Author Topic: Fused sentences are telltale signs of a writer’s inability to link ideas  (Read 7911 times)

Joe Carillo

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Most everybody who knows basic English grammar can construct a one-idea sentence correctly, like “The woman fainted,” but not a few would probably fumble adding to that very same sentence the fact that she won the lotto jackpot and that’s why she went into a state of shock. They may come up with a sentence like, say, “The woman fainted she went into a state of shock she won the lotto jackpot.”* This, of course, is what’s known as a fused or run-on sentence—the result of improperly linking or wrongly punctuating two or more clauses in the construction.



Fused sentences go beyond the nuts-and-bolts of English grammar. They are telltale signs that the writer hasn’t mastered the craft yet of connecting ideas in English, so it’s very disturbing to see them not so infrequently in professional writing like news stories and feature articles. Indeed, seeing one of them some time ago in the lead sentence of a government news release prompted me to write the grammar critique below in my English-usage column in The Manila Times in May of 2011. In the essay, re-titled here as “Grammatical options for giving sense to fused sentences,” I offer four ways of making the annoying wayward clauses of such sentences achieve a clear and satisfying functional linkage. (April 22, 2012)   

Grammatical options for giving sense to fused sentences

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 discussed in my book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, a fused sentence 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 last weekend about the country’s preschool education initiative:

Quote
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 got 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 most of us learned 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 coordinate 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 subordinate 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 total 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.”

My personal preference is Option 4, for this 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. (May 28, 2011)

From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, May 28, 2011 issue © 2011 by The Manila Times. All rights reserved.

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*That fused sentence unfused: “The woman won the lotto jackpot, went into a state of shock, then fainted” or “When the woman won the lotto jackpot, she went into a state of shock and fainted” or “The woman went into a state of shock after winning the lotto jackpot, then fainted.” Any other possible way?

« Last Edit: February 12, 2024, 08:14:15 AM by Joe Carillo »