Sentences

Alley Oops

Why learn the different types of sentences and their functions? So you can write correct ones, bubba. When your sentences aren't correct, no one will know what the dickens you're saying. This is not a good thing.

There are two basic types of sentence errors: fragments and run-ons. These problems with sentence construction cause clumsy, unpolished writing and speech. Let's look at each of these sentence errors in detail so you'll be able to fix them with ease.

Fragments: Lost in Place

You Could Look It Up

A sentence fragment is a group of words that does not express a complete thought. A fragment is the same as a dependent clause.

Danger, Will Robinson

Don't be misled by a capital letter at the beginning of a word group. Starting a group of words with a capital letter doesn't make the word group a sentence any more than putting a comb on a hen makes her a rooster.

Quoth the Maven

Experienced writers often use fragments to create realistic-sounding dialogue. They know that few people ever speak in complete sentences, regardless of what we'd like to think.

As its name suggests, a sentence fragment is a group of words that do not express a complete thought. Most times, a fragment is missing a subject, a verb, or both. Other times, a fragment may have a subject and a verb but still not express a complete thought. Fragments don't discriminate: They can be phrases as well as clauses.

There are three main ways that fragments occur. And here they are:

  • Fragments occur when a dependent clause masquerades as a sentence. For example:
    • Because Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright's son.
    • Because the most common name in the world is Mohammed.
  • Fragments also happen when a phrase is cut off from the sentence it describes. For instance:
    • Used to cure fleas and ticks.
    • Hoping to keep the ceiling from collapsing.
  • You can also create a fragment if you use the wrong form of a verb. For example:
    • The writer gone to the office.
    • The pearl being the main ingredient in many love potions.

You can correct a fragment two ways:

  • Add the missing part to the sentence
  • Fragment: In the cabinet over the bookshelf.
  • Complete: I keep extra supplies in the cabinet over the bookshelf.
  • Omit the subordinating conjunction or connect it to another sentence.
  • Fragment: When you go to the party.
  • Complete: When you go to the party, be sure to head straight for the shrimp and caviar and chow down.

Run-Ons and Comma Splices: It Could Be a Stretch

A run-on sentence is two incorrectly joined independent clauses. A comma splice is a run-on with a comma where the two independent clauses run together. When your sentences run together, your ideas are garbled. For instance:

  • Most people who drink coffee don't know where it comes from it is actually the fruit of an evergreen tree.
  • Robert Wadlow was the tallest person who ever lived he was 8 feet 11 inches tall when he died in 1940.

So far, so good, but there are two important facts to realize about run-ons:

You Could Look It Up

A run-on sentence is two incorrectly joined independent clauses. A comma splice is a run-on with a comma where the two sentences run together.

  • Run-ons are not necessarily long. Some can be quite short, in fact. For instance:
    • She walked he ran.
    • Birds chirp cows moo.
  • The second clause of a run-on often begins with a pronoun.
    • Godzilla wants to sleep he is exhausted from destroying Tokyo.

You can correct a run-on sentence in one of four ways. Let's use Godzilla as our example.

Quoth the Maven

Be sure to use a comma before the coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence, unless the two independent clauses are very short. More on this in Punctuation.

  • Separate the run-on into two sentences with end punctuation such as periods, exclamation marks, and question marks.
    • Godzilla wants to sleep. He is exhausted from destroying Tokyo.
  • Add a coordinating conjunction (and, nor, but, or, for, yet, or so) to create a compound sentence.
    • Godzilla wants to sleep, for he is exhausted from destroying Tokyo.
  • Add a subordinating conjunction to create a complex sentence.
    • Godzilla wants to sleep, because he is exhausted from destroying Tokyo.
  • Use a semicolon to create a compound sentence.
    • Godzilla wants to sleep; he is exhausted from destroying Tokyo.

Seventh-Inning Stretch

Take a few minutes to fix the fragments and run-ons in these two anecdotes.

  1. In the late 1900s, the man who was shot out of the cannon every day. At the Barnum and Bailey Circus decided to quit his wife had asked him to find a less risky way of making a living P. T. Barnum hated to lose a good man. So he sent him a message, “I beg you to reconsider—men of your caliber are hard to find.”
  2. In 1946, Winston Churchill traveled to Fulton, Missouri, to deliver a speech. Which turned out to be his famous Iron Curtain address. And to be present at the dedication of a bust in his honor. After his speech, a rather attractive and ample woman approached the wartime prime minister of England and said, “Mr. Churchill, I traveled more than a hundred miles this morning. For the unveiling of your bust.” Churchill, who was known far and wide for his quick wit, replied, “Madam, I assure you, in that regard I would gladly return the favor.”

Answers

Possible responses:

  1. In the late 1900s, the man who was shot out of the cannon every day at the Barnum and Bailey Circus decided to quit because his wife had asked him to find a less risky way of making a living. P. T. Barnum hated to lose a good man, so he sent him a message, “I beg you to reconsider—men of your caliber are hard to find.”
  2. In 1946, Winston Churchill traveled to Fulton, Missouri, to deliver a speech, which turned out to be his famous Iron Curtain address, and to be present at the dedication of a bust in his honor. After his speech, a rather attractive and ample woman approached the wartime prime minister of England and said, “Mr. Churchill, I traveled more than a hundred miles this morning for the unveiling of your bust.” Churchill, who was known far and wide for his quick wit, replied, “Madam, I assure you, in that regard I would gladly return the favor.”
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.