Conjunctions and Modifiers Help (page 3)
Independent and Dependent Clauses
A clause contains a subject and a predicate and may also have direct and indirect objects. An independent clause expresses a complete thought; it can stand on its own as a sentence. A dependent clause, on the other hand, cannot stand alone because it expresses an incomplete idea. When a dependent clause stands alone, the result is a sentence fragment.
- Independent clause: She was excited.
- Dependent clause: Because she was excited.
Notice that the dependent clause is incomplete; it needs an additional thought to make a complete sentence, such as:
- She spoke very quickly because she was excited.
The independent clause, however, can stand alone. It is a complete thought.
What makes a dependent clause dependent is a subordinating conjunction such as the word because. Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses and help show the relationship between those clauses. Here is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions:
When a clause begins with a subordinating conjunction, it is dependent. It must be connected to an independent clause to become a complete thought:
- I never knew true happiness until I met you.
- independent clause dependent clause
- After Johnson quit, I had to work overtime.
- dependent clause independent clause
A sentence with both a dependent clause (DC) and independent clause (IC) is called a complex sentence. Both of the previous sentences are complex sentences.
A very common grammar mistake is to think that words such as however and therefore are subordinating conjunctions. However and therefore belong to a group of words called conjunctive adverbs. These words also signal relationships between parts of a sentence. When they are used with a semicolon, they can combine independent clauses.
Here are some examples:
- I didn't go to the party; instead, I stayed home and watched a good film.
- Samantha is a fabulous cook; indeed, she may even be better than Jacque.
- I need to pay this bill immediately. Otherwise, my phone service will be cut off.
Compound Sentences and Coordinating Conjunctions
When two independent clauses are combined, the result is a compound sentence like the following:
- He was late, so he lost the account.
The most common way to join two independent clauses is with a comma and a coordinating conjunction: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. Independent clauses can also be joined with a semicolon if the ideas in the sentences are closely related.
- I am tall, and he is short.
- [IC, coordinating conjunction + IC]
- I am tall; he is short.
- [IC; IC]
- I was late, yet I still got the account.
- [IC, coordinating conjunction + IC]
Parts of Speech: A Brief Review
A word's function and form is determined by its part of speech. The word calm, for example, can be either a verb (calm down) or an adjective (a calm afternoon); it changes to calmly when it is an adverb (they discussed the matter calmly). Be sure you know the different parts of speech and the job each part of speech performs in a sentence.
Phrases and Modifiers
Sentences are often "filled out" by phrases and modifiers. Phrases are groups of words that do not have both a subject and predicate; they might have either a subject or a verb, but not both, and sometimes neither. Modifiers are words and phrases that qualify or describe people, places, things, and actions. The most common phrases are prepositional phrases, which consist of a preposition and a noun or pronoun (e.g., in the attic). Modifiers include adjectives (e.g., slow, blue, excellent) and adverbs (e.g., cheerfully, suspiciously). In the following examples, the prepositional phrases are underlined and the modifiers are in bold:
- He was very late for an important meeting with a new client.
- He brazenly took her wallet from her purse when she got up from the table to go to the ladies' room.
Placement of Modifiers
As a general rule, words, phrases, or clauses that describe nouns and pronouns should be as close as possible to the words they describe. The relaxing music, for example, is better (clearer, more concise and precise) than the music that is relaxing. In the first sentence, the modifier relaxing is right next to the word it modifies (music).
When modifiers are not next to the words they describe, you not only often use extra words, but you might also end up with a misplaced or dangling modifier and a sentence that means something other than what was intended. This is especially true of phrases and clauses that work as modifiers. Take a look at the following sentence, for example:
- Racing to the car, I watched him trip and drop his bag.
Who was racing to the car? Because the modifier racing to the car is next to I, the sentence says that I was doing the racing. But the verb watched indicates that he was the one racing to the car. Here are two corrected versions:
- I watched as he raced to the car and dropped his bag.
- I watched as, racing to the car, he dropped his bag.
In the first sentence, the phrase racing to the car has been revised to raced to the car and given the appropriate subject, he. In the second sentence, racing to the car is right next to the modified element (he).
Here's another example:
- Growling ferociously, I watched as the lions approached each other.
It's quite obvious that it was the lions, not the speaker, that were growling ferociously. But because the modifier (growling ferociously) isn't right next to what it modifies (the lions), the sentence actually says that I was growling ferociously. Here's the corrected version:
- I watched as the lions, growling ferociously, approached each other.
Again, the sentence is clearer now because the modifier is right next to what it modifies.
Sometimes these errors can be corrected simply by moving the modifier to the right place (next to what it modifies). Other times, you may need to add a subject and verb to clarify who or what is modified by the phrase. Here are some more examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers and their corrections:
Incorrect: Worn and tattered, Uncle Joe took down the flag. Correct: Uncle Joe took down the flag, which was worn and tattered. OR Uncle Joe took down the worn, tattered flag. Incorrect: While making breakfast, the smoke alarm went off and woke the baby. Correct: While I was making breakfast, the smoke alarm went off and woke the baby. OR The smoke alarm went off and woke the baby while I was making breakfast.
Avoiding Fragments and Run-On Sentences
Expressing complete ideas and clearly indicating where sentences begin and end are essential to effective writing. Two of the most common grammatical errors with sentence boundaries are fragments and run-ons.
Incomplete Sentences (Fragments)
As we stated earlier, a complete sentence must (1) have both a subject (who or what performs the action) and a verb (a state of being or an action), and (2) express a complete thought. If you don't complete a thought, or if you are missing a subject or verb (or both), then you have an incomplete sentence (also called a sentence fragment). To correct a fragment, add the missing subject or verb or otherwise change the sentence to complete the thought.
Incomplete: Which is simply not true. [No subject. (Which is not a subject.)] Complete: That is simply not true. Incomplete: For example, the French Revolution. [No verb.] Complete: The best example is the French Revolution. Incomplete: Even though the polar icecaps are melting. [Subject and verb, but not a complete thought.] Complete: Some people still don't believe in global warming even though the polar icecaps are melting.
A run-on sentence occurs when one sentence "runs" right into the next without proper punctuation between them. Usually, there's either no punctuation at all or just a comma between the two thoughts. But commas alone are not strong enough to separate two complete ideas. Here are some examples of run-ons:
- Let's go it's getting late.
- Whether or not you believe me it's true, I didn't lie to you.
There are five ways to correct run-on sentences:
- With a period
- With a comma and a coordinating conjunction: and, or, nor, for, so, but, yet
- With a semicolon
- With a dash
- With a subordinating conjunction to create a dependent clause: although, because, during, while, etc.
Here's a run-on sentence corrected with each of these techniques:
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