Grammar Issues

Preventing Sentence Errors

Every sentence contains one or more clauses (a clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb); preventing sentence errors requires understanding of clauses.

There are two types of clauses:

Independent clause:

An independent clause can stand alone as a complete idea (thus it is a sentence).

Example: Heights make me dizzy.

Dependent clause:

dependent clause cannot stand alone as a complete idea (thus it is not a sentence).

Example: Although heights make me dizzy.

Dependent clauses are often introduced by subordinating conjunctions, such as after, before, until, although, if, unless, when, since, while, because, and as; or relative pronouns, such as who, which, that, and whom.

 

Three types of sentence errors:

There are 3 types of sentence errors: sentence fragments, fused sentences, and comma splices.

1. A sentence fragment lacks a subject or a verb or fails to express a complete thought. A sentence fragment occurs when a portion of a sentence (a dependent clause or a phrase) is punctuated as a complete sentence.

Examples:  Finishing the most difficult part of the exam.

                          If I had known then what I know now.

A sentence fragment may be corrected in two ways:

  • Provide the missing element (subject or verb):

       Example: I finished the most difficult part of the exam.

  • Connect the dependent clause with an independent clause to make a complete sentence:

       Example: Finishing the most difficult part of the exam, I went on to easier
                       sections.

                              If I had known then what I know now, I would have made a
                              different decision.

 

2A fused sentence incorrectly runs together two independent clauses without using a conjunction or punctuation. One sentence is fused into another.

Example: John wrote a very powerful essay it made me want to change how I think
                about college.

fused sentence may be corrected using various strategies:

  • Separate the two independent clauses with a period, creating two separate sentences:

       Example: John wrote a very powerful essay. It made me want to change the
                       way I think about college. 

  • Connect the independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet):

       Example: I took the test, and I got the highest grade.

  • Use a subordinating conjunction (after, before, until, although, if, unless, when, since, while, because, as) to make one clause dependent:

       Example: When I took the test, I got the highest grade. 

  • Separate the two independent clauses with a semicolon:

       Example: John wrote a very powerful essay; it made me want to change the
                       way I think about college. 

  • Separate the two independent clauses with a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (consequently, in fact, indeed, then, furthermore, however, moreover, nevertheless, therefore):

       Example: John wrote a very powerful essay; in fact, it made me want to
                       change the way I think about college.

 

3. A comma splice incorrectly joins two independent clauses with a comma. The writer has tried to splice two sentences into one by placing a comma between them.

Example: I worked hard in class, I learned a lot.

comma splice may be corrected using these strategies (similar to those listed under fused sentences): 

  • Replace the comma with a period, creating two separate sentences:

       Example: I worked hard in class. I learned a lot. 

  • Follow the comma with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet):

       Example: I worked hard in class, and I learned a lot. 

  • Use a subordinating conjunction (after, before, until, although, if, unless, when, since, while, because, as) to make one clause dependent:

       Example: Because I worked hard in class, I learned a lot. 

  • Replace a comma with a semicolon:

       Example: Reaching a goal is satisfying; I’m proud of my work. 

  • Replace a comma with a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (consequently, in fact, indeed, then, furthermore, however, moreover, nevertheless, therefore):

       Example: Reaching a goal is satisfying; consequently, I’m proud of my work.