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Build it right and they will know

Speaking aloud, we may get away with almost any sentence, or non-sentence structure; however, in writing we must be more careful.

We need to avoid fragments, or partial sentences. Fragments may be missing either a subject ("hoping to hear from you soon") or a verb ("a young girl in an accident"). Supplying the subject could give us, "I hope to hear from you soon," while including a verb might provide us with, "A young girl was injured in an accident."

We are sometimes tempted to use a dependent clause, thinking it is complete. The clause "When I walked through the door, a group of waiting friends with laughter and shouting" is dependent and needs a verb: "When I walked through the door, a group of waiting friends greeted me with laughter and shouting." Or I could choose a passive verb, “…door, I was greeted by a group…”

Just as confusing as a fragment, a run-on sentence usually involves comma errors and continues exhaustingly: "He was aware of the dangers, he tried to be careful but he didn’t have the proper experience, even after warnings from others and advice from all then he pushed on through and he ended up broke and alone." This needs to be simplified and broken down into complete sentences: "He was aware and careful of the dangers but without experience; though others warned him, he pushed through and ended up broke and alone."

We also have to be careful of making our sentences too short and choppy. We would be safe to say, "I have a dog. He is a labradoodle. He is so cute and lovable. I named him Chewy." Even though these are all complete sentences, the result is very chopped up. It would be better and smoother to say, "I have a cute, lovable labradoodle named Chewy."

One sentence blunder that spawns great confusion is the dangling or misplaced modifier. This often involves a verb ending in –ing or –ed and set in the wrong place in the sentence: "I saw an automobile walking down the street." It is likely you wanted to say, "While walking down the street, I saw an automobile."

Another example is, "I saw the circus passing through my front window." Oh, I hope not! You more likely meant, "Through my front window, I saw the circus passing."

At least this saves your front room!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net