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Common Sentence Problems

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As I stated previously, the Seminar was geared more towards business writing, but the information is still useful.

We'll begin with Common Sentence Problems. I will include the key points for each type of problem and occasionally give an example.

Sentence Fragments

A dependent clause standing alone, trying to act as an independent idea, is not a complete sentence. The sentence does not contain a complete thought. Simply finishing the thought will correct the problem.

Example: Because it was raining.

Better: We left early because it was raining.

Note: If you reverse the sentence order so that the dependent clause comes first, always place a comma after the dependent clause.

Because it was raining, we left early.

Run-on sentences

This kind of sentence is longer than usual, contains several connected ideas, and lacks correct punctuation.

Note: The average sentence today has approximately 16 to 18 words. You can write a sentence of up to 20 words with no loss of comprehension by you reader. If a sentence goes beyond 20 words, however, many readers may have difficulty understanding it.

Modifier problems

Dangling modifiers: If the noun or pronoun being described (or modified) is not specifically named, the result can be confusing or silly.

Incorrect: Walking through the office, the computer was turned on.

Correct: Walking through the office, Mary stopped to turn on the computer.

Misplaced modifiers: If the modifier is not located near the noun or pronoun it is describing, the meaning may be ridiculous, vague, or confusing.

Incorrect: When inflated with air, four people can be carried on this raft.

Correct: When inflated with air, this raft can carry four people.

Active vs. passive voice

Verbs are at the heart of sentences and can express active, powerful thoughts. The passive voice weakens verbs.

Voice means relationship. The two most powerful sentence elements, the subject and the verb, have a specific relationship. When the subject is the performer or "doer"of the verb, that active relationship is in the 'active voice." If the subject is not the performer or "doer" of the verb, but instead is acted on by some other "doer," that passive relationship is in the "passive voice."

Active voice tends to be: clearer/simpler, more specific, shorter, easier to understand.

Passive voice tends to be: vague, confusing, longer, dull, awkward.

Sentence Parallelism:

Sentences without good parallelism may be technically grammatically correct, but lack style, polish and clarity. Parallel sentences use the parts of speech consistently.

Incorrect: The starlet demanded Golden Mountain spring water, eating freshly-picked fruit, and a Swedish massage every day.

Correct: The starlet demanded chilled spring water, fresh fruit and her own masseuse.

Dangling prepositions:

It is common to ask, "Who are you going to lunch with?" or "Who should the report go to?"

While this is acceptable in casual, informal, "slangy" conversation, writing requires a higher standard. In writing, place the noun or pronoun at the end of the sentence.

Double negatives:

Using two negatives--known as double negatives--is generally considered incorrect as it conveys a meaning opposite of what the writer intended.

Double negatives are not always inappropriate. They may occasionally be deliberately employed to express a positive or to denote sarcasm or irony.

I was not entirely unhappy to see him leave.

Incorrect reflexives:

Memo writers frequently use the reflexive pronoun -self incorrectly as a subject or a verb. A reflexive pronoun cannot not serve as a subject. It must "reflect" back to another pronoun that has already been used in the sentence.

At this point, I am including Exercise 1 - Parallelism. Feel free to post your answers here, or you can PM them to me. I will post the answers in a few days.

Rewrite these sentences that have faulty parallelism in a form that reflects consistent grammatical construction. Express parallel ideas in parallet form.

1. There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese.

2. It was both a long meeting and very productive.

3. Either you must file his request or act on it now.

4. The new accounts director has experience, dedication, and she has an extremely professional demeanor.

5. The national office rewarded Region Three for its high sales and going beyond the call of duty.

6. Antonio?s motivation to succeed in this position seems to be greater than his predecessor.

7. I have no doubt about your care and interest in the project.

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Rewrite these sentences that have faulty parallelism in a form that reflects consistent grammatical construction. Express parallel ideas in parallet form.

1. There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese.

There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese.

2. It was both a long meeting and very productive.

The meeting was both long and very productive.

3. Either you must file his request or act on it now.

You must either file his request or act on it now.

4. The new accounts director has experience, dedication, and she has an extremely professional demeanor.

The new accounts director has experience and dedication, and she has an extremely professional demeanor. [Or, break the sentence into two parts "...dedication; she also has ...."]

5. The national office rewarded Region Three for its high sales and going beyond the call of duty.

The national office rewarded Region Three for producing high sales and going beyond the call of duty. [Assuming you want to stick with the cliche 'going beyond..]

6. Antonio?s motivation to succeed in this position seems to be greater than his predecessor.

Antonio's motivation to succeed in his position seems to be greater than his predecessor's.

7. I have no doubt about your care and interest in the project.

I have no doubt that you care about and have an interest in the project.

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Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

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Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Translation: :icon11:

According to a research at an English University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that first and last letters is at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because we do not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.

Commentary:

This is true, to a degree. However, we still need the letters in roughly the right places for it to work. Someone I know took the original post on this subject and completely reversed the order of the letters of every order EXCEPT for the first and last letters -- it wasn't readable, unlike Dude's post above which I could read without problem.

Grammatical errors in the translation are not my responsibility.... :icon11:

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Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Even though something like this is obvious with spelling errors, it is readable. We did cover proofreading in the beginning. Something we were told was to help with finding spelling errors, scan each line backwards.

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It seems from a literary point of view that many of these rule are just made to be broken.

This can be seen where much of the book is in the first person tense and is in effect the thoughts of that person.

Sort of like the whole book should be in speech quotation marks. Of course this does not excuse bad grammar, just the breaking of some of the rules.

I am interested in the idea that:

Passive voice tends to be: vague, confusing, longer, dull, awkward.

Much legal and technical wording is passive voice because it allows the author an escape from being accused of claiming exactitude in a statement. This is particularly a good thing to do if you might be held responsible for the claims in a statement, such as in this sentence.

Also altering a sentence to avoid passive voice can end up with a sentence being stripped of its deliberate quality "to be: vague, confusing, longer, dull, awkward" for the purposes of the story telling. In addition avoidance of passive voice can end up reading like a bad translation of speech in a movie with the actual meaning lost in the translation/avoidance.

I usually check for passive sentences and accept them where they add to the impact I want to create in the work.

At other instances I find the opportunity to change the wording for the better. It helps.

So in general I think the above discussion on rules is most helpful and useful. If it helps us to write better then that is good. However, I don't want the rules to be used like a modern legal business Nazi and stifle spontaneity.

I'd rather have a few badly constructed sentences than not have the thought expressed at all.

Discussions like this can of course help to minimise those bad constructions. :icon11:

Just my thoughts.

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As I stated previously, the Seminar was geared more towards business writing, but the information is still useful.

We'll begin with Common Sentence Problems. I will include the key points for each type of problem and occasionally give an example.

Sentence Fragments

A dependent clause standing alone, trying to act as an independent idea, is not a complete sentence. The sentence does not contain a complete thought. Simply finishing the thought will correct the problem.

Example: Because it was raining.

Better: We left early because it was raining.

Note: If you reverse the sentence order so that the dependent clause comes first, always place a comma after the dependent clause.

Because it was raining, we left early.

Unless for effect. (And that's a sentence fragment.)

I would caution that it is possible to produce stilted prose by always following some of the "rules" of writing. There are at least three elements to prose fiction?that?I'll?use?as?examples.

  1. Exposition
  2. Dialogue
  3. Introspective

I use exposition to mean the narrative voice?(whichever?point?of?view?is?chosen) unfolding the plot. ?If the narrative is first person then I think that the writer should aim for a degree of naturalness which may involve a relaxation of certain of the rules. When the narrative is cast in third person, on the other hand, I think a greater attention to grammatical detail is important as it contributes to the neutrality of the diction. In first person narrative the reader can expect to have the voice coloured by the character. In third person the narrative should lean to characterlessness.

Active vs. passive voice

Verbs are at the heart of sentences and can express active, powerful thoughts. The passive voice weakens verbs.

Voice means relationship. The two most powerful sentence elements, the subject and the verb, have a specific relationship. When the subject is the performer or "doer"of the verb, that active relationship is in the 'active voice." If the subject is not the performer or "doer" of the verb, but instead is acted on by some other "doer," that passive relationship is in the "passive voice."

Active voice tends to be: clearer/simpler, more specific, shorter, easier to understand.

Passive voice tends to be: vague, confusing, longer, dull, awkward.

But (a word with which one should never begin a sentence) there are times when passive voice is of course the best choice, often because it allows us to avoid naming the agent of some action: we can avoid apportioning responsibility or blame. Passive voice sentences are on average shorter (this was tested by the London-Lund Corpus Linguistics Project).

Dangling prepositions:

It is common to ask, "Who are you going to lunch with?" or "Who should the report go to?"

While this is acceptable in casual, informal, "slangy" conversation, writing requires a higher standard. In writing, place the noun or pronoun at the end of the sentence.

I'm pretty sure you didn't mean this. Puttin the or pronoun at the end would produce:

Are you going to lunchwith who?

and

Should the report go to who?

I think that the rule in this case is to move the pronoun with the preposition to the front giving

With whom are you going to lunch?

and

To whom should the report go?

I don't think you can say

With who are you going to lunch

or

To who should the report go.

In this case I think the rule should be abandoned and the dangling prepositions allowed simply because the correct forms are now recognisably archaic. It would only be in the most formal circumstances that I would use the "correct" forms.

I think it was Orwell who said something about breaking any of the rules to avoid saying anything barbarous and I'd agree with him. I'd also strongly recommend that writers allow characters in dialogue to speak naturally. Speech isn't writing and dialogue should reflect that properly rather than forcing characters to address each other as though in a public meeting reading from a prepared text.

The last case is introspection. If the narrator or any character introspects in first person then I would be inclined to aim for a naturalness approaching the standard used for that character in dialogue - reproduce the voice.

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Dangling prepositions:

It is common to ask, "Who are you going to lunch with?" or "Who should the report go to?"

While this is acceptable in casual, informal, "slangy" conversation, writing requires a higher standard. In writing, place the noun or pronoun at the end of the sentence.

Ok, in trying to keep this short, since there is a lot of material in this section of the book. I left out some of the examples. To keep you from dangling any longer heres their examples.

"Who is going to lunch with you?"

and

"Who should receive copies of this report?"

Note: Try to avoid placing a preposition at the end of a sentence.

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1. There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese.

I'm mostly concerned that the French, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese have mobile communication within their own nationalities, but not amongst them.

But, who would this be raised with? :icon11:

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Here's the answers to Exercise 1.

1. There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese.

There is a market for stylish mobile communication among the French, the Italians, the Spanish, and the Portuguese.

2. It was both a long meeting and very productive.

The meeting was both long and productive.

3. Either you must file his request or act on it now.

You must either file his request or act on it now.

4. The new accounts director has experience, dedication, and she has an extremely professional demeanor.

The new accounts director has experience, dedication, and a professional demeanor.

5. The national office rewarded Region Three for its high sales and going beyond the call of duty.

The national office rewarded Region Three for selling the highest volume and going beyond the call of duty.

6. Antonio?s motivation to succeed in this position seems to be greater than his predecessor.

Antonio?s motivation to succeed in this position seems to be greater than his predecessor?s.

7. I have no doubt about your care and interest in the project.

I have no doubt about your care for and interest in the project.

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"Who is going to lunch with you?"

and

"Who should receive copies of this report?"

Note: Try to avoid placing a preposition at the end of a sentence.

I'm reminded of the old joke, where two guys are together in an office. One says, "Who should I send this to?"

The second guy says, "You should never end a sentence with a preposition."

And the first guy says, "who should I send this to, a@@hole?"

:icon11:

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