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Sentence Boundary Errors

Three types of sentence boundary errors appear in SSU student writing:

 

Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments are sections of text that are punctuated like complete sentences, even though they are missing at least one major sentence element:

Even less addictive than caffeine and nicotine. [Intended meaning: Medical marijuana is even less addictive than caffeine and nicotine.]

This particular sentence fragment is easy to spot because it is missing all three major sentence elements:

  • It does not contain a subject.

  • It does not contain a verb.

  • It does not express a complete thought.

Fragments missing all three major elements are most likely to appear when a student inserts a specific example after a complete sentence:

Some children who stay at home are not taught personal hygiene. Like washing their hands before meals or going to the restroom.

Examples are an important part of clear writing, but make sure your examples are part of a complete sentence:

Some children who stay at home are not taught personal hygiene, like washing their hands before meals or going to the restroom.

Fragments are sometimes more difficult to identify when they are missing only one major element.

Missing subject . The subject is usually the agent of the action. In the following fragment, the verb is switched, but the sentence fails to mention who switched:

Switched to Christianity later in life.

Missing verb . The verb is the word that conveys action. Many of the fragments that omit verbs do include a gerund, which is a noun formed by combining a root verb with an -ing ending. Perhaps writers who are proofreading hastily simply overlook the -ing endings while skimming their texts:

Robinson's critique suggesting that Bush doesn't understand how badly he needs to show everyone that there is no cronyism going on.

Sometimes, the best way to correct such fragments is to add a verb (and additional information if needed):

Robinson's critique, suggesting that Bush doesn't understand how badly he needs to show everyone that there is no cronyism going on, is refuted by Gingrich.

Other times, the best way is to change the gerund into a verb:

Robinson's critique suggests that Bush doesn't understand how badly he needs to show everyone that there is no cronyism going on.

Additional information about gerunds appears on pages 306-08 of The Longman Concise Companion.

Lack of complete thought . Sentence fragments that contain a subject and verb but fail to convey a complete thought are usually subordinate clauses:

Although daycare children will continue using the workbooks.

Although is a subordinate word; it tells readers that there should be two clauses in the sentence:

Although daycare children will continue using the workbooks, children who are kept home will not.

Other subordinating words include before, because, since, and who. Look out for these words when checking your work for fragments. See pages 308-11 of The Longman Concise Companion for more information on subordinating clauses.

Run-On (or Fused) Sentences

Two (or more) complete sentences that are punctuated as if they were one sentence are called run-on or fused sentences.

But there was one problem she had to be home before the spell ended at midnight.

To fix a fused sentence, turn it into a compound sentence, a complex sentence, or two separate sentences:

Compound sentence. But there was one problem: she had to be home before the spell ended at midnight. [Note that in this example, the two independent clauses are joined by a colon. More commonly, compound sentences are joined either with a semi-colon or with a comma and a conjunction.]

Complex sentence.The one problem was that she had to be home before the spell ended at midnight.

Two sentences. But there was one problem. She had to be home before the spell ended at midnight.

For more information on run-on sentences, see pages 362-68 of The Longman Concise Companion.

Comma Splices

Comma splices are similar to fused sentences; however, the two sentences are joined with a comma instead of without any punctuation:

Parties and peer pressure are another disadvantage, students need to make sure to get their work done before attempting to go out.

You fix comma splices the same way you fix fused sentences: by changing the sentence into a compound sentence, a complex sentence, or two sentences.

Compound sentence. Parties and peer pressure are another disadvantage, and students need to make sure to get their work done before attempting to go out.

Complex sentence. Because parties and peer pressure are another disadvantage, students need to make sure to get their work done before attempting to go out.

Two sentences. Parties and peer pressure are another disadvantage. Students need to make sure to get their work done before attempting to go out.

See page 363 of The Longman Concise Companion for more information about comma splices.

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Clark Memorial Library Room 120 

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Portsmouth, OH 45662

Phone: (740) 351-3488
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