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The Written Word


Norma Howell
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How’s That Again?



Is your writing clear, or might someone trip over a sentence?




A conjunction joins separate thoughts into compound sentences. Some of the more common ones are but, and, and or. Many writers disconnect conjunctions from the mother sentence, causing something like this:  “I really wanted to go with you, John. But I’ll stay here if you say so.” If that sentence read, “I really wanted to go with you, John, but I’ll stay here if you say so,” the writer would have a longer, smoother sentence instead of two choppy ones.


It is acceptable to start sentences with conjunctions so long as the writing does not become repetitive.


Run-On Sentences


Run-on sentences are those with unrelated clauses connected by conjunctions, commas or semicolons. And  is easily overused to make a run-on:  “I want to go to the store and get some ice cream, and then I want to see my cousin, and after that we can go to the beach and watch the waves and the girls.”


 There are three ideas in that sentence: 


        Going to the store


        Visiting a cousin


        Going to the beach


Restructure to improve clarity: 


I want to go to the store, and I must visit my cousin. Afterward, we can go to the beach to watch the waves and the girls.


Question versus Statement


The following sentence is not a question; it is a statement.


He wondered why there were not more of them. (The writer has described the character’s thoughts, and the sentence requires a period, not a question mark.)


Why are there not more of them? (That is a clear question, whether in thought or dialogue. The character expects an answer.)


“Come with me?” This question is a fragmentation of “Will you come with me?” and is acceptable in dialogue. The same phrase can be a request instead of a question, i.e., “Come with me,” Joan pleaded. 


Sentence Fragments & Dangling Participles

Is it ever permissible to use sentence fragments? Certainly. They add realism to dialogue or internal monologue, and suspense to narrative. As with any technique, too many fragments can become repetitious and annoy the reader.


 Avoid creating a dangling participle. Although it has a verb (peering) and two objects (fence and field) there is no subject in the following:


Peering over the fence, the field was full of dandelions.


If someone has to search previous sentences to learn who peered over that fence, he or she may stop reading.



Light the way for readers with clear, easy-to-read sentences; don’t let them stumble in the dark.


The Written Word Archive
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