Once you have the first draft of your essay, the next step is to fine-tune what you’ve written to create your final essay. This and the following two chapters will be Your Writer’s Toolbox – important information about sentences, the mechanics of language, and the style of writing. Review these chapters in advance of sitting down to prepare your final draft.

Covered in This Chapter

  • Parts of speech. Learn these pieces of the language puzzle.
  • Simple sentences. These are the most basic types of sentences, with one subject and one verb.
  • Complex sentences. These contain both a dependent clause and an independent clause (a clause that can stand alone).
  • Compound sentences. These contain two independent clauses separated by a semicolon or a word from a list called “FANBOYS,” which are those conjunctions that can separate two complete clauses.
  • Compound/complex sentences. These are a combination of compound and complex structures, with one dependent clause and two independent clauses.
  • Key problem areas. Run-on sentences, comma splices, and fragments cause problems in otherwise clear writing.
  • Parallel phrasing. Use similar word patterns for similar ideas.

Parts of Speech

A sentence is like a puzzle, and the parts of speech are the pieces. When the pieces fit, the picture they form is clear. Sentences can be as simple or as expressive as the situation dictates. No matter the length or type of sentence, most of the words you use will be one of these seven parts of speech:

  • Noun. Indicates a person, place, thing, or idea. A noun can be either plural or singular, and masculine, feminine, or neuter. Proper nouns (Lois) start with a capital letter and, unless they begin a sentence, common nouns (computer, music) do not.
  • Pronoun. Takes the place of a noun. Pronouns (I, he, she, it, them, who that, which, all) need to agree with the number and gender of the nouns they replace. (Boomer ate fast, because he was so hungry.)
  • Adjective. Describes a noun. Adjectives usually go right before the noun (happy dog, fluffy cat, radical idea).
  • Verb. Describes the action (run, play) or state of being of the noun or pronoun (be, feel, become). Verbs have tenses, including past, present, and future (ran, runs, will run). They need to agree with the subject— who or what is doing the action. (John is a soccer star; Larry and Carl are soccer stars.)
  • Adverb. Describes a verb, another adverb, or an adjective. Adverbs add missing specifics (she learns quickly; she learns very quickly; an extremely intelligent child).
  • Preposition. “Positions” other words in a sentence. Prepositions (about, above, between, in, on) show the relationship between nouns (above the clouds, between two people).
  • Conjunction. Connects other words, parts of a sentence, or one idea to another. Conjunctions (and, or, but, because) join elements (I like both rap and rock music; I want an iPad, but I can’t afford one).

Sentences

Now let’s learn more about the basic building blocks of your writing—sentences. In fact, this is where the real writing begins. By real writing we mean more than just stating facts or opinions; real writing is how you state your facts and opinions.

What You Need to Know

There are four types of sentences: simple, complex, compound, and com- pound/complex. When you use a variety of types, your essay will be stron- ger, and so will your overall writing. A sentence may express emotions, give orders, make statements, or ask a question. Every sentence must express a complete thought, and it must contain at least one subject-verb combination.

Sentences have two parts:

  • The subject, which is a noun or pronoun, commonly indicates what the sentence is about or who or what performs the action in the sentence. (Joe bought new shoes.)
  • The predicate, which contains one or more verbs, tells something about the subject and serves to make an assertion or denial about the subject of the sentence. (Karen is always helping people.)
What You Need to Do

To make your essays more interesting, use a mixture of sentence types to vary your sentence structure and length. If you use only one type of sentence, your writing, generally, becomes boring.

Simple Sentences. The most basic type of sentence, simple sentences have only one subject and one verb.

Butterflies flit.

Horses eat.

These sentences offer only the most basic information. But you can do a lot with the basics. Start with a simple sentence, but add prepositional phrases, adjectives, and so on to expand the sentence and give it more meaning.The bright orange-and-black Monarch butterflies energetically flit about.

This is still a simple sentence with one subject (butterflies) and one verb (flit), but we’ve made it much more descriptive. The subject-verb combination will be the heart of each sentence you write, but, remember, to be a sentence, it must contain a complete thought.

Simple sentences, such as the ones shown previously, have one subject and one verb. The subject and verb may be plural, but the sentence is still simple:

Ann and Pat (subjects) played (verb) Scrabble and ate (verb) dinner.

Complex Sentences. These contain a dependent clause (a phrase that cannot stand alone) and an independent clause (a clause that can stand alone).

When Ann and Pat played Scrabble (dependent clause), Pat usually won (independent clause).

Compound Sentences. These contain two independent clauses, separated by a semicolon or a word from a list called “FANBOYS,” which are those conjunctions that can separate two complete clauses. FANBOYS stands for:

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

Ann and Pat play Scrabble every day (independent clause), but (a FANBOYS) they never get bored (independent clause).

Compound/Complex Sentences. These are just what you’d expect— a combination of compound and complex structures with one dependent clause and two independent clauses.

When I got home last night (dependent clause), my mother was wait- ing up for me (independent clause); she was really upset (indepen- dent clause).

Key Problem Areas

The most common problems that arise while writing sentences are:

  • Run-on sentences
  • Comma splices
  • Fragments

Once you recognize these missteps, you’ll be able to fix them. A run-on sentence has two complete thoughts improperly joined:

I went to the movie last night I really enjoyed it.

To correct, use a FANBOYS or a semicolon between the two complete thoughts, or change to two complete sentences:

I went to the movie last night, and I really enjoyed it.

I went to the movie last night; I really enjoyed it.

I went to the movie last night. I really enjoyed it.

A comma splice, like a run-on sentence, has two complete thoughts improperly joined but this time by a comma.

I texted Jerry, he couldn’t answer because he was in class.

To correct, you can change the comma to a semicolon, or add a FANBOYS:

I texted Jerry, but he couldn’t answer because he was in class.

A fragment, on the other hand, is an incomplete thought and can really confuse your readers.

Although I am always on time with my assignments for English class.

So? This can be fixed by removing the qualifying word although for a complete sentence:

I am always on time with my assignments for English class. (Note that eliminating “although” can change your intended meaning.)

Or you can change the period to a comma and add a complete thought to form a complete sentence:

Although I am always on time with my assignments for English class, yesterday I was late.

Following are some hints to help you discover and correct run-on sentences, comma splices, and fragments:

Run-on sentences or comma splices. Read until you find a complete thought. Then read the rest of the sentence. If the rest of the sentence is also a complete thought, separate the thoughts with a FANBOYS, a semi- colon, or a period.

Jenny, my fitness instructor at the gym, received an award for teaching (complete thought) she was so thrilled (another complete thought, so you need a FANBOYS, semicolon, or period to separate the thoughts).

Fragments. Check to be sure you have a subject, a verb, and a complete thought.

Edward, one of the nicest men I know (incomplete thought—so what about Edward?) asked me for a date. (Aah!)

Parallel Phrasing

The rule of parallel phrasing states that we should use similar word patterns for similar ideas, either within a sentence or within a list of items. Unparallel phrasing is not only grammatically incorrect, it creates awkward sentences that distract readers from getting information clearly and accurately

Parallel phrasing is a strategy that will:

  • Untangle thoughts.
  • Clarify relationships.
  • Move sentences out of chaos and into order.

Unparallel: I like biking, hiking, and to sail.

Parallel: I like biking, hiking, and sailing.

Unparallel: The audit focused on three criteria:

1. Employee-performance monitoring systems; 2. How projects are managed; 3. Organizational structure was also evaluated

Parallel: The audit focused on three criteria:

1. Employee-performance monitoring systems; 2. Project management; 3. Organizational structure.

Practice Sentences

For practice, take a look at the following sentences, and underline the subject once and the verb twice. You’re looking for the subject and verb only in the independent clause. Although the dependent clauses may have subjects and verbs, they are not complete thoughts and so are not sentences. See the Answer Key at the end of this book for the results.

Example: If I had more time, I would travel more.

1. Before the football game at the stadium, we all ate dinner at Mary’s.

2. The game can change in minutes because all the players are skilled.

3. Beside the pond, an egret waddled by on spindly legs.

4. Once she developed her thesis statement, the essay became easy to write.

5. He went to the soccer game even though he had lots of homework to do.

Practice Sentence Fixes

Test your ability to identify these possible missteps. In the following exersise, correct run-on sentences with a semicolon or a FANBOYS, and correct fragments by adding an independent clause. Remember—each sentence must have an independent clause. See the Answer Key at the end of this book for possible fixes.

Example: Although they had been friends for years.

Although they had been friends for years, they had an awful fight.

1. They were out playing he was studying.

2. After about 10 days in Italy.

3. I wanted to buy a little gondola, my mother wouldn’t let me.

4. After our trip, which took almost two weeks.

5. If I had only studied for that English test.