Posted by: Jack Henry | September 15, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Dependent vs. Independent Clauses

Good morning! I hope your day has started off well.

I keep seeing a common error in emails, so today, we’re going to hash it out. Today’s topic is sentence fragments.

We editors commonly see folks punctuating a dependent clause (part of a sentence, which by itself, does not express a complete thought) as though it were an independent clause (a complete thought). You see, when you put a period (or any other end punctuation) at the end of a dependent clause, you create a sentence fragment.

To keep your writing fragment-free, today we’re going to talk about independent and dependent clauses. According to

An independent clause is a complete sentence; it can stand alone.
[Example:] Tattooing was not known in the Western world.

A dependent (subordinate) clause is part of a sentence; it cannot stand alone.
[Example:] Until Captain Cooke returned from his voyage to Tahiti.

If the above independent and dependent clauses were put together in a sentence, it would read: Until Captain Cooke returned from his voyage to Tahiti, tattooing was not known in the Western world.

Most often, all you have to do is attach your fragment (dependent clause)to the beginning or end of an independent clause. If you’re having trouble picking out the fragments in your writing, try this trick: read your paragraphs backwards. Start with the last sentence in a paragraph and read back to the first sentence. When you read your sentences out of order, you can more easily locate fragments because they are incomplete ideas. Then all you need to do is connect the fragment to the nearby clause that creates a complete thought.

Now, before I get any comments about all the fragments you see in the novels and magazine articles you read, I just want to remind you that there is a big difference between professional and creative writing. In professional writing, our aim is to educate, not to entertain. And to do that, we follow the rules set by our common style guides.

Enjoy your day!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

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