Write-Speak: Correcting Faulty Sentence Constructions

 

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When I was an undergrad writing major, I was told “Write like you talk.” If I were writing a work of fiction that needed realistic dialogue, writing like I talked worked great. But in all other forms of writing, if I were to write like I talked, it would look something like this:

“It’s like where you go. . . I mean. . . it’s when you turn left. . . like. . . up in the house when the corner turns . . .”

Or

“I can’t believe my Royals. . . Like. . .Oh my gosh! They were all going crazy. . . like, when they won. . . I was where I couldn’t talk, I was so excited!”

If you listened to just about any casual conversation, you would hear patterns of inconsistency (and really bad grammar!). Many, if not most, of our spoken sentences would be fragments or incomplete sentence structures. We talk it bits and pieces, and mix sentence constructions without even knowing it. Many of us intersperse our spoken sentences with numerous “filler” words, such as “like” in the examples above. So you can see how difficult it becomes to maintain consistency in our writing. Recognizing these patterns of inconsistencies is the first step to editing these incomplete structures.

Inconsistent Subjects & Predicates

Identifying the subject and predicate can be the first step toward identifying sentence inconsistencies. In the examples below, the subject and predicate don’t fit together grammatically or just don’t make sense:

EX.
From all his hard work helped Karl graduate.

When you read the sentence, you might “hear” something is wrong, but might not be able to identify the problem. The sentence begins with the prepositional phrase, From all his hard work, which acts as the subject of the verb. This is not a grammatically correct construction.

Revised:

All his hard work helped Karl graduate.

That sounds better.
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Look at the following problem example, where you’ll see an issue with inconsistent subject/predicate:

EX.

A characteristic that I admire is a person who is generous.

The subject of the sentence is “characteristic.” The verb is “admire.” But “a person” is not a characteristic, so this statement isn’t logical.

Revised:

A characteristic that I admire is generosity a person who is generous.

“Generosity” is a characteristic that can be admired in a person.

 

See if you can catch the faulty predication in the following example:

EX.

A compromise between the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

If you said that the subject of the sentence – “compromise” – cannot be an “ideal place,” you would be correct. It isn’t logical.

Revised:

A place combining features of the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

OR

The ideal place to vacation would be a location combining features of the mountains and the beach.

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Keep Consistent Grammatical Patterns

Mixed Structures

One of the most common inconsistencies is what is referred to as a mixed construction. In mixed constructions, the grammatical pattern used in the first part of a sentence is not carried through in other parts of the sentence, creating an illogical sentence. The speaker of the sentence sets out to say one thing and switches to something else, resulting in confusion:

EX.

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

The subject of the sentence, The fact, is followed by a dependent clause, that I get up at 5:00 a.m.; a predicate (verb or verb phrase) is needed to complete the independent clause. However, the sentence is mixed with another dependent clause, a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening, which creates a fragment.

Revised:

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., explains a wake-up time that why I’m always tired in the evening.

OR

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

Another mixed sentence can occur with is when and is where, as in the following examples:

An examination is when you are tested.

An examination is where you are tested.

Think about what the subject actually is in this sentence. Examination is a test. Examination is not a time or place. When should only be used when referring to time. Use where only when referring to a place.

Revised:

An examination is a test of what you know.
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The ability to identify subjects and predicates is helpful in avoiding faulty sentence constructions, but sometimes we just know something doesn’t sound right when we read it. Carefully reading through your sentences to see if they are logical is the first step to editing out sentence-level inconsistencies.

Examples from http://wps.ablongman.com and The Everyday Writer: A Brief Reference.

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A Match Made in Heaven: Subjects and Predicates

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We learned last week that failure to include a subject or verb in a sentence will cause a sentence fragment. Even when subjects and verbs are both present, you still may not have a grammatically correct sentence. Subjects and verbs must fit together grammatically. When they don’t, the sentence has a mixed structure, or faulty predication.  A mixed construction is a sentence with parts that do not logically fit together.

Faulty Predication

A predicate is the part of the sentence that makes a statement about the subject, and the main part of the predicate is the verb. Sentences must be logical, meaning the predicate must have the ability to act on the subject. Faulty predication is created when the subject can’t logically do or be whatever the verb says it’s doing or being. Consider the sentence below:

EX:

  • A quality that I admire is someone who is patient.

“Someone” is not really a “quality,” so this sentence isn’t logical. This is considered faulty predication because the subject (quality) isn’t consistent with the predicate (is someone who is patient).

  • A quality that I admire is patience.

Is patience a quality? Yes. But note that a person can be patient; a quality is patience. The only way to correct the sentence is to change the form of the word, patient.

EX:

  • The rules of the game expect all players to be in full uniform.

“Rules” can’t “expect” anything, right? Rules can require:

  • The rules of the game require that all players be in full uniform.

Trouble with Linking Verbs

Another illogical construction with faulty predication is using when, where, and because immediately after the linking verb “is.”

EX:

  • An idiom is when a word or phrase has an unpredictable meaning.

In the previous sentence, the subject, “idiom” is a noun. The sentence is illogical, because a noun must follow the linking verb “is.” When used as a linking verb, “is” must join two nouns:

  • An idiom is a word or phrase with an unpredictable meaning.

The same rule applies to “where” in the following sentence:

EX:

  • The summit is where a mountain is the highest.

Omit  “where” and follow “is” with a noun:

  • The summit is the highest point of a mountain.

EX:

  • A gulf is where a portion of ocean or sea is partially surrounded by land.
  •  A gulf is a portion of ocean or sea partially surrounded by land.


Reason. . . is Because

Using “is because” following “reason” creates a confusing structure. It’s redundant, as the meaning of “because” is “the reason that.” It’s not only illogical, but confusing:

EX:

  • The reason I like to play tennis is because it keeps me in shape.
  • I like to play tennis because it keeps me in shape.

EX:

  • The reason I went to work early was to catch up on emails.
  • I went to work early to catch up on emails.

Both of these examples are corrected by removing “the reason” and the linking verb preceding “because.”

Finding these types of sentence-level errors is tricky, and they are often overlooked in academic papers. Read sentences carefully, paying close attention to the subject and predicate of each sentence. You can also try using MS Word’s FIND tab to locate illogical constructions such as “is when,” “is where,” and “reason. . . is because.” When working to eliminate faulty predicate construction, nothing works better than a close reading.

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