Mistakes to Avoid in Sentence Structure

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On September 21, 2021

Sentence structure is a loose term in the English language that defines the order of the different parts of a sentence, including words and punctuations.

You need to be mindful of many things to be able to write clear and correctly structured sentences, such as making sure to follow the basic word order rules.

The two most common sentence structure mistakes in academic writing are:

Sentence fragments: Not including all the necessary components to make a grammatically correct sentence.

Run-on sentences: Use of incorrect punctuation to combine different parts of a sentence.

The formation of correct sentence structure is not just about grammar but also flow and style of writing. Make use of different sentence structures and lengths to write a high-quality academic paper. Refrain from writing sentences that might be too long, boring, and confusing for the readers.  Similarly, overly short sentences can make your text incoherent and broken up.

Run-on Sentence Mistakes to Avoid

A run-on sentence appears when you join independent clauses without proper punctuation, even though they are many ways to join them correctly.

An independent clause is defined as a set of words that could form a full sentence without introducing punctuation.

A run-on sentence originates from grammatical errors. It does not depend on the length of the sentence. Short sentences can also contain this mistake. The two most common errors that lead to run-on sentences are explained below:

Comma Splice

comma splice occurs when you join two independent clauses by a comma alone. For example,

  • The football team coach gave up on the players, they performed well below his expectations.

You could fix the above sentence in three ways.

Break the clauses into two different sentences.

  • The football team coach gave up on the players. They performed well below his expectations.

Introduce a colon or a semicolon in place of the comma.

  • The football team coach gave up on the players: they performed well below his expectations.

Include conjunction to form a link between the two clauses.

  • The football team coach gave up on the players because they performed well below his expectations.

Comma splice errors in longer sentences with multiple clauses can be particularly confusing.

  • Robert likes to exercise, when he is not feeling well, he likes to run.

The use of commas to establish a connection between the clauses has made the sentence hard to understand. It is difficult to determine which part of the sentence the clause “when he is not feeling well” must be connected to. Does Robert like to exercise when he is not feeling well, or does he like to run when he is not feeling well? Introducing a colon, a semicolon, or conjunction will help your readers understand the actual meaning of the sentence.

  • Robert likes to exercise: when he is not feeling well, he likes to run.
  • Robert likes to exercise. When he is not feeling well, he likes to run.
  • Robert likes to exercise, but when he is not feeling well, he likes to run.

Use of Coordinating Conjunction Without Comma

Conjunctions are used to join two independent clauses. There are seven conjunctions in English, including for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  Remember the acronym FANBOYS to recall the seven conjunctions.

  • The researcher collected the responses using SurveyMonkey and conducted the statistical analysis in SPSS.

The absence of a comma in the above sentence can be confusing for some readers. Like the comma splice, this mistake can also create a run-on sentence. It would help to know how to use conjunctions because they are used frequently and for so many purposes.

The comma with the conjunction indicates that the next part is a different, correlated, and whole idea.

  • The researcher collected the responses using SurveyMonkey and conducted the statistical analysis in SPSS.

 

Lookout for Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a cluster of words that doesn’t encompass all the essential elements of a grammatically correct sentence. If a subject and a predicate are missing, the resulting string of words is considered incorrect.

Many journalists and creative writers use fragments frequently in their writing. However, you should avoid using them in any form of academic writing.

What are a Subject and a Predicate?

In any sentence in English, the subject exposes the thing or the person that acts. A predicate in a sentence reveals what the subject is or does. Or to put it in simple words, a subject is the noun component of a sentence, while the verb part is the predicate.

It is common to have more than one subject-predicate pair in some sentences, but the subject always comes before the predicate. Regardless of the number of subject-predicate combinations, there must be a corresponding predicate for each subject that appears in a sentence.

Examples of subject-predicate Pairs

Jets bomb.
Katherine, Susan, and Stacy eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Katherine, Susan, and Stacy eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables, perhaps because they prefer organic food.
Katherine, Susan, and Stacy eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables, perhaps because they prefer organic food for themselves.
Mike reads; Joanna writes.
Mike reads books which he bought.
Mike reads books when Joanna writes for her blog.
The cat catches the ball, which is as big as a basketball.
The ball was caught.
The room is dark, empty, and small.
This room has the following characteristics: dark, empty, and small.
This room has the following characteristics. It is dark, empty, and small.

 

What is a Missing Predicate?

A missing predicate occurs when a sentence is missing a main verb. This is the most common form of sentence fragment. A noun phrase on its own is not a sentence – a predicate should be present in a sentence to make it grammatically spot-on.

  • After they lost the match against their arch-rivals, they were disappointed. A forgettable performance.

The above sentence can be grammatically corrected by including a predicate in the sentence or introducing appropriate punctuation to link with the preceding sentence.

  • After they lost the match against their arch-rivals, they were disappointed. It was a forgettable performance.
  • After they lost the match against their arch-rivals, they were disappointed: a forgettable performance.

Dependent Clause Alone

Another type of sentence fragment is when a dependent clause appears in a sentence on its own. A dependent clause includes a subject and a predicate, but it should be attached to an independent clause to create a complete and meaningful sentence.

Dependent clauses are formed out of subordinating conjunctions. A dependent clause turns into an independent clause when subordinating conjunction such as when, unless, if, whereas, while, although, even though, until, unless, since, and after appearing at the beginning of an independent clause.

    • The forest was dark.
      • When the forest was dark.

The first sentence is an independent clause without subordinating conjunction, so it is grammatically correct on its own. A subordinating conjunction is introduced in the second sentence, which transforms the independent clause into a dependent clause. This is a sentence fragment. Adding another clause to the sentence can correct this sentence-making error.

      • They would head back home. When the forest was dark.
      • They would head back home; when the forest was dark.
      • They would head back home when the forest was dark.
      • When the forest was dark, they would head back home.

You cannot use a semicolon or colon to attach a dependent clause with an independent clause. A colon or semicolon only joins two independent clauses.

Misuse of the Present Participle

What is a present participle? – A present participle can be defined as a verb ending with “ing”. Some examples of present participle include being, working, doing, walking, and milking.

However, when a present participle appears in a sentence where a past or present simple form should be used instead, the resulting sentence is grammatically incorrect.

Note that you cannot start a predicate with an “ing” verb. It can be used only as part of a modifier that points to a different part of the sentence.

One of the most common verb-abuse mistakes in academic writing is “to be” conjugated as “being”. The correct conjugation for it is “is” or “was”.

      • She missed her dad every night. Her dad being important.

The above sentence, “her dad being important” is grammatically incorrect. It can be categorized as a sentence fragment, but you can fix it by introducing an appropriate conjugated verb or connecting it to another clause.

      • She missed her dad every night. Her dad was important.
      • She missed her dad every night, her dad being important.

Avoid Overly Short Sentences

While using shorter sentences is a recommended practice in academic writing, using too many short sentences can make your text look incoherent, broken up, and choppy. To avoid this issue, try to use a range of sentence lengths. To improve the coherence and flow of the text, make use of transition words.

      • The researcher collected primary data. Half of the participants were contacted on day one. The other half was contacted on day two. The data was analysed. SPPS was used for statistical analysis.

While all the sentences in the above paragraph are grammatically incorrect, the text looks very repetitive. By combining shorter sentences, the resulting text will read more smoothly.

The researcher collected primary data. Half of the participants were contacted on day one, while the other half was contacted on day two. The data was analyzed in SPSS statistical analysis software.

Break Down Longer Sentences

Likewise, if the sentences are too long can make it difficult for readers to comprehend the meaning of the text. To make your text more appealing, engaging, and readable, split up the longer sentences in the text.

In academic writing, it is recommended to keep your sentence length between 15 and 25 words. A sentence that is longer than 30 words should be avoided.

Another good approach to cut down the length of the sentence is to identify and remove repeating phrases and redundancies. If you must keep all the words and phrases in the sentence, then consider breaking it down into smaller sentences.

‘The lecturer asked us to use short sentences because he fears longer sentences will lead to errors in our writing, and he does not want us to convey the wrong impression to the reader.’

The above sentence is grammatically correct, but the clarity and readability can be improved by improving its structure.

‘The lecturer asked us to use short sentences. He fears that using longer sentences will lead to errors in our writing. He does not want us to convey the wrong impression to the reader.’

Avoid Overly Long Introductory Information

Finally, make sure the introductory clauses or phrases in a sentence is not overly long. You will not effectively communicate new information to the readers if the introductory part of the sentence contains repeating information.

While this research tested a variety of new variables that were previously ignored by other researchers, the findings were still insignificant.

The above sentence’s primary information is that the research findings were not significant, but a long introductory phrase takes the focus away from it.

Reduce repetition and the overall length of the introductory phrases to improve the clarity of the sentence.

While this research tested a variety of new variables, the findings were still insignificant.

About Alvin Nicolas

Nicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.