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Sentence Structure and Grammar Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

Sentence Fragments

One of the most common errors that writers make is to write sentence fragments. You absolutely must learn never to make this error. (Other common errors will be discussed later in this lesson.)

Sentence fragments are sentences that lack one or more of their essential elements; they lack either a subject or, more commonly, a predicate (the verb).

How to Avoid Writing Sentence Fragments

Read every sentence you've written aloud, very slowly. If you've written a fragment, you'll hear your voice stop in midair at the end of the sentence. This is because in our natural rhythm of speech, we drop our voices at the end of a sentence, which is usually when the idea of the sentence is complete. Usually when you read a fragment aloud, your voice at the end will sound as if it is dangling off the edge of a cliff.

After reading every sentence aloud, go back through your writing and check each and every sentence to make sure that it falls into one of the three sentence structure categories. Remember, every sentence must have at least one subject and one predicate, and compound sentences can contain two subjects and two predicates.

Tip:

When are fragments allowed? You will sometimes notice that writers use fragments for effect. (This book sometimes uses fragments, for example.) Fragments are allowed only when they are used carefully, and for dramatic effect or to emphasize a point. As you read, note carefully the use of fragments; analyze why the writer has chosen to ignore the strict rules of grammatical sentence structures. In your own writing, you'll be much safer if you obey the rules.

Run-On Sentences

Another very common error that writers make is to write run-on sentences. These are exactly what they sound like: two or more sentences (or thoughts) that have been jammed together and written as if they were one. You can check your writing for run-ons in the same way you check for sentence fragments: by reading aloud and by making sure that the sentence doesn't attempt to say too much, all in one breath. Complex sentences, as you know, may contain more than one dependent clause, but sentences that contain more than one independent clause must include a connecting word (such as and or because) in order to be grammatically correct compound sentences. Careless writers include too many separate ideas, strung together with or without connecting words, in a single sentence.

Tip

Here are a few hints on how to avoid common sentence structure errors:

  1. Check each sentence you write, carefully, for complete thoughts, and for the appropriate subject-predicate pairs.
  2. Read each of your sentences aloud to see if your voice drops naturally at the end of the sentence. If it doesn't, you've probably written a fragment.
  3. Slow down. Rushing to get your work finished is a common trap, and very often the rush will produce sentence fragments and/or run-ons.

Excercises for this concept can be found at Sentence Structure: Grammar Exercises.

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