Working with Sentences
Depending on the way you combine independent and dependent clauses,
you create one of four basic types of sentences.
When you begin revising
your academic writing,
read your paper out loud SIMPLE SENTENCES have one independent clause.
to see how smoothe your Riba Taylor’s students offered creative ideas during Tuesday’s class.
sentence construction is.
A sentence needs
The hungry jackrabbit nibbled grass in the cemetery.
revising if it is difficult
to read properly for COMPOUND SENTENCES have two independent clauses.
meaning or if you
stumble over certain The classroom was warm, and the students were drowsy.
combinations of words. The gray cat was tired, so she stopped trying to catch the bird.
If that’s the case, try
reorganizing its parts.
COMPLEX SENTENCES have one independent clause and one or more
“When the dependent clause comes first, a comma is necessary.
A comma isn’t necessary when the dependent clause is last.”(BW)
COMPOUND/COMPLEX SENTENCES have two or more independent clauses
and one or more dependent clauses.
Although the classroom was warm and the students were drowsy,
they participated eagerly in the discussion, and the instructor was
pleased that they were exchanging ideas in such an avid manner.
Remember to pay attention to clarity and emphasis when you combine clauses
in a sentence. You want to be sure that your sentences are grammatically
correct, but you also want to examine them for meaning and emphasis.
(And remember to always read them aloud to see if they read smoothly.)
A fragment is an incomplete sentence. The most common fragments are
missing either a subject or a verb. Another common fragment is a dependent
clause or a prepositional phrase that appears by itself.
Participated in the class discussion. (missing subject)
The students talking in the classroom. (incomplete verb)
Although the classroom was warm. (dependent clause)
There are times when a professional writer may use a sentence fragment to
call attention to something or to elicit an emotional response from her readers.
Until you are a proficient writer and entirely certain of all “proper” usage, avoid
fragments in your academic writing. (If you are a proficient writer, it wouldn’t
hurt to check with your instructor before completing an assignment to see
if they will accept an occasional intentional sentence fragment in your papers.)
Run-on sentences (fused sentences and comma splices)
These happen when you try to link thoughts in one sentence but don’t
combine them correctly. The fused sentence is a sentence where two
complete sentences have been mistakenly joined.
The classroom was warm the students were drowsy.
The comma slice is when a comma is inserted between the two independent
clauses (perhaps in an attempt to correct or avoid the fused sentence).
The classroom was warm, the students were drowsy.
There are a variety of ways to correct these errors. The simplest way
(and perhaps the safest if you are unsure) is to make them two complete
The classroom was warm. The students were drowsy.
Another option is to combine them with a comma and a coordinating
conjunction, as in my earlier example.
The classroom was warm, and the students were drowsy.
Or use a semicolon to correct the error.
The classroom was warm; the students were drowsy.
Or change one of the sentences to a dependent clause.
begin with one of The students were drowsy because the classroom was warm.
Other sentence problems to watch for
as, as if Another common problem for novice (and sometimes not-so-novice!) writers
before is the so-called “wandering” sentence—the one that just goes on and on,
how meandering from here to there. It may be grammatically correct, but chances
if, even if
in order that
are you are losing your reader somewhere along the way. You’d be better off
since breaking it down into smaller sentences.
that, so that
until Sentences that repeat a thought are also something to keep an eye out for.
what, whatever Try to “clean them up” so that they read clearly without unnecessary repetition.
I liked the movie so much I saw it twice, and the second time, it was
which, whichever just as good as the first time I saw it. (repetitious)
who, whom, whose
I liked the movie just as much when I saw it the second time. (clear)
Sources: Between Worlds: A Reader, Rhetoric, and Handbook by Susan Bachmann and Melinda Barth (Longman, 2001) 2
Writing by Doing: Learning to Write Effectively by David Sohn and Edward Enger (National Textbook Company, 1990)