Tag Archives: mistakes in writing

Things that make editors pull out their hair, day 1: Fragments, Run-ons, and Comma Splices

A fellow editor shared three essential handouts that are perfect for explaining some of the most common issues seen in writing, particularly with newbie authors. I will post them on separate days so they can be properly absorbed.

 

Fragments, Comma Splices, and Run-ons

This group of errors is one of the most widespread among writers, and it’s a problem not only because it’s incorrect but also because it muddies meaning. If a manuscript doesn’t have coherent ideas in coherent sentences, the flow of thought breaks down.

  • Fragments: lack subjects (main nouns) or predicates (main verbs), or may be a dependent clause which has not been joined to an independent clause.
  • Comma splices: independent clauses joined with a comma
  • Run-on sentences: independent clauses joined with no punctuation

FRAGMENTS
When checking for fragments, apply these three tests:

  1. Look for a verb. Every sentence must have a main verb.
  2. Look for a subject. Every sentence must have a main subject.
  3. Look for subordinating conjunctions (when, while, because, etc.) or relative pronouns (who, which, that). Subordinating conjunctions are used to construct dependentadverbial clauses; relative pronouns are used to construct dependent adjectival clauses. If you suspect a passage is a fragment, the presence of these words will likely prove it is.

How to fix fragments:

If the fragment is a dependent clause:

  • Convert the dependent clause to an independent clause by eliminating subordinating conjunctions or by substituting the antecedent or personal pronoun for the relative pronoun.

Examples:

  1. Even though the president attended the meeting.

RevisedEven though The president attended the meeting.

  1. While Americans keep recycling the same old cliches.

RevisedWhile Americans keep recycling the same old cliches.

  1. Many students, who might read more often.

Revised: Many students who might read more often.
RevisedMany students They who might read more often.

 

If the fragment is a noun phrase (has no main verb) or a verbal phrase (verbs and associated words not functioning as a main verb):

Revising verbal phrases

Restore the subject, or join the phrase to a complete independent clause.
Example:

  • Crossing out the word very.

Revised: Bob Smith crossing crossed out the word very.
Revised: Crossing out the word very, Bob Smith edited the magazine article rigorously.

 

Revising Infinitive phrases functioning as nouns

Rewrite as an independent clause by linking it to a subject and predicate
Example:

  • To delete the word very.

Revised: Johnson prefers to delete the word very when copyediting.

 

Revising prepositional phrases functioning as modifiers

Join the prepositional phrase to an independent clause, usually the sentence before or after.
Example:

  • With its emphasis on informal communication.

Revised: With its emphasis on informal communication, email is today’s communication media of choice.

 

Revising separated compound predicates.

Compound predicates are two main verbs (with connected words) linked with a coordinating conjunction like and or but. When one half of this construction is separated with a period, it becomes a fragment. To correct it, either give the fragment its own subject, or rejoin the two halves.
Example:

  • The process of maturation is lifelong. But is most critical during adolescence.

Revised: The process of maturation is lifelong. But this process is most critical during adolescence.
Revised: The process of maturation is lifelong but is most critical during adolescence.

 

COMMA SPLICES & RUN-ON SENTENCES

Comma splices are simply joining two independent clauses with commas; run-on sentences do the same thing without punctuation.

How to identify comma splices and run-on sentences:

  1. Look for sentences which explain, expand an idea, or link an example to an idea. Often these are run-ons.
  2. Using pronouns like he, she, they, it, this, or that in the same sentence as the antecedent usually signals a run-on sentence or comma splice.
  3. Look for conjunctive adverbs (however, furthermore, thus, therefore, etc.) and transitional expressions (for example, on the other hand) often signal run-on sentences or comma splices
  4. Example: Comma splice: I’ve said it before, I love you.

Run-on: I’ve said it before I love you.
Strategies for fixing comma splices and run-on sentences:

  1. Link by making two separate sentences.

Example: I’ve said it before, I love you.
Revised:  I’ve said it before. I love you.

 

 

  1. Link by adding a conjunction.

Example: She wanted cookies, he baked a cake.
Revised:  She wanted cookies, but he baked a cake.

  1. Link by using a semicolon.

Example: I’ve said it before, I love you.

 

Revised:  I’ve said it before; I love you.

 

  1. Link by using a subordinating conjunction (where, while, when, because)

Example: She wanted cookies, he baked a cake.
Revised:  While she wanted cookies, he baked a cake.

 

So…recognize any of these bad habits? What techniques do you use to make sure your writing is flowing smoothly?

 

 

So…s

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Common errors

There are certain phrases that are commonly misspelled or misused.  A brief list includes:

Your (possessive) vs. You’re (contraction of you are)

To (direction or part of infinitive verb) vs. Too (also)

Complement (something that adds to or completes) vs. Compliment (admiring comment)

Mantel (on a fireplace) vs. Mantle (cloak)

Aureole (halo) vs. Areola (area on nipple)  (NB:  plural of areola is areolae or areolas)

Timber (wood) vs. Timbre (quality of sound–as in voice)

Fiance (male) vs. Fiancee (female)

Blond (male or female) vs. Blonde (female only)

Tenant (occupant) vs Tenet (doctrine)

Adrenalin (brand name) vs Adrenaline (hormone)

Carpal tunnel (not carpel) is a condition of the wrist that causes entrapment of the median nerve