Hints of possible sentence problems often show up at the beginning of a sentence. Here are four tips you’ll use again and again:
1. Anything that begins with a person, place, or thing is probably a real sentence and should end with a period.
My trip to Hawaii did not begin well. SENTENCE
If what you’ve written doesn’t begin with a person, place, or thing, it’s probably an extra idea. That’s ok – but remember that it can’t stand alone. It should a) end with a comma and b) be attached to a real sentence.
Although my trip to Hawaii did not begin well, EXTRA IDEA
Although my trip to Hawaii did not begin well, I had a wonderful time there. SENTENCE
(Click here to read about Comma Rule 1.)
2. Remember that it is a thing. Here’s a handy rule of thumb: If it starts with it, it’s a sentence. (This tip can save you from many run-on sentences.)
I pushed on the door, it wouldn’t open. INCORRECT
I pushed on the door. It wouldn’t open. CORRECT
3. The beginning of a sentence usually tells you who or what the sentence is about. Use that information to solve problems with subject-verb agreement.
Changes in top management (has, have) caused cancellations and delays.
Focus on the word changes, and you’ll know immediately that the verb should be has. [Use…has]
Changes in top management have caused cancellations and delays. CORRECT
(Click here to read about Subject-Verb Agreement Rule 4.)
4. Be especially careful about starting sentences with -ing words. Of course it’s correct to start a sentence with a word ending in –ing: Just remember that you risk writing a sentence fragment or a dangling modifier.
Loving her the way he does. FRAGMENT
Loving her the way he does, he can’t bear to see her in so much pain.
Loving her the way he does, the cost of the ring didn’t matter. DANGLING MODIFIER
Loving her the way he does, he didn’t worry for an instant about cost of the ring. CORRECT
If you’re interested in improving your writing, one practice that will pay off again and again is to check the beginning of each sentence. A highlighter makes it easy. Try it!
Photo © Justin Smith / Wikimedia Commons, CC-By-SA-3.0