Sentence Structure for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide
When you speak, you may leave your sentences unfinished or run your sentences together. Written expression makes a more permanent impression than speech. In writing, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers, and dangling modifiers are structural problems that obscure the meaning of a sentence. The parts of sentences need to have a clear relationship to each other to make sense. This section reviews common errors in sentence structure that will appear on the PPST Writing test, including comparison mistakes, incorrect use of independent and subordinate clauses, double negatives, and unparallel sentence construction.
One common writing problem involves comparisons. When a sentence compares two things or activities, the form, or part of speech, of the two entities must match. A writer can compare two nouns or, alternatively, two verb phrases, but he should not compare a noun with a verb phrase.
- Incorrect: For me, watching a psychological thriller is harder than a horror film.
- Correct: For me, watching a psychological thriller is harder than sitting through a horror film.
In the correct version of the sentence, the verb phrase watching a psychological thriller matches the form of the verb phrase sitting through a horror film. Try the following practice question.
- Even though admired by some, the innovations of Lewis Carroll's later novels were not as well received as his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
- the innovations of Lewis Carroll's later novels were
- Lewis Carroll's later novels were
- the innovations about Lewis Carroll's later novels were
- the innovations of Lewis Carroll were
- Lewis Carroll was
Choice b is the correct answer. The original sentence compared the innovations of Carroll's later novels with the book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The comparison becomes parallel when you simply compare Lewis Carroll's later novels with his early book. Another way to make the sentence parallel would be to compare the innovations of the later novels with the innovations of the early book.
All inventory at reduced prices! Spectacular savings for you! Although pithy and popular with advertisers, sentence fragments are incomplete sentences that do not accurately communicate an idea. To be complete, a sentence needs more than punctuation at its end—it needs a subject and an active verb. A common fragment error that you will see on the PPST Writing test is the use of the -ing form of a verb without a helping verb.
- Incorrect: Emily sitting on the sofa, wondering what to do next.
- Correct: Emily was sitting on the sofa, wondering what to do next.
Another common type of sentence fragment is a subordinate clause that stands alone. To review, clauses are groups of words that have a subject and a verb. An independent clause is one that stands alone and expresses a complete thought. Even though a subordinate clause has a subject and a verb, it does not express a complete thought. It needs an independent clause to support it.
To identify a sentence fragment or subordinate clause on the PPST exam, look for the following joining words, called subordinating conjunctions. When a clause has a subordinating conjunction, it needs an independent clause to complete an idea.
- The Canada goose that built a nest in the pond outside our building.
- As if the storm never happened, as if no damage was done.
In the first example, removing the connector that would make a complete sentence. In the second example, the subordinate clauses need an independent clause to make logical sense: As if the storm never happened, as if no damage was done, Esme remained blithely optimistic. Try to locate the sentence fragment in the following practice question.
The correct answer choice is d. In this question, the independent clause has a subject (one participant) and a verb (explained). However, the subordinate clause, beginning with the connector that needs a verb to make sense. Adding the verb were completes the thought and fixes the fragment: that in the heated atmosphere of the 1960s, sit-in protests were effective enough to draw the attention of the nation.
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