13. Sentence Boundaries

Student writers often have trouble knowing what is a sentence and what is not. Here are some of the common mistakes.

1. Run-on sentences connect two sentences without any punctuation or connecting words: 

Incorrect: Jokes are found in all cultures what people consider funny differs from culture to culture.

Correct: Jokes are found in all cultures, but what people consider funny differs from culture to culture.

 

2. A comma splice is two sentences combined with a comma. This is often done in informal writing, but not in formal, academic writing: 

Incorrect: She was planning to walk to work, instead, she drove her car.

 

There are three ways to fix a comma splice: by making two sentences,  by using a semicolon, or by using a connecting word.

Correct:

She was planning to walk to work. Instead, she drove her car.

She was planning to walk to work; instead, she drove her car.

She was planning to walk to work, but instead, she drove her car/ She was planning to walk to work, but she drove her car instead.

Often, the connecting word is the best choice.

3. A subordinate clause that begins with an adverbial expression cannot stand alone as a sentence. (See Grammar handout #4 to see a list of adverbial expressions. They are also called subordinating conjunctions.) 

Incorrect: Until we finish this lesson.

Correct: We won’t take a break until we finish this lesson.

Incorrect: Although Mrs. Tan has lived in the United States for many years and reads and understands English well.

Correct: Although Mrs. Tan has lived in the United States for many years and reads and understands English well, some people still have trouble understanding her when she speaks.

4. An adjective clause is part of a noun phrase. It does not finish the sentence. If you have a noun followed by an adjective clause, your sentence still needs a verb and probably an object or complement: 

Incorrect: Teachers who give too much homework and never explain anything.

Correct: I don’t like teachers who give too much homework and never explain anything. 

Incorrect: The restaurant where I work, which is only a few blocks from here.

Correct: The restaurant where I work, which is only a few blocks from here, is very busy at lunchtime.

 

5. A noun phrase cannot stand alone as a sentence. Sometimes verbals like a gerund or an infinitive are part of a noun phrase. They are not the verb that you need for a complete sentence: 

Incorrect: Running around Lake Merritt every morning and trying to be careful about his diet.

Correct: In order to lose weight, he is running around Lake Merritt every morning and trying to be careful about his diet.

Incorrect: To fill out a job application or answer questions in an interview.

Correct: When I first came to this country, I didn’t know enough English to
fill out a job application or answer questions in an interview.
 

6. When you add a sentence with new information, be sure to add it in the form of a complete sentence: 

Incorrect: Some pets are expensive to maintain. For example, the horse.
Correct: Some pets are expensive to maintain, for example, the horse 
OR Some pets, like horses, are difficult to maintain.

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