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The Official SAT Study Guide, Second Edition's second practice test's writing section contains the following question, with the objective to choose the answer that is most correct.

Through his novels Thomas Wolfe reveals to us both the pain and the beauty of his boyhood in the American South.

(A) [no change]

(B) By means of Thomas Wolfe's novels, which reveal to us both the pain and the beauty of his boyhood in the American South.

(C) Not only the pain is revealed to us in Thomas Wolfe's novels but he also describes the beauty of his boyhood in the American South.

(D) Thomas Wolfe, through the medium of his novels, reveals to us both the pain with the beauty of his boyhood in the American South.

(E) As a novelist, Thomas Wolfe thus revealing to us the pain and the beauty of his boyhood in the American South.

B through E are all blatantly incorrect, so the only remaining option is A, which is listed as the correct answer.

However, everyone I've asked agrees that that sentence requires a comma after the word novels, because Through his novels is functioning as an appositive phrase.

Is there something I'm missing here, or are all of these sentences incorrect?

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    That’s not what an appositive is. Nouns in apposition are things like John, my old high school friend, called me last night. With introductory prepositional phrases yours, without commas it can sometimes become difficult to correctly read on the first pass things like In the street people dancing was almost unknown vs In the street people dancing heedless of traffic was always a problem. – tchrist Jul 6 '13 at 22:30
  • @tchrist 'Tis an appositive as I was taught the term. Feel free to correct. – Tortoise Jul 6 '13 at 22:33
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    Yes, I am. The edit time expired before I could fix it. – tchrist Jul 6 '13 at 22:37
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    I think you need a comma after the word novels too, for what it's worth. – Carl Smith Jul 7 '13 at 1:34
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    To "create" an appositive, you could re-word the sentence as follows: "Through his novels, the ones concerning his life in the American South, Thomas Wolfe reveals to us both the pain and the beauty of his boyhood." Otherwise, the sentence should stand as it is. On my first pass, I read it without a hitch. – rhetorician Jul 7 '13 at 1:34
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An appositive must be a noun phrase. "Through his novels" is a prepositional phrase that functions as an adverb, as in "in the forest we ate cookies."

In this case it does not require a comma.

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    But shouldn't be marked wrong if one is added. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 '13 at 19:45
  • I feel as though "in the forest we ate cookies" requires a comma, as well. For example (this may be a bit of a stretch), "In the forest we ate cookies but died." could be parsed as "In the forest, we ate cookies, but [we] died" or "In the forest we ate, cookies [did nothing] but died [die]," though both options are somewhat odd semantically. – Tortoise Jul 14 '13 at 0:40

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