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Part Four
The Four Most
Serious Errors

22. The Basic Sentence 385

23. Fragments 401
24. Run-Ons 418
25. Problems with Subject-Verb
Agreement 434
26. Verb Problems 452


The Basic Sentence
An Overview

The Four Most Serious Errors

This book emphasizes the four grammar errors that people most often ■ IDEA JOURNAL
notice. These four errors may make your meaning harder to understand, Write about any prob-
lems you have had
and they give readers a bad impression of you. It’s like going for a job with grammar in the
interview in pajamas. People will notice. past.

1. Fragments (see Chapter 23)

2. Run-ons (see Chapter 24)
3. Problems with subject-verb agreement (see Chapter 25)
4. Problems with verb form and tense (see Chapter 26)

If you can edit your writing to correct the four most serious errors,
your sentences will be clearer, and your grades will improve. Learning
how to correct these errors will make a big difference in your writing.
This chapter will review the basic elements of the sentence; the next
four chapters cover the four most serious errors.

The Parts of Speech

There are seven basic parts of speech in English:
■ In the examples in
this chapter, subjects
1. A noun names a person, place, or thing. are underlined once
and verbs are under-
Heroin is a drug. lined twice.


386 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

2. A pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence. A pronoun can be the subject

of a sentence (I, you, he, she, it, we, they), or it can be the object of a sen-
tence (me, you, him, her, us, them). A pronoun can also show possession
(mine, yours, his, her, its, our, their).

It causes addiction.

3. A verb tells what the subject does, or it links a subject to another word
that describes it.

Heroin causes addiction. [The verb causes is what the subject Heroin does.]

It is dangerous. [The verb is links the subject It to a word that describes it:

4. An adjective describes a noun or pronoun.

[Heroin is dangerous. [The adjective dangerous describes the noun Heroin.]

It is lethal. [The adjective lethal describes the pronoun It.]

5. An adverb describes an adjective, a verb, or another adverb. Many ad-

verbs end in -ly.

Heroin is very dangerous. [The adverb very describes the adjective dangerous.]

Addiction occurs quickly. [The adverb quickly describes the verb occurs.]

Addiction occurs very quickly. [The adverb very describes the adverb

6. A preposition connects a noun, pronoun, or verb with some other

information about it (across, at, in, of, on, around, over, and to are some

Dealers often sell drugs around schools. [The preposition around connects
the noun drugs with the noun school.]

7. A conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) connects words.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 387

Language Note: Any idea that ends with a period needs a subject
and a verb to be a complete sentence. For a review of subjects and
verbs, see pages 388–94.
If you aren’t sure about the order in which words in a sentence
usually appear, see Chapter 33.


In the following sentences, fill in each blank with a word that is the part of ■ For answers to
speech called for in parentheses after the blank. Note: Some verbs may be odd-numbered prac-
tice items, see pages
in the past tense, and some verbs may use a helping verb such as is or was.
A-1–A-19 at the back
of the book.

EXAMPLE: The soccer (adjective) coach

(noun), a former
drill sergeant, demanded (verb) that she (pronoun)
arrive promptly (adverb) for (preposition) practice.

1. The young (noun), who was new (preposition)

the school, (verb) to join the debating (conjunc-
tion) fencing clubs.

2. (pronoun) dream (verb) to play the –

(noun) (preposition) the (adjective) band.

3. The (noun) that (adverb) went by ––

(verb) it difficult for the hotel’s (adjective) customers to sleep.

4. The (adjective) (noun), a recent addition –––– ––––

(preposition) the neighborhood, (verb) the freshest fruit
––– ––– (conjunction) vegetables that (pronoun) had ever

5. Shaking his head (adverb), (pronoun) looked up

and (verb) to get out (preposition) the car.

388 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

The Basic Sentence

A sentence is the basic unit of written communication. A complete sen-
tence written in standard English must have three elements:
• A subject
• A verb
• A complete thought
To edit your writing, you need a clear understanding of what a sen-
tence is and what a sentence is not. You can find out if a group of words
is a complete sentence by checking to see if it has a subject, a verb, and a
complete thought.

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing that the sentence
■ For a list of is about. The subject of the sentence can be a noun (a word that names
pronoun types, see the person, place, or thing) or a pronoun (a word that replaces the noun,
page 496. such as I, you, she, or they).

Language Note: English sentences always have a subject.

INCORRECT Is hot outside.
CORRECT It is hot outside.
If you write sentences without any subject, see page 582.

To find the subject, ask yourself, “Who or what is the sentence about?”

PERSON AS SUBJECT Vivian works for the police department.

[Who is the sentence about? Vivian]

THING AS SUBJECT The tickets cost $65 apiece.

[What is the sentence about? The tickets]

Language Note: The two sentences above use the word the before
the noun (the police department, the tickets). The, a, and an are called
articles. If you have trouble deciding which article to use with which
nouns or if you often forget to use an article, see page 618.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 389

A compound subject consists of two (or more) subjects joined by

and, or, or nor.

TWO SUBJECTS Marty and Kim have a new baby girl.

SEVERAL SUBJECTS The jacket, pants, and sweater match perfectly.
SEVERAL SUBJECTS Kim, Juan, or Melba will bring dessert.

A prepositional phrase is a word group that begins with a prepo-

sition and ends with a noun or pronoun. A preposition is a word that
connects a noun, pronoun, or verb with some other information about it.
The subject of a sentence is never in a prepositional phrase.

Language Note: If you have trouble deciding which prepositions to

use, see page 622.


The check is in the mail.

Prepositional phrase

The subject of the sentence is check. The subject can’t be the word mail,
which is in the prepositional phrase in the mail.


One of my best friends is a circus clown.

Prepositional phrase

Although the word friends may seem to be the subject of the sentence, it
isn’t. One is the subject. The word friends can’t be the subject because it is
in the prepositional phrase of my best friends.
When you are looking for the subject of a sentence in your writing, it may
help to cross out any prepositional phrases, as in the following sentences.

The rules about smoking are posted everywhere.

The sound of lightning striking a tree is like gunfire.
Many of the students work part-time.

390 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

Common Prepositions
about beneath like to
above beside near toward
across between next to under
after by of until
against down off up
along during on upon
among except out with
around for outside within
at from over without
before in past
behind inside since
below into through



In each of the following sentences, cross out any prepositional phrases, and
underline the subject of the sentence.

EXAMPLE: For several months, Ronald has been raising a guide dog
for the blind.

1. Many other people around the country are raising guide dog puppies.

2. However, Ronald’s situation is unusual because he is in prison.

3. Ronald is participating in a program called Puppies Behind Bars.

4. The dog he is raising, a black Labrador puppy named Cooper, lives with
Ronald twenty-four hours a day.

5. Whenever Ronald’s cell is locked, Cooper stays in the cell with him.

6. In the cell, Ronald plays with the dog, rolling on the floor with him and
talking to him in a high voice.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 391

7. Ronald teaches Cooper manners and obedience before the start of Cooper’s
formal guide dog training.

8. In return, Ronald gains a sense of responsibility.

9. When he finishes his formal training, Cooper will be matched with a blind

10. Ronald believes that he and Cooper are contributing an important service ■ For more practice,
visit Exercise Central
to society. at bedfordstmartins

Every sentence has a main verb, the word or words that tell what the sub-
ject does or that link the subject to another word that describes it. Verbs
do not always immediately follow the subject: Other words may come
between the subject and the verb.
There are three kinds of verbs — action verbs, linking verbs, and help-
ing verbs.

Language Note: Be careful with -ing and to forms of verbs

(reading, to read ).
INCORRECT Terence loves to be reading.
CORRECT Terence loves reading. or Terence loves to read.
If you make errors like this, see page 610.

Action Verbs
An action verb tells what action the subject performs.
To find the main action verb in a sentence, ask yourself, “What action
does the subject perform?”


The baby cried all night.

The building collapsed around midnight.

392 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

After work, we often go to Tallie’s.

My aunt and uncle train service dogs.

Linking Verbs
A linking verb connects (links) the subject to a word or group of words
that describe the subject. Linking verbs show no action. The most com-
mon linking verb is be, along with all its forms (am, is, are, and so on).
Other linking verbs, such as seem and become, can usually be replaced by
the corresponding form of be, and the sentence will still make sense.
To find linking verbs, ask yourself, “What word joins the subject and
the words that describe the subject?”


The dinner is delicious.

I felt great this morning.
This lasagna tastes just like my mother’s.
The doctor looks extremely tired.

Some words can be either action verbs or linking verbs, depending on

how they are used in a particular sentence.

ACTION VERB The dog smelled Jake’s shoes.

LINKING VERB The dog smelled terrible.

Common Linking Verbs


am become, becomes appear, appears

are became appeared
is seem, seems feel, feels, felt
was seemed look, looks
were looked
smell, smells
taste, tastes, tasted

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 393

Language Note: The verb be cannot be left out of sentences

in English.
INCORRECT Tonya well now.
CORRECT Tonya is well now.

Helping Verbs
A helping verb joins with the main verb in the sentence to form the com-
plete verb. The helping verb is often a form of the verb be, have, or do. A
sentence may have more than one helping verb along with the main verb.

Helping verb + Main verb = Complete verb


Sunil was talking on his cell phone.
[The helping verb is was, and the main verb is talking. The complete verb is was

Charisse is taking three courses this semester.

Tomas has missed the last four meetings.
My brother might have passed the test.

Common Helping Verbs


am have do can
are has does could
been had did may
being might
is must
was should
were will

394 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

Language Note: The verb be cannot be left out of sentences in

INCORRECT Greg studying tonight.
CORRECT Greg is studying tonight.



In the following sentences, underline each subject and double-underline each

verb. Then, identify each verb as an action verb, a linking verb, or a helping
verb + a main verb.

EXAMPLE: At first, Miguel did not want to attend his high school

reunion. helping verb + main verb

1. Miguel’s family moved to Ohio from Guatemala ten years ago.

2. He was the new kid at his high school that fall.

3. Miguel was learning English at that time.

4. The football players teased small, quiet boys like him.

5. After graduation, he was delighted to leave that part of his life behind.

6. Recently, the planning committee sent Miguel an invitation to his high

school reunion.

7. His original plan had been to throw the invitation in the trash.

8. Instead, he is going to the reunion to satisfy his curiosity.

9. His family is proud of Miguel’s college degree and his new career as a
graphic artist.

10. Perhaps some of the other students at the reunion will finally get to know
the real Miguel.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 395

Complete Thoughts
A complete thought is an idea that is expressed in a sentence and that
makes sense by itself, without other sentences. An incomplete thought
leaves readers wondering what’s going on.

INCOMPLETE THOUGHT as I was leaving [What’s going on?]

COMPLETE THOUGHT The phone rang as I was leaving.

INCOMPLETE THOUGHT the people selling the car [What’s going on?]
COMPLETE THOUGHT The people selling the car placed the ad.

To identify a complete thought, ask yourself, “Do I know what’s going on,
or do I have to ask a question to understand?”

INCOMPLETE THOUGHT in the apartment next door

[Do I know what’s going on, or do I have to ask a question to understand? You
would have to ask a question, so this is not a complete thought.]

COMPLETE THOUGHT Carlos lives in the apartment next door.


Some of the following items contain complete thoughts, and others do not.
In the space to the left of each item, write either “C” for complete thought or
“I” for incomplete thought. If you write “I,” add words to make a sentence.

, he or she must return it in good condition.

EXAMPLE: I If someone wants to borrow the club’s bike./

1. Although some prefer classic rock.

2. Eager to see the movie from its beginning.

3. Richard’s late.

4. The arriving train.

5. There are apples.

6. Do not run.

396 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

7. Playing loud music at a bus stop.

8. They’re right.

9. Even with too many people signed up for the softball team.

10. Instead of wearing a traditional tie.

Six Basic Sentence Patterns

In English, there are six basic sentence patterns, some of which you have
already worked with in this chapter. Although there are other patterns,
they build on these six.

1. Subject-Verb (S-V)
This is the most basic pattern, as you have already seen.

Airplanes pollute.

2. Subject-Linking Verb-Noun (S-LV-N)

Fuel is a pollutant.

3. Subject-Linking Verb-Adjective (S-LV-ADJ)

Travel seems cheap.

4. Subject-Verb-Adverb (S-V-ADV)

Pollution costs dearly.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 397

5. Subject-Verb-Direct Object (S-V-DO)

A direct object directly receives the action of the verb.

It degrades ozone.

6. Subject-Verb-Indirect Object-Direct Object

An indirect object does not directly receive the action of the verb.

Biofuels offer us hope.


In each of the following sentences, identify the basic sentence pattern by writ-
ing “S” above the subject, “V” above a verb, “LV” above a linking verb, “N”
above a noun, “ADJ” above an adjective, “ADV” above an adverb, “DO”
above a direct object, and “IO” above an indirect object.

EXAMPLE: Dogs teach people manners.

1. Dogs teach.

2. Dogs are natural coaches.

3. Dogs appear submissive.

4. They teach people lessons.

5. They instruct unintentionally.

6. They clearly teach.

398 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

7. Dogs give owners valuable lessons.

8. Dogs greet owners excitedly.

9. Dogs respond promptly.

10. Dogs are extremely polite.

Edit Paragraphs and Your Own Writing


Underline each subject, double-underline each verb, and correct the six
incomplete thoughts.

(1) It can be easier to help others than many people think. (2) For example,

donating hair. (3) Some people need donated hair in the form of wigs. (4)

Who uses these wigs? (5) Mostly, children with cancer or other diseases

that cause hair loss. (6) Donating is popular, especially with young girls.

(7) More and more frequently, though, men and boys are contributing

hair. (8) For example, one nonprofit organization. (9) It receives up to

2,000 locks of hair every week. (10) Unfortunately, most of the donated

hair is unusable for this charity’s wigs. (11) Because the charity’s

guidelines are quite strict. (12) Rejecting hair that is gray, wet, moldy, too

short, or too processed. (13) It is able to sell some rejected hair to help

meet the group’s costs. (14) But continues to encourage donations. (15)

Obviously, contributors feel they are getting more than they are giving.

Chapter 22 • The Basic Sentence 399


Underline each subject, double-underline each verb, and correct the six
incomplete thoughts.

(1) New parents commonly dress their baby boys in blue. (2) And

their girls in pink. (3) Now, a recent study suggests that males actually do

prefer blue and females prefer pink. (4) Or at least a redder shade of blue.

(5) The study involved 208 men and women ages 20 to 26. (6) Who were

asked to quickly select their preferred color. (7) Choosing from about

1,000 colored rectangles on a computer screen. (8) Women and men

like blue. (9) According to the study. (10) However, women clearly

express a greater preference for the pinker end of the blue color spectrum.

(11) The researchers think that females may have developed a preference

for more reddish colors. (12) Which resemble riper fruit and healthier



In each blank, fill in a word that is the appropriate part of speech.

(1) Taking a peek a fellow passenger’s computer screen is OK to

do, right? (2) This is a serious question at a time when airplane flights

tightly packed laptop use is common. (3) What if the in

the next seat is watching an offensive movie headphones? (4)

A recent survey that 45 percent business travelers admit to

peeking at someone else’s laptop in a public place. (5) In many cases,

it is impossible to avoid getting a glimpse of a nearby screen.

(6) So, what is the etiquette for in-flight laptop use? (7) If you

400 Part Four • The Four Most Serious Errors

are using laptop, bring headphones. (8) Do not watch

that are in poor taste. (9) If a neighbor seems interested, invite

to watch. (10) If you are sitting next to a laptop user, don’t peek.

(11) However, if the movie is watching looks interesting, it is

OK to ask to watch. (12) If the sound is high the content

offensive, tell the laptop user. (13) If that does not work, a flight

attendant for assistance.


In each sentence of the following paragraph, identify the basic sentence pat-
tern by writing “S” above the subject, “V” above a verb, “LV” above a linking
verb, “DO” above a direct object, and “IO” above an indirect object.

(1) It is afternoon. (2) At this hour, many people become drowsy. (3)

Most fight this “post-lunch dip.” (4) Some people nap. (5) Others give

themselves a coffee transfusion. (6) Some try exercise. (7) The cleverest,

however, use simple planning. (8) For these people, the “dip” is the time

for simple, non-creative tasks. (9) They give their brains a well-deserved

break. (10) Later in the afternoon, their energy returns. (11) At this

point, they resume more complex tasks. (12) Sometimes, the path of least

resistance is best.