good sentences. However, to be effective, sentences
must be grammatically correct. In addition, they should
be well-chosen and effectively combined with a goal of
clarity, emphasis and interest. These goals are often
thrown off target by any one of a variety of common
errors in sentence structure.
necessary parts a subject and a predicate, or verb. It
In terms of grammar, writers are frequently at fault
for writing incomplete sentences. For a sentence to
express a complete thought, it must contain two
is possible, of course, for the subject to be understood,
rather than stated, but you should be sure in such cases
that it is clearly implied.
Some examples of incomplete sentences include the
sightseeing tour as subject has not been
The sightseeing tour, which was arranged for the
liberty party. (There is no main verb. The relative
clause has a verb, was arranged, but what
appears to have been intended as a statement with
A tall, thin man with owlish spectacles and a bald
head. (The verb is omitted.)
Floated toward the beaches. (Here the subject is
omitted. What floated?)
Just as the searchlight swept across the harbor.
(This tells when something happened, but the
main statement is still incomplete.)
Bailey, the new striker, looking as if he would
burst-with pride. (There are modifiers here for the
subject, Bailey, but no main statement about
Often an incomplete sentence results from the
writers failure to recognize that a modifying phrase or
clause is really part of the preceding sentence. For
instance, a comma should be used instead of the first
period in the following example:
Steaming eastward through the Caribbean.
The result in this case is one complete sentence
instead of a sentence followed by a fragment.
You should not be misled by the fact that some
writers deliberately construct incomplete sentences at
times. As the late Emily Post once said about etiquette:
Well-bred persons sometimes break some of the rules;
but to break them and getaway with it, you first have to
It is true that fractured sentences may occasionally
produce the desired effect, but be sure you know why
they are being used and that they are suitable to what is
being written. Many regard a sentence that begins with
but, or another connective, as incorrect, largely
because the connective standing first seems to indicate
a fragment. In this instance, the rule may be ignored
occasionally, if by doing so you achieve a more effective
Another common error in sentence structure is the
punctuation of two or more sentences as if they were
one. This usually occurs with sentences that are closely
related in thought. Note the following examples:
Poor: The ship held its first swim call, the water
was 4 miles deep.
Improved: The ship held its first swim call. The
water was 4 miles deep.
Often a run-on sentence is the result not only of
faulty punctuation, but of the writers failure to think the
construction through and recognize the relationships of
the various ideas. Consider the following examples:
Poor: Detailed decontamination is a lengthy
process, it is usually carried on at a home base
or rear area.
Improved: Detailed decontamination is a
lengthy process, usually carried on at a home
base or rear area.
Poor: An emergency tourniquet can be made
from something like a neckerchief, it is
wrapped once around the limb and tied in an
Improved: To apply an emergency tourniquet
made from something like a neckerchief, wrap
the material once around the limb and tie an
The cruiser was headed for the canal zone.
A writers misplacement of a modifier can confuse
the meaning of the sentence, often with ludicrous
results. Modifiers should be positioned close to the
words they modify; otherwise, they may seem to modify
something else. Haste, carelessness or lack of