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Author Topic: Fused sentences are very serious, very annoying grammar violations  (Read 265 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: September 17, 2017, 07:48:24 PM »

Of the many varieties of flawed English that I encounter when reading news and feature stories, I consider fused sentences the most serious and the most annoying. This is because I’m pretty sure that they aren’t just run-of-the-mill grammar errors arising from haste or oversight but a disturbing sign of an inadequate grasp of how the English language works.


As we have been taught in English grammar, a fused sentence—also called a run-on or a comma splice—is formed when two or more clauses are improperly linked or wrongly punctuated, resulting in a fractured, badly articulated, and confusing statement. Of course, in an essay written by a college freshman, a fused sentence every now and then may be forgivable, but in the lead sentence of a major education news story?

Consider the following lead sentence in a report of a leading Metro Manila newspaper about a forthcoming preschool education initiative:
  
“MANILA, PHILIPPINES—The Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach pre-school pupils expected to reach 2.5 million enrollees under its universal kindergarten program this coming school year.

“DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonicito Umali said each volunteer, who will work for three to four hours a day (,) will receive a monthly allowance of P3,000.”

Like me when I was reading the lead sentence above, you must have stumbled in bafflement at midsentence. This verb phrase, “expected to reach 2.5 million enrollees under its universal kindergarten program this coming school year,” simply won’t connect to the preceding clause. The sentence suddenly gets garbled and won’t make sense because the reporter—or perhaps the desk editor—had been so intent to cram into that sentence every bit of information in just one long uninterrupted burst of words (a tendency that, I regret to say, is very profound indeed among reporters and editors when constructing lead sentences for their news stories).

On inspection, we find that the problem with that sentence is that with neither rhyme nor reason, it fused the following two independent ideas:

1. “the Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach pre-school pupils,” and

2. “enrolment is expected to reach 2.5 million under the DepEd’s universal kindergarten program this coming school year”

Note that these two ideas are actually independent clauses—grammar elements that, as we learn early in English grammar, need to link up properly and logically so they can work and make sense together. In this case, however, the fused construction was unable to do that basic sentence-combining task.

So how can that sentence achieve a functional linkage? Here are four grammatical options:

1.  The relative cause option (using “who” as relative pronoun): “The Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach the 2.5 million pre-school pupils who are expected to enroll under its universal kindergarten program this coming school year.”

2. The coordinating conjunction option (using “as” as conjunction): “The Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach pre-school pupils this coming school year as enrolment is expected to reach 2.5 million under its universal kindergarten program.”

3. The subordinating conjunction option (using “because” as subordinator”): “The Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach pre-school pupils this coming school year because enrolment is expected to reach 2.5 million under its universal kindergarten program.”

4. The major rewrite option: “The Department of Education (DepEd) will tap the services of about 22,000 volunteers to teach the 2.5 million pre-school pupils expected to enroll this coming school year under its universal kindergarten program.” (Note the crucial presence of the definite article “the” before the noun phrase “2.5 million pre-school pupils…” Without that article, the sentence will stumble into an incoherent heap. Find out for yourself by reading the sentence aloud without that “the.”)
 
Even if it’s a little tougher to construct, my personal preference is Option 4. That total rewrite makes for a much simpler and more streamlined sentence—a far cry from the tangled original and decidedly more readable than the other three options above. (2011)

P.S. Test yourself by correcting the fused text message in this image:
       Give two grammatically plausible answers.


This essay, 741st of the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the May 28, 2011 issue of The Manila Times, © 2011 by the Manila Times Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
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