• The Wandering Minstrel

To catch a breath

We all get a bit carried away at times, trying to talk about something exciting that's happened during the day. And we may end up talking too fast, zipping into a phrase even before the one before has sunk in, gulping the ends of words, all leading up to a rather limp ending because there is a hopelessly bewildered person in front of you!


Well, perhaps not all of us go to those extremes, but it is common nonetheless; and unfortunately, this can carry on into our writing, ruining any hopes we have of communicating with our audience.


In writing, as in speech, a pause can be deadly in its impact, if used effectively. Equally, it can make one look like a bumbling idiot if inserted in the wrong places.


The tendency to jumble up the pauses and periods in the sentences leads to the grammatical error called "sentence-boundary" error.


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When we look at all the different ways we tend to mess up the breaks in sentences, three broad categories become quite prominent.


1. Sentence Fragments: when we literally "gulp" bits of the sentence, and draw the reader into a fill-in-the-gap game, which not everyone will enjoy. For example:


Because she woke up late. x


Makes no sense at all, and missing the key words which will lend meaning and communicate something. This is a subordinate clause in need of a main clause.

Because she woke up late, she missed the train to work.


The main clause, "she missed the train to work", is a complete sentence by itself. There is normally a comma between a subordinate and a main clause.


2. Run-on Sentences: this is the classic written equivalent of talking too fast. The lack of pause between two or more sentences can lead to very disjointed writing and some dirty looks from editors, in particular. May be alright in stream-of-consciousness writing, but if you're into that kind of stuff I guess you wouldn't worry too much about grammatical rules anyway!


Bad enough with two sentences brought together in a gush of excitement:


♦ We listened to music all night my favourite song was "Boogie Fever"! x


More than two sentences, and you're in la la land:


♦ We listened to music all night my favourite song was "Boogie Fever" man was it awesome or what! x


There are three complete sentences in the second example, which can only be fixed up by using a period and a semicolon.


♦ We listened to music all night. My favourite song was "Boogie Fever"; man was it awesome, or what! ✓

Often you will find the need to place a comma or two judiciously.


3. Comma Splices: out of the three categories, this is the most commonly observed by far. I'm not quite sure why it's so prevalent, other than attributing it to laziness. It saves one the hassle of a key-stroke in capitalizing the first letter of a new sentence. Comma splices happen when we combine two complete sentences with a comma separating them. Complete sentences can have either a semicolon or a period as punctuation between them.


♦ We all watched Titanic, it was a great movie! x


You need a period to separate the two complete sentences here, so it should read:


♦ We all watched Titanic. It was a great movie! ✓


If you have what is called a "conjunctive adverb", like however, therefore, or furthermore, you may use a period or a semicolon. The decision will rest on the judgement of the editor.


♦ I felt exhausted after the day's work, however I still managed to complete the budget figures required for next-day's meeting. x


♦ I felt exhausted after the day's work; however, I still managed to complete the budget figures required for next-day's meeting.


You will be able to retain that comma, however, by adding a "conjunction", like but, so, if, for between the sentences:


♦ He could not stand the long hours, he quit his job. x


♦ He could not stand the long hours, so he quit his job. ✓


In writing, as in speech, communication is everything. The last thing you want is to place distorting elements between your idea and your reader. Being mindful of the errors I've covered in this article would ensure that your sentences don't look like half-formed, incomplete thoughts that need more work before they can be presented.


Have fun writing!


For more on this, visit: https://www2.ivcc.edu/rambo/eng1001/eng1001_identifying_errors.htm



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