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Sentence Structure Errors: Run-on and Fragment Sentences

When writing, it is common to make sentence structure errors. Therefore, the SAT test makers have formulated a number of questions to test one’s ability to spot these errors. Two of the most common sentence errors are run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
Run-On Sentences
Run-On Sentences: Run on sentences can be the result of two different errors. If the author of a sentence fails to place a comma between two independent clauses, the result is a run-on sentence. Likewise, if the author of a sentence fails to use punctuation to separate two or more clauses, a run-on sentence has occurred, giving the reader no opportunity for normal spoken flow.
Example for Type A: Faulty Punctuation
Faulty punctuation is a common element that SAT test makers choose to test. Read the following sentence. Mary Jo used watercolor on many of her paintings, she believed it brought her pictures to life. In this sentence, there is a definite fracture. A comma should not be used between the words “paintings” and “she”, a semi-colon or a period would be most appropriate. However, the sentence could also be fixed by adding a conjunction to the sentence. The following list indicates five ways that this sentenced can be corrected.  
  • paintings; she (semi-colon correction)
  • paintings.  She (period correction)
  • paintings, for she (conjunction correction)
  • watercolor since she believed …(subordinate clause correction)
  • watercolor, believing it brought … (phrase correction)
While there are five ways to correct the one sentence, an SAT test maker will not ask you to choose which one is the best. In dealing with run-on sentence errors, the test question will likely include only one correct answer choice. While it is true that some corrections to a run-on sentence are better than others, there are no strict rules concerning these opinions in the English language.
Example Type B: No Punctuation
Another common test question on the SATs involves spotting or correcting sentences that contain no punctuation. For example: Walt Whitman was a great American poet he wrote a book of poetry entitled Leaves of Grass. In the preceding sentence, there are two clauses which the author fails to separate with any sort of punctuation. This, as in the previous examples, is also a run-on sentence. The same types of corrections can be used to fix this type of sentence error.  
  • poet; he (semi-colon correction)
  • poet.  He (period correction)
  • poet, and he (conjunction correction)
  • poet who wrote a …(subordinate clause correction)
  • poet, composing a book of …(phrase correction)
Fragment Sentences
Sentence fragments are another common sentence error tested regularly on the SATs. In total, there are six different types of sentence fragments, but for the purpose of test preparation it is best to narrow it down to the most common three. The definition of a fragment sentence is a sequence of words that is missing a subject, predicate, or both.
Phrase Fragment
A phrase fragment is when a series of phrases placed together in a sentence give the appearance of a complete thought. This type of fragment is illustrated in the following sentence.
During the concert, covering ears because of proximity to the speakers.  
In this example, the sentence begins with a phrase, and ends with two other phrases. Phrases do not contain subjects and often do not contain verbs either. The example presented does not have a subject or a verb, thus it is a phrase fragment. Try not to mistake “concert” for the subject and “covering” as the verb. These words lack context, and so do not make a complete sentence.
Verb Fragment
A verbal is a word that looks like a verb but doesn’t act as one. A verb fragment is caused by a verbal and is one of the most common types of sentence fragments. A common verbal is the word “dreaded”, as in “I dreaded the next stop.” These types of issues have been known to show up on the SAT exam, creating verb fragments. Questions regarding verb fragments may show up in both improving sentence errors and identifying sentence errors question types. The following is a verb fragment. The students waiting patiently for their teacher. This sentence has a subject “students”, and it also has a pseudo-verb “waiting”, but the way that the sentence is structured makes “waiting” act as an adjective. A simple change from “waiting” to “wait” improves this sentence structure. Commonly on the SAT, a line will be found underneath the verbal. This is an indication that it is the grammar error and should clue one in to the correct choice.  
Complex-Compound Fragment
Questions involving complex-compound fragments are becoming more and more prevalent on the SAT exams. It is a more complicated error than phrase or verb fragments, and thus more difficult to detect. These types of errors may be found in both improving and identifying sentence error questions. A complex-compound sentence is basically half of a complex sentence and half of a compound sentence mashed together. Take the example:  
Since I had difficulty following the teacher's orders, but the principal made my infraction much clearer to understand. The problem in this sentence lies within the subordinating conjunction “since”. “Since” creates a dependent clause, ending at the world “language.” Before the comma, this sentence is considered complex. If this were a correct, complete sentence, one would find an independent clause beginning after the world “language.” Instead of an independent clause, what is actually present is a conjunction. In this sentence, it seems as if two halves of a thought have merely been pushed together. To correct this sentence error, be on the lookout for a choice that discards either the first word of the sentence, or the conjunction. The underlined portion should be either the first word, or the start of the second half.
The preceding is by no means a complete guide to every possibility on the written portion of the SAT. However, these points should account for the majority of questions. By following this guide and understanding the points set forth, one can expect mastery over the majority of sentence error questions on the exam. Spending too much time studying less common or more sophisticated areas of grammar that may be presented on the SAT exam will cause one to invest more time for a smaller point gain.


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