Sentence problems

The structure of sentences can be a problem for students. You need to be able to identify and revise problem sentences so that your writing is technically correct. When you are communicating in Standard English (as required for academic writing), sentences are used to convey a complete thought. As such, all sentences must have the correct grammatical elements and punctuation expected of English sentences. This page introduces you to two common sentence problems that you should be aware of and help with correct punctuation in your writing and proofreading:

Grammar checkers will not help you much with your sentences (about 20-50% accuracy). Sometimes, you will see a green line to warn you to check for sentence fragments or run-on sentences. This signal may be incorrect or miss sentence errors altogether, so proofread your work yourself as well as using the grammar checker.

Identifying and revising sentence fragments

Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences, so they make your writing grammatically incorrect. Most often, punctuation revisions can be used to correct the problem. Sometimes, you will need to rearrange the sentence order and structure to correct the problem. There are four different types of sentence fragments that do not follow the rules for sentence structure.

A sentence is a fragment if it does not have a subject.

INCORRECT: By researching in the library or online is part of the assignment writing process. (No subject)

Possible revisions: 

CORRECT: Researching in the library or online is part of the assignment writing process. (By dropping the preposition ‘by’, the incorrect part of the sentence becomes the subject.)

CORRECT: Part of the assignment writing process is to research in the library or online. (The sentence has been rearranged.)

 

A sentence is a fragment if it does not have a main verb.

INCORRECT: Undergraduates working through their course and then on to postgraduate studies. (No main verbs)

Possible revision – add main verbs:

CORRECT: Undergraduates worked through their course and then went on to postgraduate studies.

 

A sentence is a fragment if it does not have a subject and a main verb.

INCORRECT: Students can achieve a range of marks. From a fail to a high distinction (No subject, no main verb.)

Possible revision – join the fragment to the preceding sentence, so that the sentence has a subject and a main verb:

CORRECT: Students can achieve a range of marks from a fail to a high distinction.

 

A sentence is a fragment if it does not make complete sense on its own, even if there is a subject and a main verb. A sentence must express at least one complete idea, without which you will be left asking a question: usually What? or Why?

INCORRECT: The university did not gain the enrolments it was seeking. Although the new units doubled student numbers. (The second ‘sentence’ has a subject and a main verb, but does not make sense by itself as a unit of meaning.)

Possible revisions – join the ideas together to make a single sentence that completes the idea:

CORRECT: The university did not gain the enrolments it was seeking even though the new units doubled student numbers.

CORRECT: Although the new units doubled student numbers, the university did not gain the enrolments it was seeking.

CORRECT: The university did not gain the enrolments it was seeking in spite of doubled student numbers in new units.

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Identifying and revising run-on sentences

Run-on sentences occur when simple sentences (independent clauses) are joined incorrectly, so they make your writing grammatically incorrect. Most often, punctuation revisions can be used to correct the problem. Sometimes, you will need to rearrange the sentence order and structure. There are three main types of run-on sentences that do not follow the rules for sentence structure.

A sentence is a fused run-on if two or more independent clauses are run together without any punctuation.

INCORRECT: Lecturers were unknown the students were expected to introduce themselves. (Two sentences run-on)

Possible revisions:

CORRECT: The lecturers were unknown. The students were expected to introduce themselves. (Two simple sentences formed from one run-on sentence)

CORRECT: The lecturers were unknown; therefore, the students were expected to introduce themselves. (Sentence connector used to rectify the problem)

 

A sentence has a comma splice when two or more independent clauses are run together with only a comma.

INCORRECT: The dates of exam periods can be viewed online, they are scheduled at the end of each semester.

Possible revisions:

CORRECT: The dates of exam periods can be viewed online. They are scheduled at the end of each semester. (Make two sentences.)

CORRECT: The dates of exam periods can be viewed online; they are scheduled at the end of each semester. (Use a semicolon.)

CORRECT: The dates of exam periods can be viewed online, and they are scheduled at the end of each semester. (Use sentence connectors.)

CORRECT: The dates of exam periods can be viewed online; moreover, they are scheduled at the end of each semester. (Use sentence connectors.)

 

A sentence is called an ‘and’ run-on if two or more independent clauses are joined with a conjunction and are not punctuated correctly.

INCORRECT: Students can participate in the UNE New England Award and their voluntary pursuits may count towards an honorary award at the end of their degree. (Correct punctuation missing)

CORRECT: Students can participate in the UNE New England Award, and their voluntary pursuits may count towards an honorary award at the end of their degree.

INCORRECT: Students can apply for The New England Award moreover their voluntary pursuits may assist students’ professional development at the University of New England. (Correct punctuation missing)

CORRECT: Students can apply for The New England Award; moreover, voluntary pursuits may assist students’ professional development at the University of New England.

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Using correct punctuation to join simple sentences together with a connecting word

Use a comma (,) before these words when you are using them to write compound sentences joined by coordinating conjunctions:

and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet

The dates of exam periods can be viewed online, and they are scheduled at the end of each semester.

 

Use a semicolon (;) before and a comma (,) after these words/phrases when you are using them to write compound sentences joined by adverbial conjunctions:
also, consequently, for example, furthermore, hence, however, instead, meanwhile, moreover, namely, nevertheless, on the other hand, similarly, still, that is, then, therefore, thus
The dates of exam periods can be viewed online; furthermore, they are scheduled at the end of each semester.

 

Use appropriate punctuation if you make a complex sentence to join your ideas together.
As the dates of exam periods can be viewed online, they are scheduled at the end of each semester.

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