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Writing An Essay - Part I: Sentences Fragments and Run-ons

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Writing essays is NOT a talent; it's a skill. As a skill, it can be honed and improved, like playing basketball, carving wood, or cooking. True, there are those who just do it better, as in the other areas mentioned, but that doesn't mean that you can't be good at it with a little know-how and practice. As an English teacher, it's my job to show students how to do that, so I figured that I would give everyone a few tips on how to improve your writing and, someday, make my job a little easier.


The first basic building block of a good essay is to have well-written sentences. The two problems I come across most often are sentence fragments and run-on sentences.



Writing Complete Sentences

Although the English language often violates its own rules, there is one that always stands: Every sentence MUST HAVE a subject, which containts a noun, and a predicate, which contains a verb. This means that there must be a person, place, or thing (noun) doing or being something (verb). Let's look at some examples:

_____Subject______|______Predicate______A Jedi's strength | flows from the Force."
In this example, fox is the noun and jumps is the action verb. Notice that the subject comes before the predicate.


Subject_|_PredicateLuke, I | am your father.
Again, the subject comes before the predicate. This example shows a state of being rather than a particular action. These verbs usually describe the subject, indicating color, relation, etc.


Subject | Predicate		| Go.
This is odd, isn't it? I told you that a complete sentence HAS TO HAVE a subject and a predicate. It's an inviolate rule! In fact, this sentence does have a subject; however, it is an understood, and therefore unstated, subject - YOU! These sentences are like commands telling you what to do. (You) Sit. (You) Stay. (You) Please take one.


______________Subject_______________|______________Predicate__________________Hokey religions and ancient weapons |are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
You can have multiple nouns in the subject or predicate or both by using "and", "or", or "nor" between them. You'll notice above that "and" joins the two nouns in the subject. Make sure, however, that you aren't joining two whole sentences together without the proper punctuation, which you'll find in the next section. Keep your multiple nouns in the subject and your multiple verbs in the predicate at the moment.


Now that you're sure that you've put together a complete sentence, it's time to start combining those sentences together. You can, of course, write a six-page essay with only simple sentences, but it can be dry and repetitive for your reader.



Combining Sentences

A complete sentence that has a complete subject and predicate is referred to as a clause in English. This is because a period must come at the end of a sentence. We have just learned how to make simple sentences, so now we will learn how to make complex sentences by combinging clauses.



An independent clause (IC) has a complete subject and predicate and can stand alone as a sentence. The simplest way to join two independent clauses is to use a semi-colon ( ; ) between them. However, you should only use this if the two clauses express similar ideas or follow a logical thought pattern.

__________IC___________;_________IC________His helmet was stifling; it narrowed his vision.

The second way to join two independent clauses is to write the first independent clause, followed by a comma, and then use one of the following co-ordinating conjunctions before fininshing the sentence with the second independent clause:

For- rarely used in American English, used in place of "because" or "since."

And - joins two similar ideas together

Nor - joins two negative alternative ideas

But - joins two contrasting ideas

Or - joins two alternative ideas

Yet - used in the same fashion as "but"

So - shows that the second idea is the result of the first

___________IC__________|comma|conj.|_____IC______It narrowed his vision |  ,  | and |he must see far.

You can combine your clauses further by using all the methods above.

___________IC__________;___________IC__________|comma|conj.|_____IC______His helmet was stifling; it narrowed his vision|  ,  | and |he must see far.


If you remember your grammar school teacher telling you that you can never start a sentence with "because," you can go back and tell her she was wrong. Another way to join sentences is to turn one of the independent clauses (IC) into a dependent clause (DC) by using a subordinating conjunction, like "because," at the beginning of the clause. However, dependent clauses can't stand on their own; they need an independent clause to claim and support them. (Sorry for the little tax joke.) There are two ways to do this.


__sub__|_________DC__________|comma|________IC__________Because| his shield was heavy|  ,  |it threw him off balance.
If you take "because" away, the clause can stand by itself as a sentence and doesn't need the second clause to support it. By adding the adverb "because" to the beginning of the clause, this turns it into a dependent clause. Therefore, it needs the second clause to support it. When a dependent clause comes before an independent clause, you must put a comma between the two clauses.


____________IC___________|_sub_|________DC_________It threw him off balance |since| his target was far away.
In this example, the subordinating conjunction "since" is in the middle of the sentence. When a dependent clause comes after the independent clause, you do not need a comma between them.


Below is a list of some of the more commonly used subordinating conjunctions; however, there are many more:




as if

as long as

as much as

as soon as

as though



even if

even though




in order that


now that

provided (that)


so that


till ( or 'til)












Next Lesson: Writing a Body Paragraph (coming soon)

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Holy hell, you wrote all that?!If so, props to you! That's a hell much of useful informations. Still, I just looked fast through it, because I've learned most parts at school. One day, if I'm gonna forget or miss something, I'll take a look at this one.Nice job on writing it!

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Nice! We don't quite have essays yet but i will save this it could come in handy, excellent work.

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Very nice. I like how you layed it all out. Do you have a english degree or something? Alot of that is quite accurate and not what the everyday person would know about.Looking forward to the next part.

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Wow, that was really good written Tikiprincess. Even though it was a bit confusing, I am sure that it is going to help people on the board - maybe myself. I have learned much of it at school, but there where some parts that was new too me. Lots of helpful information. :) Thank you so much!

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