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SAT and ACT Writing: Word Pairs to Know (and Use!)

Most students know that a complete sentence needs a subject and a verb (and if you didn’t know that, hey, now you do). Writing would quickly get boring and repetitive, however, if our only option was to form simple sentences. Forming links between your ideas is essential if you want to write sophisticated, collegiate sentences.

Luckily, we have word pairs! These are words that simply GO together, and you can enlist them to help add complexity to your thoughts and establish connections between ideas. If you memorize these word pairs and learn how to use them, you’ll soon be on your way to formulating great sentences on your SAT and ACT Essays. And if an SAT Writing and Language question happens to include word pairs, you’ll know which words need to go together and which words simply don’t. Without further ado, then, let’s get started!


This one’s a classic, isn’t it? Either you know it or you don’t. You either want to improve your writing or you don’t. Either you’re going to study with us and work hard to get a perfect score on the SAT or you won’t.

Either simply goes with or. It’s there to show two options. So if you see an SAT question that says “Either the dog and the cat destroyed the couch cushions,” it’s safe to say that that “and” ought to become an “or.”


Another useful and quite common word pair is that of neither and nor. Be careful not to get either/or and neither/nor mixed up. Either/or indicates a positive option, while neither/nor indicates a negative one.

With neither/nor formulations, by the way, come tricky subject-verb agreement issues. It’s important to understand that the noun you mention LAST (after the “nor” or the “or”) determines whether or not you’ll use a singular verb or a plural verb. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Neither Jane nor Sally is a mermaid.

Neither my dog nor your cats are in the yard at present.

Neither my brothers nor my sister is a resident of Erie, Pennsylvania.

What fun! Use neither/nor and either/or to indicate options! Remember not to get them mixed up with one another. And remember that the word AFTER the “or” or the “nor” will determine whether the verb will be singular or plural.

Not only/But also

Another lovely word pair is Not only/But also. This one is quite good to use in your writing, as it emphasizes the presence of MORE than one thing or quality in a much more forceful and intelligent way than merely saying “and.” Let’s take a look at how to use this word pair:

Not only are such regulations inefficient, but they’re a burden to taxpayers as well!

It is not only cold but also raining.



This one’s pretty easy, but people mess it up! “Both” goes with “and.” Why? Because “both” indicates that there are two things!

Both dogs and cats make great pets.

Both Sally and Jane are astronauts.

Both Astroturf and Styrofoam are artificial.

Two’s company!


Have you ever heard the old expression “Stuck between a rock and a hard place”? Notice that this saying uses the word pair “Between” and “and”! It would be pretty weird if the expression was “Stuck between a rock or a hard place,” right?

Speaking of “between,” do you know when to use “between” and when to use “among”? Let’s learn that, too. Use “between” for two people or things, and use “among” for three or more.

The money was divided between Jane and Sally.

The money was divided among Jane, Sally, and Bob.

I can’t decide between seeing a romantic comedy and seeing a horror movie.

And so on, and so on.

At once/And

Here’s a good one: “At once” goes with “and.” Use this splendid word pair when you’re wanting to emphasize the coexistence of two things or qualities. Let’s look at a couple examples of this powerful word pair in action:

The writer at once affirms and denies his thesis in the third paragraph.

The class was at once fascinating and insanely boring.

Climbing Mt. Everest sounds at once completely exciting and terribly dangerous.

Two in one!


A great way to compare two things with the same qualities is to use the “As” and “As” word pair.

I am as happy as a pig in clover.

She is just as good of an actress as her mother.

The storm was as powerful as it could be.

Two of a kind!


Let’s keep comparing and contrasting things with the word pair of “More” and “Than.”

When one thing is MORE than another, this is the word pair to use!

More important than the cost of food is the fact that food keeps you alive.

The movie was more interesting than the trailer for it led me to believe.

The SAT is more difficult than the ACT in ways, but the ACT is more difficult than the SAT in ways.


“Less” and “than” are also available when you need to compare and contrast. This time, you’re emphasizing that one thing is less than another. Let’s have a look at this word pair in action:

Less promising than the weather forecast on Saturday is the fact that I have work.

Sally ate less than Martha at dinner, and as a result, Sally kept snacking late into the night.

Reading may seem less exciting than playing video games, but reading will help you become an interesting and intelligent person.

No sooner/than

Here’s a good one. The word pair “No sooner” and “Than” can be used to indicate that something happened RIGHT at the same time as something else. The best way to show you what it means is to show you some sentences that employ it. Let’s have a look:

No sooner had she gotten to the party than Jane got a text from her mother asking her where she was and why she had stolen the car.

No sooner had he finished the exam than he realized he’d forgotten to bubble in any of his answers.

No sooner had the day began than Rhonda wanted it to end.

And so on.


Another brilliant word pair that you have at your disposal is that of “So” and “That.” Most people know how to use the words when they’re right next to each other, as in “I need the keys so that I can start the car,” but you can also use this word pair in another manner, which I’ll demonstate below:

So difficult and time-consuming was the SAT that Khymm decided she’d rather not go to college and instead opted to become a lifelong waitress at her local Denny’s.

So magical was her first date with Rutherford that Darlene texted her friend Amberleigh that he was “the one.”

So boring and tedious was the process of applying for a driver’s license that Melody fell asleep at the DMV.

And so on. Fun!


Similar to “So” and “that” is “Such” and “that,” another powerful word pair that you can employ in your writing. How to use it? Let’s find out:

Such was the extent of the damage to his car that Gerald decided to purchase a new one.

The difficulty of the situation was such that Frances flipped a coin to make her decision.

The dopamine rush that receiving “likes” on a new Facebook photo provided for Shawna was such that she posted a selfie every five minutes.

And there we have it!


A rather common word pair is that of “From” and “to.” You can use it when you’re explaining something’s scope, as in the following examples:

All flights from Austin to Denver on the 17th of April are fully booked.

From Aardvarks to Zebras, animals are fascinating!

Because Doris had never been to Pacoima before, she enlisted the help of an Uber driver to get her from Point A to Point B.


Just as/so

A particularly useful word pair is the “Just as” and “so” combination. You can use this word pair when you want to compare the way two things or ideas are. Let’s take a look at how to properly use this word pair:

Just as Edison is credited for inventing the light bulb, so Einstein is credited for the theory of general relativity.

Just as Martha is a talented pastry chef, Soozanne is a skilled paralegal.

Just as robots sometimes pass the Turing test, so some humans seem robotic.

Cool, right? And hey, that’s the last one!

Memorize these word pairs and practice using them in your writing and your speech. Pretty soon, people will notice that your thoughts are complex and compelling. As an added plus, you’re sure to do better on the SAT Writing and Language section or the ACT English section when you’ve mastered these versatile and important word pairs. Happy writing!

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That’s it for today! You’ll have a perfect score in no time. Be sure to check out our Complete SAT Essay & ACT Essay course for more writing tips from a veteran tutor! For more free SAT and ACT prep tips, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list! We’ve got all sorts of freebies and advice to share with you.

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