Ways to improve your writing include learning the basics of writing. These basics create a solid foundation. You cannot write a great essay or story if your grammar and sentence structure are not strong. Your reader will have to muddle through poor grammar to try to understand your message.
We live in the information age. A reader has much reading material from which to choose. Unless it’s your instructor or an admissions counselor who is required to read your work, she might put down your work. Make your material worth reading! To do that, you must know and apply the basics of writing. We will take a close look at dangling participles and sentence fragments.
This article is not a course in grammar, but it intends to point out some grammatical errors writers make. Here we will discuss three participles:
In the next section of this article, we will discuss sentence fragments.
Do you have any dangling participles in your writing? Dangling what, you might ask? Let’s take a look at the present and the past participles first. These are formed from verbs but act like adjectives. They have both qualities.
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Sears explains that a “participle is part verb and part something else, but it’s used as an adjective . . . adjectives answer one of three questions: which one? what kind of? or how many? . . . Participles come in two forms: the present participle and the past participle. The present participle will always consist of a verb plus -ing . . .” (152).
The past participle will consist of the verb plus -ed.
The present participle:
Barking incessantly, the Chihuahua soon became hoarse.
The word barking consists of the word bark, which is a verb, as well as -ing. It describes the Chihuahua and answers the question which one?
The past participle:
The following is an example of the past participle:
Hampered by inclement weather, the climbers turned back.
The word hampered contains the verb hamper plus -ed. The word hampered acts as an adjective in the sentence. It describes climbers and answers the question which ones?
The dangling participle:
When seeking ways to improve your writing, beware of the dangling participle because sometimes, “it’s used in the wrong way, and that creates a dangling participle (hanging participle or unattached participle)” (Sears 153).
Here’s an example:
Crying incessantly, the mother coddled the child.
Here it reads as though the mother was crying incessantly. But she was not; it was the child. The sentence should read:
The mother coddled the crying child.
Here’s another example:
Sickened by the air pollution, inside the house seemed to be the best place for the man to retreat.
Inside the house could not be sickened by air pollution. Therefore, it is not written correctly. Let’s rewrite it:
Inside the house seemed to be the best place for the man to retreat, who was sickened by the air pollution.
Be sure to familiarize yourself more with the participles. It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting dangling participles into your writing. Focusing on keeping them out is one of the ways to improve your writing skills.
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Sometimes it’s difficult to know when you’ve written a sentence fragment. But by familiarizing yourself with it, you can catch it readily when you proofread your paper. Using sentence fragments will only confuse your audience.
First, we need to know what constitutes a sentence. A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought and has a subject and a predicate (verb).
Jack jumped over the candlestick.
Jack is the subject. Jumped is the verb. The complete thought is over the candlestick.
This also is a complete sentence. The subject is Jack. The verb is coughed. Although there are only two words, they still constitute a complete thought. We are not confused.
Sears explains that if “a string of words doesn’t have all three of the qualifications (a subject, a verb, and an expression of a complete thought), then you have a fragment rather than a sentence” (237).
Although the singer sang out of tune with the band.
This is not a complete sentence even though the subject is singer and the verb is sang. The problem is that it doesn’t express a complete thought. We’re expecting to know what happened because she sang out of tune. Did the band fire her? If we remove the first word, although, we would have a complete sentence.
We discussed earlier, the participle phrase. This is another way that a sentence fragment can be formed.
Stopped by the policeman’s upraised hand.
Jogging around the lake at night.
Your reader would be confused at this point because she wouldn’t know who or what was stopped by the policeman or who was jogging around the lake. We need more information about what happened next.
There are times when using a sentence fragment is correct. One of the times is when you are quoting someone who used a sentence fragment. While you should not use a sentence fragment in formal writing, it is permitted in casual writing.
But use it sparingly!
You will find sentence fragments in novels, story stories, memoirs, and other casual writings, but the reader will know what the author is talking about. Right? Did you catch the fragment: right? You can use fragments for emphasis as well as in a bulleted or numbered list. What are the titles of your favorite books? Are many of them sentence fragments?
“You’ll often see fragments as titles, captions, or headings; that’s generally acceptable because space restrictions usually won’t allow complete sentences . . . Since fragments are short, readers probably remember them more easily than they would complete sentences” (Sears 243).
Ways to improve your writing include avoiding using dangling participles and sentence fragments for the most part. However, know when it is acceptable to use sentence fragments.