Rambling, run on and fragment sentences a violation of syntax

Once in a while, we run afoul of syntax. What this means is that we unknowingly break the rules of grammar, not just in the English language, but other languages as well.

Syntax is defined as ‘rules that govern the structure of sentences in a given language’. A sentence, on the other hand, is a grammatical construction that expresses a whole thought. The importance of expressing a complete thought to aid understanding cannot be overemphasized. There are different types of sentence constructions categorised as rambling sentences, sentence fragments and run-on sentences.

To make the distinction, rambling sentences comprise several clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘so’, ‘or’. The following construction is a typical example of a rambling sentence: “Mary usually wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare her daughter for school but her bedside alarm clock did not go off so she was still asleep when the school bus’s horn jolted her into wakefulness and her daughter was late for school by the time she was done”.

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This has been written as a single sentence, yet to gain clarity; it should be broken into several parts by use of punctuation makes, especially periods and a comma.

For instance:  ‘Mary usually wakes up at 4am to prepare her daughter for school. However, her bedside alarm clock did not go off and she was still asleep when the school bus’s horn jolted her into wakefulness. Her daughter was late for school by the time she was done’.

Punctuation mark

Run-on sentences on the other hand are two different sentences that a writer fails to separate by the use of a punctuation mark, or join by using a conjunction. An example is: “I must get to a cyber cafe I have to file the report before the end of the day”. This sentence has two clauses that should be separated by a punctuation mark.

The first clause is ‘ I need to get to a cyber cafe’. The second clause is ‘I have to file the report before the end of day’. A period (full stop) is needed to separate the clauses. Alternatively, the conjunction ‘because’ should be used to join the independent clauses: “I need to get to a cyber cafe because I have to file the report before the end of the day”.

Viewed independently, the first clause falls in the category of sentence fragments. These are sentences that do not express a complete thought. In the following sentences, the second part represents the fragment sentence: ‘I don’t think I will make it to the shortlist. Because I don’t have the requisite qualifications’. ‘The seemingly drunk Member of Parliament vented his spleen on the president. Which was completely uncalled for’.

Political siege

In the English language, the acceptable format of sentence construction is that which follows the SVO (Subject + Verb + Object) rule. To simplify this, we need to explain who or what is referred to as the subject or object in a sentence.

Ideally, the person or thing that a sentence is about is called the subject. For example “The Mercedes Benz is a powerful, beautiful car”. In this case, the subject is the Mercedes Benz. “Ruto is a man under political siege. How he bears the pressure, no one can tell”. Here, the subject is Ruto. The part of a sentence that contains information about the subject is called a predicate. ‘A man under political siege’ is the predicate in the sentence above.

A verb, as we know, is the action word. It tells what the subject is doing. The object in a sentence is the person or thing to whom or which action is directed. The following example explains it: ‘Sylvester gave away his car’. Here, Sylvester is the subject, ‘gave’, the verb and ‘car’, the object.

Let’s now look at the conjunction ‘that’. In the absence of an intervening conjunction, there is no need to use ‘that’ after the verb’ say’, as many are wont to. While to write “He said that he was going to bed” is grammatical, the proper form is to omit ‘that’. “He said he was going to bed”.

However, when conjunctions such as ‘after’, ‘although’, ‘before’, ‘until’ and ‘while’ intervene between the verb ‘say’, omitting the conjunction ‘that’ introduces an element of ambiguity. For example, “David said that after last week’s therapy, he was going to be fine”.

While this leaves no doubt we are talking about ‘therapy’, the omission of ‘that’ would render the sentence ambiguous.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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Language useSyntaxPunctuation markGrammar