Here’s a simple principle that can solve many sentence problems: Look at the beginning of the sentence.
And here are four tips for working with the beginning of a sentence that 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.
Elaine wanted to leave the party early. SENTENCE
If it doesn’t begin with a person, place, or thing, it’s probably an extra idea and should a) end with a comma and b) be attached to a real sentence.
Because Elaine wanted to leave the party early, EXTRA IDEA
Because Elaine wanted to leave the party early, I parked the car across the street. 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.
Larry stared at the gift, it took him by surprise. INCORRECT
Larry stared at the gift. It took him by surprise. CORRECT
3. The beginning of the sentence usually tells you who or what the sentence is about. That information will make you more likely to get the rest of the sentence right.
Focusing on our priorities (is, are) especially important this year.
Think about the word focusing, and you’ll know immediately that the verb should be is. [Focusing…is]
Focusing on our priorities is especially important this year. 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: But you risk writing a sentence fragment or a dangling modifier.
Combing his hair as he pulled on his jacket. FRAGMENT
He was combing his hair as he pulled on his jacket. CORRECT
Combing his hair, his cell phone rang. DANGLING MODIFIER
While he was combing his hair, his cell phone rang. CORRECT