In the previous post we discussed the basics of sentence structure. Here we look at a few common errors that even native speakers make.
A sentence needs a subject and a predicate, if one of these are missing we have a sentence fragment. This is a very common error, and also very easy to spot. Fragments are annoying to read as it leaves questions in a readers mind, and a reader loses time going back over previous sentences to try and understand what´s missing.
- Running through the trees. (Missing the subject. What is running through the trees?)
- Missing the subject (Better to write: “The subject is missing.”, or “The sentence is missing a subject.”)
Very occasionally a writer will use a fragment for effect. However, this requires skill and is only used sparingly. In scientific writing, it is best to keep your writing clear and unambiguous, so avoid the fragment.
- Assumed subject
The fragment is often associated with an “assumed subject”. While an assumed subject is often the norm in some languages if the subject was mentioned in the previous sentence, in English it is necessary to repeat the subject for clarity.
“19789 patients were recruited for the study. 14% tested positive for anaemia.”
While in these two sentences it is relatively obvious what the assumed subject of the second sentence is, in longer sentences this may become confusing.
For clarity it is best to repeat the subject – “19789 patients were recruited for the study. 14% of these patients tested positive for anaemia.”
Alternatively, combine the two sentences.
- Comma Splices
A comma splice is when you take two separate sentences and join them with a comma. Luckily, it is easy to spot and even easier to fix.
John ran down to the store, it was closing in 5 minutes.
- Separate into two sentences
John ran down to the store. The store was closing in 5 minutes.
- Use a semicolon
John ran down to the store; it was closing in 5 minutes
- Use a coordinating conjunction after the comma
John ran down to the store, because it was closing in 5 minutes.
We´ll cover a few more common errors over the next few posts.