Sentence Boundary Problems

This group of errors is one of the most widespread among student writers, and it's a problem not only because it's incorrect but also because it muddies meaning. If prose doesn't have coherent ideas in coherent sentences, the flow of thought breaks down. Usually we identify three areas of sentence boundary problems:

When checking for fragments, apply these three tests:
  1. Look for a verb. Every sentence must have a main verb.
  2. Look for a subject. Every sentence must have a main subject.
  3. Look for subordinating conjunctions (when, while, because, etc.) or relative pronouns (who, which, that). Subordinating conjunctions are used to construct dependent adverbial clauses; relative pronouns are used to construct dependent adjectival clauses. If you suspect a passage is a fragment, the presence of these words will likely prove it is.
How to fix fragments:

If the fragment is a dependent clause:

  1. Even though the president attended the meeting.

  2. Revised: Even though The president attended the meeting.
  3. While Americans keep recycling the same old cliches.

  4. Revised: While Americans keep recycling the same old cliches.
  5. Many students, who might read more often.

  6. Revised: Many students who might read more often.
    Revised: Many students They who might read more often.
If the fragment is a noun phrase (has no main verb) or a verbal phrase (verbs and associated words not functioning as a main verb):

Revising verbal phrases

Restore the subject, or join the phrase to a complete independent clause.

Revising Infinitive phrases functioning as nouns

Rewrite as an independent clause by linking it to a subject and predicate

  • To delete the word very.

  • Revised: Johnson prefers to delete the word very when copyediting.
    Revising prepositional phrases functioning as modifiers

    Join the prepositonal phrase to an independent clause, usually the sentence before or after.

    Revising absolute phrases modifying an entire sentence

    Rewrite the phrase as a complete sentence, or join it as a modifier to an independent clause.

    Revising appositive phrases

    Rewrite as a complete sentence or insert into another independent clause, modifying the proper noun.

    Revising separated compound predicates.

    Compound predicates are two main verbs (with connected words) linked with a coordinating conjunction like and or but.When one half of this construction is separated with a period, it becomes a fragment. To correct it, either give the fragment its own subject, or rejoin the two halves.


    Comma splices are simply joining two independent clauses with commas; fused sentences do the same thing without punctuation.

    How to identify comma splices and fused sentences:

    1. Look for sentences which explain, expand an idea, or link an example to an idea. Often these are fused.
    2. Using pronouns like he, she, they, it, this, or that in the same sentence as the antecedent usually signals a fused sentence or comma splice.
    3. Look for conjunctive adverbs (however, furthermore, thus, therefore, etc.) and transitional expressions (for example, on the other hand) often signal fused sentences or comma splices

    Strategies for fixing comma splices and fused sentences:

    1. Link by combining sentences

    2. Example: Winston Churchill became a leader  he served his country well in WWI he was a leader of distinction.
      Revised: Winston Churchill became a leader of distinction. He served his country well in WWI.
    3. Link by adding a conjunction

    4. Example: Winston Churchill became a leader  he served his country well in WWI he was a leader of distinction.
      Revised: Winston Churchill served his country well in WWI, and he became a leader of distinction.
    5. Link by using a semicolon

    6. Example: Winston Churchill became a leader  he served his country well in WWI he was a leader of distinction.
      Revised: Winston Churchill served his country well in WWI; he became a leader of distinction.
    7. Link by using a subordinating conjunction (where, while, when, because)

    8. Example: Winston Churchill became a leader  he served his country well in WWI he was a leader of distinction.
      Revised: After serving his country well in WWI, Winston Churchill became a leader of distinction.


    Identify which of the following numbered passages are fragments, and fix them if they are.

    1. Children receive conflicting messages from a variety of sources.
    2. Which cannot be silenced: teachers, books, friends, and television programs.We have, from time to time, experimented in this country with limited access to potentially damaging or offensive materials
    3. such as books and movies.
    4. But these experiments have not withstood legal challenges.
    5. The courts have decided that Americans have the right to choose what they see or hear and that writers and others have the right to create what they wish.
    6. Although,  certain extreme circumstances, like child pornography, are so offensive and damaging to the children being filmed that as a society we have said that such products are repugnant.
    7. Which is the argument that Charren is making about advertisements directed at children.
    8. But as a society having agreed to limit speech only in the most extreme cases.
    9. There is nothing in the making of advertisements that is as purposefully vulgar or harmful as there is in child pornography.
    10. If anything, advertising more closely resembling the language of our everyday speech.
    Identify fragments in the following passage. Combine them to make complete sentences.
    While only eight microbreweries existed in the United States a decade ago. Today seventy microbreweries are brewing more than 65,000 barrels of specialty beers a year. Microbreweries are winning awards for the tastiness of their products. Which has caused the large producers to alter their production and advertising techniques. Because microbrewery beer is often free of additives. It must be sold locally. Local production, distribution, and advertisting has become a key to microbrewery success. Which depends on creating the perception among buyers of a freshness and healthfulness not available in mass-market beers. Even though image is important. Quality of the product is what has convinced an increasing number of American beer drinkers to buy from local, smaller breweries.
    Use a slash to indicate where the following passages are fused sentences:
    1. Advertisements for aspirin and other pain relievers are incredibly dull they are so like one another so unmemorable that we remember them only because of their sheer frequency.
    2. Unlike most other advertising pain reliever commercials are very modest in their claims in other words they promise only partial relief from minor aches and only relatively quickly.
    3. One would expect that such commercials would press harder to represent both the intensity of the pain as well as the joy of relief however these advertisements never suggest that the sufferer was ever in acute pain or that the sufferer's relief is now total.
    4. Oddly enough, ads for pain relievers claim very little, they are undramatic, uninteresting.
    5. The advertisements that physicians and surgeons see in their professional journals do attempt to represent acute pain, the difference may be attributable to the fact that the audience in this case (doctors) is not experiencing pain itself, but rather is treating pain.
    Correct the fused sentences and comma splices in the following passage, using any of the techniques discussed. Think about sentence variety too.
    Whatevery they may believe about what happens to the soul after death most cultures bury their dead. Given the grim fact of history that corpses can sometimes pile up at an alarming rate, it has not always been easy for managers of cemeteries, in a way cemetery palnning is much like urban planning. Streets have to be mapped out and plots need to be sold, often, above-ground structures--mausoleums--have to be designed and executed. A chapel of some sort is usually called for--decorated Gothic or vertical Gothic, above all the cemetery must be landscaped in such a way as to afford comfort to the mourners.