, because I don't understand why one sentence is better than the others. Please help.
No problem, Shane. Let's break it down. Here's yesterday's question:

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.
Clara Barton founded the American branch of the Red Cross, a nurse who was sometimes called the "angel of the battlefield."
A) Clara Barton founded the American branch of the Red Cross,
B) The founder of the American branch of the Red Cross was Clara Barton,
C) It was Clara Barton founding the American branch of the Red Cross,
D) Clara Barton, who founded the American branch of the Red Cross, she was
E) In founding the American branch of the Red Cross, Clara Barton was

To nail down this type of question, you need to understand how the appositive works. An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that re-identifies the noun that comes immediately before or after it. In other words, an appositive clarifies the noun by adding more information.

My mother is talking to our neighbor, a widow who lives two blocks away. The phrase 'a widow who lives two blocks away' is an appositive. It gives extra information about the noun 'our neighbor'.

If the information is not crucial to the meaning of the sentence, it is called a non-restrictive appositive. (If you can remove the appositive and the sentence still makes sense, it's non-restrictive.) My mother is talking to our neighbor. That sentence is perfectly fine without the appositive, so it's non-restrictive.

A non-restrictive appositive is always set off from the noun with a comma, so you often see a structure that looks like (a) noun + comma + appositive or (b) appositive + comma + noun.

Two important things to remember are that (a) the noun must relate to the appositive, and (b) the noun and the appositive must come immediately before and after the comma.

In the SAT question, the appositive is 'a nurse who was sometimes called the "angel of the battlefield."' Whom does the appositive describe? Clara Barton. There's your noun.

So now we can significantly narrow down the options. Only Choice B would put Clara Barton immediately before the comma that's followed by the appositive.

Note that Choice E also uses the appositive. In that sentence, the order is appositive + comma + noun. The sentence is illogical, however, since it implies that Barton's being a nurse was a result of her founding the American Red Cross.

The best answer is Choice B.


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