Student essays are often difficult to read because of poorly constructed sentences. Common problems are:

Sentence Fragments
Sentence fragments are groups of words that do not express a complete thought, and that do not make sense on their own. e.g. "Research that is poorly conducted." This statement contains a dependent clause ("that is poorly conducted") describing "research", but no main clause.  Consequently, it does not make sense by itself.  To complete the sense, a statement such as "does not provide reliable results" needs to be added. 

Often, when a group of words begins with a conjunction, it is a dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence.  Look for the conjunction that signals a dependent clause in a sentence.  These are words such as that, when, even though, as, if, so, after, once, unless, until, because, before, since, whenever, wherever, however, although, because, while, which, what, who. 

A sentence may also be a fragment because it does not contain a subject and/or a verb.  e.g. "The student reviews his module notes.  Two hours before the audio conference.  He is keen to be prepared for the lecture." 

In this example, "Two hours before the audio conference." does not contain a verb, so it is not a sentence.  This fragment could be eliminated in one of two ways.

Add the fragment to the sentence before or after it, making sure the new sentence makes sense.  e.g. "The student reviews his module notes two hours before the audio conference."  Or

Add a new subject/verb to the fragment to form a complete sentence. e.g. "He reads them two hours before the audio conference."  
To spot a fragment put each phrase through a simple test:
 
Does it have a verb and/or a subject?
   
Can the phrase make sense standing alone (is it a dependent clause or phrase)?
 
Misplaced modifiers
Misplaced modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that do not point clearly to the word or words they modify in a sentence.
Limiting modifiers (only, hardly, even, almost, nearly, just) should be placed in front of the words they modify. The entire meaning of a sentence can be changed if you place these single word modifiers next to the wrong word. e.g.
Unclear:
"The guests almost ate all of the food." (the guests can't "almost eat" all of the food).
Revised:
"The guests ate almost all of the food." (most of the food was eaten)
   
Place modifying phrases and clauses as close as possible to their headword, the word or phrase they modify. e.g.
Unclear:
"The mayor was described as a round, squat man with a droopy beard weighing 60kg."
Revised
"The mayor was described as a round, squat man weighing 60kg with a droopy beard." (60kg describes the man, not the beard).
   
Sentences should flow from subject to verb to object without lengthy interruptions along the way. When this happens, the sentence becomes unclear. e.g.
Unclear:
"Susan, after trying to phone for a taxi, decided to walk to the station."
Revised:
"After trying to phone for a taxi, Susan decided to walk to the station."
   
A squinting modifier is an ambiguously placed modifier that can modify either the word before it or the word after it. It is said to be "squinting" in both directions at the same time. To correct a squinting modifier, place the modifier so that it clearly modifies its headword. e.g.
Unclear:
"The lottery win that everyone thought would satisfy them totally disillusioned them."
Revised:
"The lottery win that everyone thought would totally satisfy them disillusioned them." (They were expected to be totally satisfied.)
or
"The lottery win that everyone thought would satisfy them totally disillusioned them." (They were totally disillusioned with the lottery win.)
   
Infinitives ("to" + verb such as "to be", "to go", to eat", "to run") usually should not be split unless necessary in writing. e.g.
Unclear:
"She hoped to, by doing lots of revision and studying, pass the exams."
Revised:
"She hoped to pass the exams by doing lots of revision and studying."
   
A Dangling Modifier is a word or phrase that does not refer logically to any word or word group in a sentence. When a sentence begins with a modifying word, phrase or clause we must make sure the next thing that comes along can, in fact, be modified by that modifier. e.g.
Unclear:
"Born in New Zealand, it is natural to enjoy eating roast lamb." This is unclear because "it" was not born in New Zealand.
Revised:
"For a person born in New Zealand, it is natural to enjoy eating roast lamb." Or
"Born in New Zealand, I enjoy eating roast lamb."
In the second sentence, a subject "I" is introduced.
   
To correct a dangling modifier we can
create a new subject;
Unclear:

"Using a microscope, the wings of the butterfly were examined."(The modifier cannot logically modify the word wings.)
Revised:
"Using a microscope, the scientist examined the wings of the butterfly."(The scientist is the subject and refers back to who is using the microscope.)
   
create a dependent clause
Unclear:

"Planted in the field only a month ago, its size surprised the farmers." (The first phrase cannot logically modify the word size.)
Revised:
"Because the turnip had been planted in the field only a month ago, its size surprised the farmers."
 
 
 
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