ERRORS IN SENTENCE STRUCTURE

The following errors are common in sentence structures. They should be avoided or corrected promptly wherever they intrude in our writing.

(1) Sentence Fragment (or Period fault)

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence, a phrase or a subordinate clause of any kind. It may be a dependent clause, a verbal phrase, a terminal parenthetical element, or any other sentence element(s) that is carelessly written or left to stand as a sentence. (e.g. When he slept. Having seen him. That being the case. Especially to those he loves. Such as rice, maize, and millet.) Fragmentary constructions can be corrected by working the fragment or “broken’ sentence into a complete sentence construction. The dependent clause (e.g. when he slept) should be subordinated to a main clause (e.g. I was there when he slept); the verbal phrase (e.g. Having seen him) should be completed out (e.g. Having seen him, I rejoiced); and terminal parenthetical elements (e.g. Especially those he loves) should appositely fit into the end portion of a sentence (e.g. He is generous – especially to those he loves).

 

(2) Run-on Sentence (or fused Sentence)

A “run-on” (or run-together) sentence is a pauseless’ stream of independent clauses, with neither a punctuation nor a co-ordinating conjunction between the main clauses. (e:g. He is old his age affects his vision.)

Run-on’ sentences are corrected by:

(a) making the clauses separate sentences (e.g. He is old. His age affects his vision.)

(b) inserting a semicolon between the main clauses (e.g. He is old; his age affects his vision.)

(c) inserting a comma plus a co-ordinating conjunction between the clauses (e.g. He is old, and his age affects his vision), or

(d) making one of the main clauses subordinate (e.g. Because he is old, his age affects his vision.)

 

(3) Comma Splice (or comma fault)

Comma splice results when two or more main clauses are separated by only comma. (e.g. He refused to visit me, I will be in his house tomorrow.) The comma splice error can be corrected in exactly the same way as the fused sentence – by (a) sentence isolation (e.g. He refused to visit me. I will be in his house tomorrow.), (b) semicolon insertion (e.g. He refused to visit me; I will be in his house tomorrow.), (c) co-ordination (e.g. He refused to visit me, so I will be in his house tomorrow.), or (d) subordination (e.g. Because he refused to visit me, I will be in his house tomorrow.)

 

(4) Split Infinitive

When an infinitive which is and should be treated as a single grammatical unit is carelessly separated by an adverbial modifier, a split infinitive results.

Examples

Split Infinitive: She used to occasionally swim in the pool.

Revised: She used to swim in the pool occasionally

Or: She used to swim occasionally in the pool.

 

(5) Faulty Parallelism (or Sentence Imbalance)

Faulty Parallelism or sentence imbalance is a structural error which fails to observe the rule that parallel ideas call for parallel grammatical structure; for example,

FAULTY: His idea is unique, viable, and can be accepted.

IMPROVED: His idea is unique, viable, and acceptable.

This implies that faulty parallelism can be corrected by balancing adjective with adjective(s), adverb with adverb(s), noun with noun(s), verb with verb(s), phrase with phrase(s), and clause with clause(s) of equal rank.

 

(6) Dangling Modifiers

Generally, any modifier – adjectival or adverbial – that is not clearly nor logically related to any word or phrase in a sentence is called a dangling modifier. It may be a word, a phrase, or a clause which comes into a sentence to modify some word(s) but, unfortunately fails to do so and “dangles”, looking for the appropriate word or phrase to modify. The dangling modifier looks like a ship. without an anchor, a traveller without destination, or a spoke without a hub. The following are common examples of dangling modifiers:

(i) Dangling Words

Dangling words are of two major kinds: Misplaced and Squinting modifiers. Misplaced modifiers are those words (e.g. almost, nearly, merely, hardly, only, even, just, scarcely) which, in standard written English, are regularly placed immediately before the words they modify, but in spoken English, they may appear elsewhere or before a lexical verb. To avoid their dangling, insist on placing them immediately before the words they modify, especially in written communication:

Dangling: I will not even give you a kobo. (Spoken)

Revised: I will not give you even a kobo. (Written)

Dangling: He only knows my name.(Written)

Revised: He knows only my name. (Written)

But a squinting modifier is one which, in its misplaced position (whether in spoken or written English), seems to modify two different words – ostensibly referring to either a preceding or a following word – at the same time. It is neither here nor there; and so, it dangles, looking towards two directions at once and not being sure which way to go. The serious writer must direct it by placing it where it must clearly relate to only one item:

Dangling: Laughing always embarrasses him.

Revised:Always, laughing embarrasses him.

Dangling: Playing sometimes relaxes my nerves.

Revised:Sometimes, playing relaxes my nerves.

 

(ii) Dangling Phrases

Dangling phrases are of two main categories – the dangling “prepositional phrase” (a misplaced adjective or adverb phrase) and the dangling “verbal phrase” (a gerundial, infinitive, or participial phrase that relates to no subject).

A misplaced adjective phrase continues to dangle until it is, in most cases, placed immediately after the word it modifies:

Dangling: Steve’s poster attracts everybody’s eye on the stadium wall.

Revised: Steve’s poster on the stadium wall attracts everybody’s eye.

An adverb phrase dangles when it relates to a nominal or to the wrong word(s) in the sentence.

Dangling: The President declared that it was wrong on Monday last week to rig the gubernatorial election.

Revised: The President declared on Monday last week that it was wrong to rig the gubernatorial election.

OR: On Monday last week, the President declared that it was wrong to rig the gubernatorial election.

Dangling: It was agreed that we would travel to Lagos in the meeting the next day.

Revised: It was agreed in the meeting that we would travel to Lagos the next day.

The worst types of dangling phrases are the verbal phrases because they have no subjects to relate to. They are “subjectless” like hubless spokes. For this reason, one may consider this group of dangling modifiers to be the major, and sometimes the only modifiers worthy of the name “dangling modifiers”. But they stop dangling when their missing sentence subjects are supplied to them:

Dangling: Abused and beaten several times, dissolving the marriage was reasonable. (DANGLING PARTICIPIAL PHRASE)

Revised: Because she was abused and beaten several times, dissolving the marriage was reasonable.

OR: Abused and beaten several times, she thought dissolving the marriage was reasonable.

Dangling: Instead of cheating in the examination, an empty paper was submitted. (DANGLING GERUND PHRASE)

Revised: Instead of cheating in the examination, he handed in an empty paper.

Dangling: To do well in an examination, all relevant books must be read. (DANGLING INFINITIVE PHRASE)

Revised: To do well in an examination, you must read all relevant books.

 

(iii) Dangling Clauses

The two major types of dangling clauses are misplaced adjective clauses and elliptical adverb clauses. Sentences containing misplaced adjective clauses may be revised by placing the adjective clauses near the words they modify while those containing dangling elliptical adverb clauses should be revised by supplying/expressing the implied sentence elements (subject and verb). See the following examples:

Dangling: I bought petrol in Effurun at Steve Filling Station which cost £50. (DANGLING ADJECTIVAL CLAUSE)

Revised: At Steve Filling Station in Effurun, I bought petrol which cost £50.

Dangling: When faced with a difficult situation, manhood was tested. (DANGLING ELLIPTICAL ADVERB CLAUSE)

Revised: When Okeke was faced with a difficult situation, his manhood was tested.

OR: Okeke’s manhood was tested when he faced a difficult situation.)

 

(7) Illogical Comparison

A sentence with illogical comparison presents a serious structural flaw. It makes a premise and fails to draw it to a logical end. It sets about the comparison but ends up in non sequitur.

Illogical:

(a) Nigeria is cleaner than all countries in the world.

(b) He is wiser than every member of his age grade.

 

Revised:

(a) Nigeria is cleaner than other countries in the world.

(b) He is wiser than other members of his age grade.

 

(8) Incomplete Comparison

As its name implies, this structural error arises from the writer’s carelessness or inability to complete out a comparison he has started to make in a sentence ..

Incomplete:

(a) It was so captivating.

(b) Okeke likes Ngozi more than Amaka.

 

Complete:

(a) It was so captivating that I stood watching the scene.

(b) Okeke likes Ngozi more than he likes Amaka.

OR: Okeke likes Ngozi more than Amaka likes her.

 

(9) Faulty Subordination

This emanates from putting the main idea into the subordinate clause. It can be revised by the writer ensuring that his main idea stays in the main clause while the subordinate idea remains in the subordinate clause.

Faulty:

(a) You can help me because I came to you.

(b) I don’t complain because people think I am satisfied.

 

Revised:

(a) I came to you because you can help me.

(b) People think I am satisfied because I don’t complain.