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The Wrong Stuff: Run-ons, Comma Splices, and Fragments
Good writers avoid run-on sentences, comma splices, and sentence
fragments. To do this, they use the correct punctuation to join
two complete ideas or independent clauses.
First, you might need to refresh your memory about independent
clauses. An independent clause contains a complete idea expressed with
a subject and a verb (and without the words that begin subordinate aka
dependent clauses). Every sentence has at least one independent
The Correct Ways to Join Two Independent Clauses:
Independent clause , (comma) coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, for, so, yet, nor), independent clause I went to the store, and she went to a friend's house.
Independent clause ; (semicolon) independent clause I went to the store; she went to a friend's house.
Independent clause : (colon) independent clause I went to the store: I needed some milk. [Use this when the second clause explains or gives an example of the first.]
When using a semicolon to join clauses, use a conjunctive adverb like however after the semicolon where you would normally use but.
I wanted ice cream, but she wanted cotton candy. I wanted ice cream; however, she wanted cotton candy.
What Happens When You Don't Join Them Correctly? Bad Times!
Many students come from the junior high thinking a run-on sentence is
merely an extra long sentence, one that runs on and on. How wrong
they are! That's probably why some grammar books use the term
"fused sentence." However, even that term isn't all that
precise. If I were king, I would decree that from henceforth the
run-on sentence would be called the fender bender sentence. See if you agree with my decree based on this information: a run-on
sentence occurs when one idea (independent clause) runs into another
idea without appropriate conjunctions or punctuation. Fender bender works for me. A second choice would be "the runs-into sentence."
I went to the store she went to a friend's house. Call the
cops! Fender bender here! One idea ran into another without
the cushion of proper punctuation/conjunctions. Somebody's
insurance is going up, and their grade is going down.
When you splice something, like electrical wires, you join them
together. In a sentence if you try to join two ideas with just a
comma and leave out the coordinating conjunction, you're guilty of a
I went to the the store, she went to a friend's house. How ugly is that?
If you leave out a subject or verb, instead of a complete idea, you have just a piece or fragment of one.
Went to the store. Went to a friend's house. Without a
subject, these are just fragments. They happen often when
you answer a question in a lazy way.
Here's another way to have a sentence fragment: having a
dependent clause all by itself. Since all clauses have a subject
and a verb, a dependent clause has both. However, and
ironically, even with both a subject and a verb, a dependent or
subordinate clause does not express a complete idea. By placing
one additional word in front of the subject and verb combo, you create
a dependent clause.
Because I went to the store. When
she went to a friend's house. Both of these are fragments because
when that one word was added, they lost the ability to express a
complete idea and now must depend (hence the name dependent clause) on
an independent clause to make sense. Sometimes, more is less. The because example happens a lot in response to Why...? questions.
Because I went to the store, I missed my favorite TV show. When
she went to a friend's house, she ate too much pizza. These work
because an independent clause is there for the dependent clause to lean
on. Dependent clauses are also called subordinate clauses because
subordinate means of lesser importance or authority, and good writers
place their important ideas in independent clauses and less important
ideas in subordinate clauses.
Clauses Here you will find the words that can begin dependent (subordinate) clauses and more information about clauses.