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7.3: Common Sentence Errors

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    36316
  • Fragments

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    A fragment occurs when a group of words that does not form a complete sentence is punctuated as though it is a complete sentence. Here are three common types of fragments and ways to correct them:

    The fragment may lack a predicate because the verb is incomplete.

    Fragment

    The runners staggering in the 100-degree heat.

    Complete Sentence

    The runners were staggering in the 100-degree heat.
    Note: The present participle, "staggering," is not a complete verb without the helping verb "were."

    The fragment may be a dependent (subordinate) clause that needs to be attached to an independent clause.

    Fragment

    Unless she could earn the money for tuition.

    Complete Sentence

    Unless she could earn the money for tuition, she would have to drop out of school.

    Note: The fragment here is an adverb clause and does not express a complete thought unless it is attached to an independent clause.

    Fragment

    Which was the best thing to do.

    Complete Sentence

    My sister decided to sell the house, which was the best thing to do.
    (Note: The fragment here is an adjective clause and does not express a complete thought unless it is attached to an independent clause. See section Complex Sentences.)

    The fragment may be a subject with modifiers that needs a linking verb.

    Fragment

    Doubt and mistrust everywhere, fogging the minds of managers and workers alike.

    Complete Sentence

    Doubt and mistrust were everywhere, fogging the minds of managers and workers alike.
    Note: Were supplies the needed linking verb in this sentence. Fogging may seem like a verb, but it is only part of a participial phrase and cannot be a complete verb without a helping verb.

    Run-on Sentences

    Sentences with two or more independent clauses that have been incorrectly combined are known as run-on sentences. A run-on sentence may be either a fused sentence or a comma splice.

    Fused sentence: A family of foxes lived under our shed young foxes played all over the yard.

    Notice that there are two sentences here, one about a family of foxes, which ends with the word shed, and another about the young foxes. These two sentences are simply run together without any punctuation, coordination, or subordination, creating a fused sentence.

    Comma splice: We looked outside, the kids were hopping on the trampoline.

    Here the break between the two sentences is marked with only a comma. Since a comma is not a legitimate way to connect independent clauses, this creates a comma splice.

    Correcting Run-ons with Punctuation

    One way to correct run-on sentences is to correct the punctuation.

    • Adding a period will correct the run-on by creating two separate sentences.
    • Using a semicolon between the two complete sentences will correct the error. Note: A semicolon allows you to keep the two closely related ideas together in one sentence. When you punctuate with a semicolon, make sure that both parts of the sentence are independent clauses.
    • Coordinating conjunctions (remember FANBOYS).
    • Subordination can also be used to fix run-ons.

    Run-On (fused sentence)

    The accident closed both lanes of traffic we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

    Corrected Sentence

    The accident closed both lanes of traffic; we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

    When you use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses, you may wish to add a conjunctive adverb to show the connection between the two thoughts. After the semicolon, add the conjunctive adverb and follow it with a comma (see Compound Sentences).

    Run-On (fused sentence)

    The project was put on hold, we didn’t have time to slow down, so we kept working.

    Corrected Sentence

    The project was put on hold; however, we didn’t have time to slow down, so we kept working.

    Exercise: Identify Common Sentence Errors

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    Use what you have learned so far to identify common sentence errors. Label each sentence as a fragment (F), a run-on sentence (R), or a correct, complete sentence (C) in the space before each. Write corrected sentences on the lines below fragments and run-ons.
    1._____ Being absent hurts a student's grade, he or she should be in class every day.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    2._____ Having been interested in science most of her life, she did well in Biology 101.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    3._____ Hurry with your breakfast, you will miss the bus.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    4._____ Several students had the right answer; however, most of them failed the exam.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    5._____ Several girls expressed concerns about course selections, therefore, changes were made.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    6._____ Jim practiced the violin daily, he wanted to excel in music.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    7._____ The child loved his mother, but he did not want to obey her.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    8._____ I had a severe case of the flu last year.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    9._____ And spent the first three days of my illness in bed.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    10._____ Because I was sick of my bed and decided I would lie on the sofa and watch television.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    11._____ Only getting up to take care of the necessities of life.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    12._____ Then I must have fallen asleep.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    13._____ When I was suddenly conscious again.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    14._____ The wind howled outside, the house was damp and chilly, and my fever soared.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    15._____ Then, somewhere in the blackness ahead of me, I saw a spot of light.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    16._____ Because I was sure that I had died.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    17._____ Running a temperature between 102 and 107.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    18._____ Voting is a privilege, this privilege should not be taken for granted.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    19._____ Be ready for any emergency, plan ahead.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    20._____ What has happened to the economy, many Americans want the answer to this question.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    21._____ A friend is always willing to help, friendship is invaluable.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    22._____ Although he was sick, James came to class.
    ________________________________________________________
    23._____ He arrived at the office late, then he realized he had left his laptop at home.
    ____________________________________________________________________________
    24._____ We were excited about the game, and we won.
    ________________________________________________________
    25._____ Be careful with your answer, your grade could be affected.
    ________________________________________________________

    Common Errors: Misplaced Modifiers

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    When a participial phrase, prepositional phrase, or other modifying unit is not placed next to the noun it describes, the resulting error is called a misplaced modifier. Consider these examples:

    Two Panels start copy

    Incorrect

    Turning on the kitchen light, the woman surprised the thief in her nightgown.

    Correct

    Turning on the kitchen light, the woman in her nightgown surprised the thief.

    Incorrect

    They adopted a kitten for my brother called Shadow.

    Correct

    They adopted a kitten called Shadow for my brother.

    Incorrect

    The patient was referred to the physician with stomach pains.

    Correct

    The patient with stomach pains was referred to the physician.

    PastedImage_xxk9jjha3b1svb92cx95bc8mid1r2fdy001290833377.pngSimple modifiers like only, almost, just, nearly, and barely often get used incorrectly because writers often put them in the wrong place.

    Incorrect

    Tyler almost found fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

    Correct

    Tyler found almost fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

    How do you almost find something? Either you find it or you do not. The repaired sentence is much clearer.

    Exercise: Misplaced Modifiers

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    Rewrite the following sentences to correct the misplaced modifiers:

    1. The young lady was walking the dog on the telephone.
    2. I heard that there was a robbery on the evening news.
    3. Uncle Louie bought a running stroller for the baby he called “Speed Racer.”
    4. Rolling down the mountain, the explorer stopped the boulder with his powerful foot.
    5. We are looking for a babysitter for our precious six-year-old who doesn’t drink or smoke.
    6. The teacher served cookies to the children wrapped in aluminum foil.
    7. The mysterious woman walked toward the car holding an umbrella.
    8. We returned the wine to the waiter that was sour.
    9. Charlie spotted a stray puppy driving home from work.
    10. I ate nothing but a cold bowl of noodles for dinner.

    Dangling Modifiers

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    A dangling modifier (or simply a dangler) is a word, phrase, or clause that describes something that has been left out of the sentence. When there is nothing that the word, phrase, or clause can modify, then the modifier is said to dangle.

    Incorrect

    Riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by.

    Correct

    As Jane was riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by.

    In the incorrect sentence, riding in the sports car is dangling. The reader is left wondering who is riding in the sports car. The writer must tell the reader.

    Incorrect

    Walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

    Correct

    As Jonas was walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

    -or-

    The trees looked like spooky aliens as Jonas was walking home at night.

    In the incorrect sentence walking home at night is dangling. Who is walking home at night? Jonas. Note that there are two different ways the dangling modifier can be corrected.

    Incorrect

    To win the spelling bee, Luis and Gerard should join our team.

    Correct

    If we want to win the spelling bee, Luis and Gerard should join our team.

    In the incorrect sentence, to win the spelling bee is dangling. Who wants to win the spelling bee? We do.

    PastedImage_um8kq3pqaxx3x9e18fcr5cur08jyxyrd001290833377.pngFollowing these steps will help you correct a dangling modifier:
    Look for a modifying phrase at the beginning of your sentence and underline the noun that immediately follows it. If the modifying phrase does not describe the underlined noun, then you have a dangler.

    The example below opens with a participial phrase:

    Incorrect

    Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished.

    Correct

    Painting for three hours at night, Maggie finally finished the kitchen.

    The kitchen is the room that was painted, but who did the painting? A noun referring to that person should immediately follow the participial phrase. Since Maggie did the painting, her name follows the participial phrase.

    Exercise: Repair the Dangling Modifiers

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    Rewrite the following the sentences to correct the dangling modifiers:

    1. Bent over backward, the posture was very challenging.
    2. Reading Kierkegaard's Either/Or, decisions are becoming difficult.
    3. Walking in the dark, a picture was knocked off the wall.
    4. Playing my guitar in the bedroom, the cat darted under the bed.
    5. Planning for the soccer tournament, time was short.
    6. Living in Mexico, learning Spanish was easy.
    7. Driving to the veterinarian’s office, the dog whined nervously.
    8. With sky-rocketing crime rates, I moved to a quiet village.
    9. Piled up next to the bookshelf, I chose a romance novel.
    10. Chewing furiously, the gum fell out of my mouth.

    Exercise: Correct the Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

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    Rewrite the following paragraph correcting all the misplaced and dangling modifiers:

    I bought a fresh loaf of bread for my sandwich shopping in the grocery store. Wanting to make a delicious sandwich, the mayonnaise was thickly spread. Placing the cold cuts on the bread, the lettuce was placed on top. I cut the sandwich in half with a knife turning on the radio. Biting into the sandwich, my favorite song blared loudly in my ears. Humming and chewing, my sandwich went down smoothly. Smiling, my sandwich will be made again, but next time I will add cheese.

    Key Takeaways

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    Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

    • Misplaced and dangling modifiers make sentences difficult to understand.
    • Misplaced and dangling modifiers distract the reader.
    • There are several effective ways to identify and correct misplaced and dangling modifiers.
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