Striking Fear in Writers: Sentence Structure Errors

Three errors in fundamental sentence structure strike terror into the heart of any writer.   These three errors, the fragment, the comma splice, and the run-on, are occasionally referred to as “The Axis of Evil.”  Luckily, a little bit of knowledge and one single phrase can help you identify these egregious errors.

What you need to know is that these three errors all center on the same concept – what is a complete sentence?  The fragment is an incomplete sentence, and run-ons and comma splices are two (or more) complete sentences written as one.  Essentially, all you need to be able to correct these errors is the ability to identify whether or not a sentence (or part of a sentence) is a complete thought.

To do this, all you need to do is ask, “Is it true that…” and read the sentence (or part of a sentence) you’re unsure of.  For example, if I asked, “Is it true that while I was running down the street?” would you be able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’?  In this case, the question makes no sense because “While I was running down the street” is a dependent clause, an incomplete sentence.  If I asked, “Is it true that I was running down the street?” you could answer, “Yes, you were running” or “No, you were not running,” which means, “I was running down the street,” is a complete sentence.  “How does this help me?” you must be wondering.  Well, this depends on the error.  If you were worried that what you had is a fragment, this could confirm that it is or reassure you that it is not.

A change in perspective is necessary if your worries are more about run-ons and comma splices.  The sentence, “I was running down the street I tripped,” is a run-on.  If I wanted to see if that was correct, I would simply cover one potential sentence and ask, “Is it true that I was running down the street?” This would tell me that yes, I have at least one complete sentence here.  I would then cover the first part and ask, “Is it true that I tripped?” Bingo! I have two complete sentences.  The same process works with the comma splice, “I was running down the street, I tripped.”  Both the run-on and the comma splice are easily corrected by inserting a period between the two sentences.

For interesting and proper ways of connecting multiple sentences/clauses, tune in next time for: Varying Your Sentences.

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