Sentences are the vehicles that carry our ideas. If a sentence breaks down, our ideas don’t get where they are supposed to go.
Before your writing hits the road, you should check for common causes of breakdowns: sentence fragments, run-ons, comma splices, and rambling sentences.
What is a sentence fragment?
Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and express a complete thought. If a group of words is lacking any of those parts, it is a fragment.
Wanted a look at the spreadsheet (missing subject)
The head of our production department (missing verb)
When we reviewed the numbers (missing complete thought)
You fix a sentence fragment by adding what is missing.
The production team wanted a look at the spreadsheet. (new subject)
The head of our production department provided access. (new verb)
When we reviewed the numbers, we discovered a budget surplus. (new complete thought)
What are run-on sentences?
A run-on sentence occurs when two separate sentences are joined together without punctuation or a conjunction.
We celebrate birthdays at the end of each month this month I celebrate my birthday.
You fix a run-on by using a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) to join the two sentences.
We celebrate birthdays at the end of each month, and this month I celebrate my birthday.
You could also use a semicolon.
We celebrate birthdays at the end of each month; this month I celebrate my birthday.
What is a comma splice?
A comma splice occurs when a comma alone joins two sentences.
We order just one cake, everyone wants chocolate velvet.
You fix a comma splice by adding a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) after the comma.
We order just one cake, and everyone wants chocolate velvet.
You could also use just a semicolon.
We order just one cake; everyone wants chocolate velvet.
What is a rambling sentence?
A rambling sentence occurs when you dump too many loosely related ideas into one sentence.
Many of our new product lines performed better than expected while others of them did not do as well as expected, which might show that our expectations weren’t on target or that the market had some surprises for us, all of which means that we ought to invest in more thorough market research during our R&D phase for new products to create a more on-target market development and launch experience than we had last year, or really the last three years if you look back at it.
You fix a rambling sentence by deleting unimportant ideas and splitting what remains into manageable sentences.
Many of our new product lines performed better than expected. Others fell below expectations. Perhaps we ought to invest in more thorough market research to create more on-target launches of new products.