Grammar and Punctuation: Sentence Structure

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1. Clauses

2. Sentence Fragments

3. Run-On Sentences

4. Parallelism

5. Dangling or Misplaced Modifiers

 

A sentence is a series of conjoined words relating to the same subject, object, and action (verb). Thus, in order to be complete, a sentence must always contain a direct or implied object, subject, and verb. The subject is the thing doing the action; the object is the thing to which the action is being done; and the verb describes the action.

1. Clauses

Two kinds of clauses exist in sentences: the independent (main) clause, which is grammatically complete and therefore can stand alone as a complete sentence, and the dependent (subordinate) clause, which is grammatically incomplete and needs to be connected somehow to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.

EXAMPLE

While the students were away during the summer, the college renovated the empty dorms.

The clause preceding the comma is dependent, and the clause proceeding the comma is independent.

2. Sentence Fragments

Fragments are often dependent clauses that haven’t been connected to an independent clause or they are incomplete because they lack a subject or verb or both.

EXAMPLES

While the students were away during the summer, the college renovated the empty dorms. Because it is difficult to get painting and repairs done when the students are living on campus.

The first sentence is complete with both a dependent and independent clause. The second “sentence” is actually just another dependent clause and therefore must be considered incomplete or a fragment. To correct the fragment, connect it to the first sentence.

Because it is difficult to get painting and repairs done when the students are living on campus, the college renovated the empty dorms while the students were away during the summer.

3. Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences contain two independent clauses that have not been joined correctly.  In other words, there is no conjunction or punctuation between the clauses. Run-ons can be rectified by inserting the missing links or punctuation.

EXAMPLES

Rhodes has needed a thriving social hangout since Briggs closed its pub over a decade ago and now that the renovation of the Lynx Lair is complete, students finally will have that much needed venue.

This run-on sentence has two independent clauses separated by the word “and” with no punctuation. In order to correct the problem, either add a comma before the “and” or replace the “and” with a semi-colon.
Rhodes has needed a thriving social hangout since Briggs closed its pub over a decade ago, and now that the renovation of the Lynx Lair is complete, students finally will have that much needed venue.

OR

Rhodes has needed a thriving social hangout since Briggs closed its pub over a decade ago; now that the renovation of the Lynx Lair is complete, students finally will have that much needed venue.

4. Parallelism

If a sentence conveys parallel ideas, then it should also employ parallel form. In other words, the language and structure of the sentence’s parts should mimic the content.

EXAMPLES
Without parallel structure:

Barret Library has provided students with a plethora of resources, and the students also have a beautiful environment for study.
Here, the ideas are parallel—the library has given students two things—but the structure of the sentence places students as the indirect object in the first clause and as the subject in the second clause.

With parallel structure:

Barret Library has provided students not only with a plethora of resources but also with a beautiful environment for study.

In the parallel example, the preposition “with” repeats, and the word pairs “not only” and “but also” link the two prepositional phrases.

EXAMPLES
Without parallel structure:

The apostrophe has three main uses: to form possessives of nouns, in a contraction, and to indicate plurals of lowercase letters.

This sentence lacks parallelism because the first and third items in the list include infinitives and plurals while the second item does not include an infinitive and is singular.

With parallel structure:

The apostrophe has three main uses: to form possessives of nouns, to create contractions, and to indicate plurals of lowercase letters.

Now all of the items in the list include infinitives and plurals, forming parallelism.

5. Dangling or Misplaced Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies either the wrong word or no word in the sentence. In other words, what the modifier modifies is not clear. This can usually be solved by rearranging the sentence. A misplaced modifier appears at the wrong place in the sentence and thus appears to modify the wrong word.

EXAMPLES
Dangling modifier:

While running across the fields, mud covered my boots.

The problem with this construction is that “mud” appears to be running. To rectify this and clarify the subject (the thing being modified), name the subject in the independent clause:

While running across the fields, I got mud on my boots.

Misplaced modifier:

I got mud on my boots while running across the field.

The problem with this construction is that “boots” appear to be doing the running when “I” should clearly be doing the running. The solution is to move the modifier next to “I.” Both the dangling and misplaced modifiers are corrected in the following example:

While running across the field, I got mud on my boots.