Essential Grammar

This page explains the grammar rules essential to writing  and gives examples  to illustrate each explanation.  There are nine main sections below:

1.0 Nouns  (Countable, Uncountable nouns)
2.0 Determiners (Articles; Demonstrative Pronouns; Quantifiers; Possessive Pronouns)
3.0 Pronouns (Personal, Indefinite, Relative, Reflexive, Intensive and Interrogative Pronouns)
4.0 Verbs (Dynamic and Stative verbs; Subject-Verb Agreement)
5.0 Active and Passive voice (Structure; Verb form)
6.0 Prepositions (Preposition of Place, Direction, Time, Agency, Instrument; Prepositional Phrases;Compound Prepositions)
7.0 Punctuation (Full stop; Comma; Oxford Comma; Semi-colon; Colon; Style)
8.0 Sentence Structure (Coordination; Subordination – Adverbial, Relative, Non-finite clauses; Parallel structure; Fragments and Dangling modifiers; Cohesive devices/ Signposting)
9.0 Words (Word Forms; Academic Word List) 


Grammar is a system of language that deals with the way words are placed to form a proper sentence.

For example:

1.0 Nouns

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns have a singular and plural form. They can be counted using numbers (e.g. book- books; idea – ideas).

Nouns can be singular or plural and can be divided into regular or irregular nouns. A regular noun can generally take on a plural form by adding “s”, “es”, “ies” at the end of the word.

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns cannot be counted with numbers. They can be physical objects that cannot be counted (e.g. rice, tea, sugar) or abstract ideas (e.g. knowledge). They are used with a singular verb.

The presence of a countable or uncountable noun also determines the usage of determiners and verbs.

Scroll to top

2.0 Determiners

A determiner is a word that introduces a noun and it comes before any adjectives used to describe the noun.  

There are four main functions of determiners:

2.1 Articles – a, an, the

2.2 Demonstrative pronouns – this, that, these, those


2.3 Quantifiers – e.g. few, little, much, many, a lot of, most, some, any, all


2.4 Possessive Pronouns – my, your, his, her, our, their, its

Scroll to top

3.0 Pronouns

Pronouns are used in place of nouns or a noun phrase.

3.1 Personal Pronouns


An antecedent is a noun or noun phrase that is mentioned at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph and is later replaced with a pronoun.

Pronoun Agreement – Antecedents + pronouns

3.2 Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to nonspecific people or things


  • “one” – one, anyone, someone, everyone, no one
  • “body”- anybody, somebody, everybody, nobody
  • “thing” – anything, something, everything, nothing
  • Others – any, each, either, neither, none

3.3 Relative pronouns – what, which, that, who, whom, whoever, whomever, whichever

3.3.1 Defining and Non-defining Relative clauses

For more detailed information, please refer to 9.2 Sentence Subordination for more information.

3.4 Reflexive Pronouns – e.g. myself, yourself, herself, himself

3.5 Intensive Pronouns – e.g. myself, yourself, herself, himself

3.6 Interrogative Pronouns – e.g. who, what, which, whose

Scroll to top

4.0 Verbs

4.1 Dynamic and Stative Verbs: Classifying verbs based on their meanings

In its most basic “dictionary” sense, a verb is a word that conveys an action or expresses a state.

Most verbs denote actions; we call them dynamic verbs.

Meanwhile, other verbs express a state. States are distinguished from actions in that they generally do not denote physical movement or activity. Stative verbs are used by speakers or writers to convey their thoughts, feelings, or sensations.

Moreover, there is a subset of stative verbs that we call verbs of being.

In summary, verbs denote an action (dynamic) or express a state or being (stative).

4.2 Classifying verbs based on their grammatical features

4.2.1 Five different types of grammatical information

Consider this sentence: Martha buys groceries. This sentence contains several pieces of grammatical information. These pieces of information are “encoded” into the verb, i.e., buys.

Here in Section 4.2, we will explore FIVE different types of grammatical information that verbs carry in a sentence. In order to identify them, let us examine five sets of sentences below.

The next sub-sections (4.2.2 to 4.2.4) will describe and explain these notions in greater detail.

4.2.2 Tense and grammatical aspect


Let us take a look again at these sentences from Section 4.2.1:

Verb tense tells us about the speaker’s temporal reference point. You can modify the tense of the verb to indicate whether an action or event takes place in relation to your past, present, or future time.

In English, there are three kinds of verb tense: present, past, and future:

Regular and irregular past tense

In English, the past tense can be in the regular form or irregular form.

Grammatical aspect

As mentioned in Section 4.2.1, verbs can be modified to indicate the duration of an action or event – that is, the length of time the action or event takes place.

In English, there are four types of grammatical aspect: simple, perfect, continuous (also known as progressive), and perfect continuous. Their definitions are summarised below:

Note above that the formulae for perfect, continuous, and perfect continuous aspects include past or present participles.

Participles are verbs that help you identify a speaker’s temporal reference (i.e., tense).

  • A present participle is a verb in the present tense. It takes the suffix -ing, e.g., buying. This suffix also tells you that the verb carries either the continuous or perfect continuous aspect.
  • A past participle is similar to a regular verb written in the past tense in that it also takes the suffix -d/-ed (e.g., chased, fixed). It can also take the suffix -en (e.g., chosen, swollen).
  • In the case of past participles, however, -d/-ed/-en carries not only the past tense, but also the perfect aspect.

Now, let us apply the above formulae for grammatical aspect by using the verb contemplate:

It is important to note that aspect is always defined in conjunction with tense. This means that tense and aspect are always modified together to reflect both the temporal reference point and duration of an action or event.

For more information on how verbs are modified to indicate tense and aspect, read 4.2.2 .

Grammar tenses explain the time of the action or the state of the verb. Verbs come in three major tenses which include the past, present and future. The table below gives an overview of the twelve basic English tenses.

For more examples of how tenses can be used, please refer to 5.1 Table 2 found in Academic Writing.

4.2.3 Grammatical number

Verbs in English can reflect grammatical number, which tells us about the quantity of the Subject in the sentence. Whether a Subject is singular or plural is an important criterion for Subject-Verb Agreement (see Section 4.3.1).

There are two types of grammatical number: singular and plural. When the verb in in the singular form, the Subject quantity is one (1). Meanwhile, a verb in the plural form indicates that the Subject quantity is greater than 1.

Let us use the verb meet to differentiate singular and plural forms:

Notice above that the form of the verb changes in relation to the subject quantity: meet vs meet + -s.

For more information on how verb forms can be modified to reflect grammatical number, read Section 4.3.2.

4.2.4 Finiteness

Let us take a look again at a set of sentences from Section 4.2.1:

Based on Sentences A-C and D-F, it seems that certain verb forms are grammatically compatible only with certain clause types. So, which clause types and verbs forms go together? Before we can answer this question, we need to first understand the concept of finiteness.

Finite verbs

Finiteness is a core grammatical property of a verb. Verbs that are finite are (by default) written in their bare form, e.g., meet. But when finite verbs occur in a clause, they are always inflected for tense, aspect, and number (quantity) of the Subject, as shown in the table below:

Non-finite verbs

Non-finite verbs are verbs that do not contain information on tense and aspect. There are two forms of non-finite verbs: infinitives and gerunds.

In English, infinitives are always written with a preposition to before the verb. For example: to go, to run, to accomplish, to become, etc. Also, infinitives do not have a clear number agreement with the Subject of the sentence:

Meanwhile, gerunds are similar to present participle verbs in that they are formed by combining verbs with the suffix -ing, e.g., swimming, shopping, relaxing. Gerunds, however, are different from participles in that they function not as verbs, but as nouns, i.e., as the Subject or Object of a sentence:

Relationship between finiteness and clause structure

The presence of a finite verb in a clause indicates that the clause is independent.

Meanwhile, when a verb in a clause is written in its non-finite form, the clause is said to be dependent.

A clause is said to be independent if it can stand alone as a complete sentence. If it cannot do so, then it said to be dependent. A dependent clause needs to attach to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.

Let us illustrate independent and dependent clauses using the verb meet:

  • The clause [Jen will meet her monthly sales target] is an independent clause because it is complete and can stand on its own.
  • The clause [to meet her monthly sales target] is a dependent clause because it is incomplete and cannot stand on its own. Without attaching to the independent clause [Jen must work hard], the dependent clause will not make sense.
  • [Meeting the monthly sales target] also functions as a dependent clause because it is needs to attach to the main clause, [[X] is a must for Jen], and occupy the Subject position (denoted by X).

For more information on finite verbs, non-finite verbs, independent clauses, and dependent clauses, read Section 8.2.

4.2.5 Transitivity

As mentioned in Section 4.2.1, transitivity refers to the relationship of a verb to the Object(s) of a sentence.

To be more specific, transitivity tells us how many Objects a verb can take in a sentence. We saw in Section 4.2.1 that most verbs take one or two Objects, but there are also other verbs that take none.

In English, there are three main kinds of transitivity: intransitive, transitive, and ditransitive.

Intransitive verbs

Verbs that are intransitive take no objects in a sentence. To illustrate this, let us use the verbs arrive, fall, and explode:

Sentences A, B, and C above show that intransitive verbs do not require an Object; in fact, if we add the Objects the airport, the man, and a building to each respective verb, the sentences become ungrammatical, i.e., Sentences D, E, and F [indicated by the asterisk (*) sign].

For a more detailed discussion of intransitive verbs, read .

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs take one Object. To illustrate this, we will use the verbs greet, believe, and seem.

Sentence A, B, and C above show that the verbs greet, believe, and seems take one Object each: me, that Wei Keong was telling the truth, and sad. Removing these Objects will render the sentences ungrammatical, indicated by the asterisks in Sentences D, E, and F.

For a more detailed discussion of transitive verbs, read

Ditransitive verbs

Ditransitive verbs take two Objects: a Direct Object (DO), and an Indirect Object (IO).

To illustrate the difference between DO and IO more clearly, let us examine the transitive verb give:

In this sentence, [a box of chocolates] is the DO because it “experiences” the act of being given by the Subject [Jonathan]. Then, [Evelyn] is the IO because she is the “beneficiary” of the box of chocolates that Jonathan bought.

The difference between DO and IO becomes more evident when we change the structure of the sentence, as illustrated below:

The preposition to makes it clear that:

  • [A box of the chocolates] is the object given by Jonathan to Evelyn; hence, it is the Direct Object of the sentence.
  • [Evelyn] is the recipient of the box of chocolates; hence, she is the Indirect Object of the sentence.

To illustrate more examples of ditransitivity, we will use the verbs ask, send, and throw.

  • Sentences A, B, and C follow the formula [Subj] + [V] + [IO] + [DO].
  • Sentences D, E, and F follow the formula [Subj] + [V] + [DO] + to/for + [IO].

For a more detailed discussion of ditransitive verbs, read .


Verbs can take zero, one, or two Objects in a sentence.

4.3 Subject-Verb agreement

In a basic English sentence:

  • the Subject is the focus of the sentence or message; it is usually a person or thing that is actively doing something.
  • the Object is the thing that is acted upon by the
  • the Verb describes the action that takes place in the sentence and so, links the Subject and Object

4.3.1 Subject-Verb Agreement: The Basic Rule

The basic rule is that the Subject must AGREE (in number) with the Verb.

This means:

  • A singular Subject requires a singular Verb                                         Karen wears a mask.
  • A plural Subject requires a plural Verb                                                  They wear

Identifying the Subject

It is important to remember that the Verb agrees with the Subject.

This rule is easy to follow in a simple sentence because the Subject is easy to identify.

When the Subject is a complex noun phrase or when there are more clauses in a sentence, it is important to be able to recognise that the Verb acts upon the Subject of the sentence.

In such instances, you may be misled by a phrase that comes between the Subject and the Verb.

For explanatory notes about complex noun phrases and sentences see  .

4.3.2 Four Fundamental Subject-Verb Agreement Rules

Scroll to top

5.0 Active and Passive voice 

In English grammar, the Verb can be expressed in the active voice and the passive voice.

The active voice is direct because the Subject is the one that carries out the action. It is increasingly used in academic writing.

5.1 Active Voice

5.2 Passive Voice

A passive voice sentence focuses on the action and less on who or what carries out the action. It is usually longer than an active voice sentence. It is used less frequently than the active voice sentence.

The choice between using the active voice or the passive voice depends on the purpose of your writing. If you wish to focus on the agent (i.e. who or what that performs the action), then you should use the active voice. On the other hand, if your focus is NOT on the agent but on that which receives an action or the action itself, you should use the passive voice. The passive voice is used more frequently in less personal writing such as scientific reports for describing a process or a method, academic journals or official documents.

In the next section, we will take a closer look at how a passive voice sentence is structured.

5.2.1 Structure of the Passive

The passive has the following basic structure:

subject + verb to be + past participle + (adverbial phrase)

For example:

5.2.2 The Passive Verb Form

The passive form of the verb consists of the verb to be followed by the past participle.


Here are some examples:

See PDF 5.2.2 for more information about the passive verb form.

Scroll to top

6.0 Prepositions

What is a preposition?

A preposition is usually a single word that links one part of a sentence to the other.  Prepositions indicate relationships (of place, time, agency) between a noun, verb or pronoun and other parts of the sentence.

It can also provide extra information.

Consider the sentence below: Lawrence taught at this university.

The preposition of space and place at:

  • links the Subject and the Object of the sentence together.
  • indicates that the next piece of information that is offered will refer to a place.


Below are more examples of the use of at:

They will meet at the stadium.                                                               Preposition of Place

If somebody is speaking to you, you should look at them.               Preposition of Direction

The exam will begin at 9 a.m.                                                                Preposition of Time

For more examples of the use of at, see 6.2.1 and 6.2.3

6.1 Prepositional Phrases

The phrase at the university in 6.0 is a prepositional phrase. A simple prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and its object. For example: She is with child.

  • Generally, there are two types of prepositional phrases: adjectival phrases and adverbial phrases.
  • Adjectival phrases are prepositional phrases that function like adjectives (modify nouns).

Example: The woman in the front row is the Prime Minister.

  • Adverbial phrases are prepositional phrases that function like adverbs (modify verbs).

Example: The young man delivered the speech with conviction.

6.2 Types of Prepositions

Some prepositions, such as at, in, and on, may be used for a variety of purposes; the meaning of these prepositions depend on context. Other prepositions such as under serve a specific function. Yet other prepositions such as beside and by are so close in meaning that they can be used interchangeably. When in doubt, it is best to consult a dictionary.

In general, there are five types of prepositions:

6.2.1 Prepositions of Place

  • indicate the location of something in relation to a noun.
  • show the place where something or someone is located.

6.2.2 Prepositions of Direction                            

  • point to the direction in which something is moving and the place where they are coming or going from.

6.2.3 Prepositions of Time

  • precede information about when something occurred.

6.2.4 Prepositions of Agency

  • link the doer of the sentence to the action (verb) performed.
  • identify the thing or person that has made something happen.

6.2.5 Prepositions of Instrument             

  • link instruments (machines/devices) to the rest of the words in the sentence.

6.3 Compound Prepositions

  • A compound preposition consists of more than a single word.
  • It may have both literal and figurative meanings.

Here is a list of the most commonly used compound prepositions:

Scroll to top

7.0 Punctuation

Punctuation is a series of marks that can indicate either connections, or pauses and breaks between words, phrases, clauses and sentences.

In short, punctuation is used either to link, or to separate. Consider Examples 1 and 2:


Punctuation marks are necessary for clarity and meaning. Using a punctuation mark incorrectly may cause a lot of confusion. Consider the examples below:

7.1 Punctuation and Style

In the past, punctuation was more heavily used, particularly in academic writing. Contemporary use of punctuation tends to be more sparing.

How much punctuation a writer uses is often a matter of style. Writers who write creatively often experiment playfully with punctuation. The work of American poet e e cummings, for example, is characterized by an absence of upper-case letters.

While scholars may express some individual style through their choice of punctuation, they are obliged to follow the style guide of their specific discipline.

If you need to know if a comma or a full stop should be placed inside or outside quotation marks, refer to the style guide specified by your instructor.

However, the basic rules of punctuation remain fairly constant. These are discussed in section 7.2.

7.2 Essential Punctuation

Full stops, commas, semi-colons and colons are the most commonly used punctuation.  The table provides a quick summary of their functions.

7.2.1 Full stop

7.2.2 Common Errors [Sentence Fragments]

7.2.3 Comma

The comma is used to separate, and sometimes link, pieces of information. It is used to:

  1. separate items in a list
  2. separate a noun phrase
  3. introduce direct speech
  4. separate clauses in a sentence
  5. pause for emphasis

7.2.4  Common Errors [Run-ons and Comma Splices]

Run-ons are sentences that go on and on, to a point that the reader cannot make out the intended message or meaning of the sentence.

  • They occur when 2 or more independent clauses are joined without correct punctuation or conjunctions.

Two or more independent clauses (Subject + Verb+ Object) are connected improperly.

Comma splices are a specific type of run on sentence. They are also the most common.

  • This occurs when 2 independent clauses are connected with a single, overworked comma.

How do you fix a comma splice?

Here is a typical comma splice:

Section 124A is an archaic law, it is upheld to appease conservative members of society.

There are 2 independent clauses here:

  1. Section 124A is an archaic law.
  2. Section 124A is upheld to appease conservative members of society.

7.2.5 The Oxford (Serial) Comma

The Oxford, or serial, comma is a comma that is placed at the end of a list of things and precedes the conjunction ‘and.’

  • The Oxford comma is considered unnecessary by some style guides.
  • However, in certain contexts, the separation it provides in a list, adds clarity and avoids confusion.

7.2.6 Semi-colon

The semi-colon, like the full stop and the comma, separates.

It indicates a break or pause that is somewhere between the comma and the full stop.

It is used to separate independent clauses that are closely related and separate things in a list where the comma is already in use.

7.2.7 Colon

The colon and the semi-colon are often confused. To make a distinction, remember that a semi-colon links two independent clauses that are closely related.

The colon also links independent clauses that are related. However, it indicates a specific relationship.


7.3 Dashes and Hyphens

Dashes and hyphens are often used interchangeably. However, they perform distinct functions.

Their primary function is to separate information.

Scroll to top

8.0 Sentence Structure

The basic unit of a sentence is the clause. In its simplest form, a clause consists of two elements: a subject and a verb.

For example:

Beyond this basic structure of subject + verb, other information can be added.

Here are some examples:



8.1 Sentence Structures: Coordination

Some ideas are too complex and they have to be expressed in more than one clause. One way of doing this is to join up separate clauses with connecting words like “furthermore” (indicating an addition), “similarly” (indicating a parallel), “in contrast ” (indicating a contrast), “thus” (indicating a causal link), “meanwhile” (indicating a time sequence), “firstly/secondly… ” (ordering points).

Here is an example of how connecting words are used.


Investing in properties requires a large capital outlay but it promises stable returns. In contrast, investing in stocks requires a much smaller capital outlay but the returns are uncertain.


When expressing ideas, we often join two or more clauses of equal importance with a coordinating conjunction, or connecting word(s), which gives the linked units equal emphasis.

Here is another example.

The experiment is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome and is likely to cause other problems.

See PDF 8.1 for more examples.


8.2 Sentence Structure: Subordination

As with coordination, subordination also involves the linking of clauses.  In this case, however, greater emphasis is given to one idea over another.  In other words, there is a main clause (giving the main and more important idea) and the subordinate or dependent clause (giving the less important idea). The main clause can stand independently, but the subordinate or dependent clauses must be joined to a main clause. There are broadly three types of subordinate or dependent clauses: adverbial clauses, relative clauses, and non-finite clauses.


8.2.1 Adverbial clauses

The adverbial clause is a subordinate or dependent clause. The entire clause functions as an adverb and it is used to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb.

Here are some examples of adverbial clauses (underlined).

When the water is heated, pour the ingredients into the pot.

The skies have been clear blue since the factories shut down.

See PDF 8.2.1 for more examples of sentences where there are subordinate or dependent clauses.

8.2.2 Relative clauses

When someone or something is mentioned, it is often necessary or useful to provide further information about them.  This can be done by using relative clauses. A relative clause usually appears right after the noun or pronoun it modifies. The relative pronoun (i.e. which, that, who, when, when, and whom) stands in place of a noun or pronoun, which usually appears earlier in the sentence.

Here are some examples of sentences where relative clauses (underlined) are found.

Identifying and non-identifying relative clauses

There are two types of relative clauses: Identifying and non-identifying which was covered in 3.4. Identifying clauses


Identifying clauses help you identify the thing being talked about.

They are important to the message of the sentence, so you do not use commas.

They are also called dependent clauses because they do not make sense on their own.


Here are some examples of dependent or identifying clauses (underlined):


The university that invited the Nobel Laureate to give the commencement speech will organize the World Science Conference this year.

The scientist who has been awarded the Nobel Prize will give the commencement speech.

The scientist whom the university invited a year ahead, will give the commencement speech.

The Padang where many National Day Parades have taken place is a landmark in Singapore.

The research which made groundbreaking discoveries has been invited to make presentations all over the world. Non-identifying clauses


Non-identifying clauses provide extra information about the thing being talked about.

They are not essential to the message of the sentence, and neither are they used for identifying the noun before them. Use a pair of commas to separate the clause from the main message.

They are also called dependent clauses because they do not make sense on their own.


Here are some examples of non-identifying clauses (underlined)


Prof Yang, who is a Nobel Prize Laureate, will grace the occasion.

The entreprenuer, whom the university invited a year ago, will give the commencement speech.

Kallang Stadium, where many go for exercise, is fast becoming a popular leisure spot.

The Padang, which is surrounded by many important civic buildings, is used for sports such as soccer, cricket and rugby.

8.2.3 Non-finite clauses

Unlike finite clauses have verbs that show tense, non-finite clauses have verbs that do not show tense. To put it another way, non-finite clauses are subordinate or dependent clauses which contain a participle (verb+ ing) or an infinitive (to + verb). They are always joined to a finite clause.


There are various ways in which the non-finite clause is combined with the finite clause. Here are some examples:

You can find out more about finite and non-finite verbs in 4.2.3.

There are two types of non-finite clause:  those using subordinating link words and those that do not. Non-finite Clauses With Subordinating Link Words

Here are a few examples of non-finite clauses using subordinating link words:

The respondents indicated their dissatisfaction with the social service programme, while

appreciating the difficulties in implementing it.


After negotiating for favourable terms of employment, John decided not to take the job. Non-finite Clauses Without Subordinating Link Words

Non-finite clauses that do not have subordinating link words can be either defining or non-defining.  Non-defining clauses give further information which is not needed to identify the person, thing, or group you are talking about.

For example:

Recognizing that the existing options are limited, we recommend that another exploratory

study be conducted.

The company was able to keep up production, having anticipated the problems they would

have with manpower.

Many of the staff have taken on additional duties to lighten the load of their manager.

Defining non-finite clauses are used to identify which person or thing you are talking about.  They are always placed after the noun in a noun group.

For example:

The department organizing the event has not sent out the invitations.

Anyone violating the rules will be heavily punished.

A strategy working with such success should not be overlooked so quickly.


8.3 Parallel structure

What is Parallelism?

Parallelism in a series of items is seen when the same word forms appear in sequence within a sentence. Parallelisms make the sentences read more smoothly.

Contrast these two sentences:

She loves cooking, reading and to play the piano. (non-parallel, ungrammatical)

She loves cooking, reading and playing the piano. (parallel)

Here are some examples of different types of parallelisms:

Parallelism in comparison is seen where the elements which are compared or contrasted are grammatically parallel. Here are some examples:

Parallelism in antithetical sentences are seen when items are contrasted. Phrases like “but not” and “rather than” are used. Make sure that the structure of the clauses match. Here are some examples:

  • Students are allowed to refer to the ideas but not to copy
  • They decided to live in the hall of residence rather than to live in an apartment.

Parallelism in correlative sentences is found where pairs of ideas are joined with words like: either … or; neither … nor; both … and; not only… but also; whether … or. The second part of the sentence must be the same in structure as that first. Here are some examples:

8.4 Fragments and Dangling modifiers

Readers are confused when essential information is omitted from a sentence.  An incomplete sentence, or a sentence that presents an incomplete thought is called a fragment. Clauses that lack a subject are also difficult to understand. These are called dangling modifiers.

As readers may not always be able to guess the writer’s intended message, sentence fragments can render a piece of writing incomprehensible.

8.4.1. Sentence Fragments

The only way to correct a fragment is to complete the message that needs to be communicated. As readers may not always be able to guess at the writer’s intended message, sentence fragments can render a piece of writing incomprehensible.

What is a sentence fragment?

A sentence fragment occurs when a sentence is missing an essential element (Subject, Verb, or Object) or when the sentence does not communicate a complete idea. How to avoid writing sentence fragments

Fragments usually occur when too many clauses or too much information is included in a single sentence. When this happens, it is often difficult for the writer to identify the main idea or subject that needs to be communicated.

Complex or compound sentences that are made up of two or more clauses are often written as fragments:

Even though she had the better arguments and was by far the more powerful speaker^she lost the debate.

To correct the above sentence, more information must be provided to complete the thought.

8.4.2 Dangling Modifiers

 What is a modifier?

As the name suggests, a modifier changes a word or noun phrase. Modifiers are words or phrases that provide description. They are called modifiers because they change the way we think about something.

Think of a building:  The noun ‘building’ is unremarkable on its on its own.

  • Modifiers are frequently used to add extra information or detail in a sentence.
  • Modifiers can be adjectives, adjective clauses, adverbs, adverb clauses, infinitive phrases, participle phrases, and prepositional phrases.

In the independent clause below, we are not only told that trafficking is a crime but that it is a heinous crime. The adjective “heinous” modifies the Object of the clause by providing additional insight and information to the main message.

What is a dangling modifier?

As the modifier’s primary function is to provide description to a thing, it is very important not to leave the thing or subject that you are describing out of your sentence.

When the subject of the modifier is missing or poorly placed, we say that the modifier is dangling. This will confuse the reader. How to correct dangling modifiers.

  1. Name the logical doer of the action as the Subject of the main clause:

                – Having arrived late for class, a written excuse was needed.

This sentence suggests that the late comer is the written excuse. To correct this sentence, select a Subject who can be identified as the specific individual who arrived late, then include this directly after the subordinate clause.

Having arrived late for class, Ying Ling needed a written excuse.

The main clause now identifies the person (Ying Ling) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

  1. Include the doer of the action in the main clause:

                – Without having Hilary’s security details, it was difficult to provide clearance.

This sentence suggests that ‘it’ did not have her security details. But the pronoun, ‘it’ does not reference a specific individual. Hence, the confusion.

To correct this sentence, include a Subject who can be identified as the one who is trying to provide Hilary with clearance.

– As the Chief of Staff did not have Hilary’s security details, it was difficult to provide clearance.

The phrase is now a complete introductory clause; it does not dangle as it is not modifying anything.

  1. Combine the phrase and main clause into one:

                – To improve his results, the experiment was conducted several times.

This sentence begs the question: Who is the doer of these experiments?  It is clear that a Subject must be included. This can be done simply by combining the two short clauses.

                – Mahathir improved his results by conducting the experiment several times.


8.5 Cohesive devices / Signposting

Transitional Markers or Signposts

Transitional markers connect the ideas presented in a paragraph. They may also signal a change in the kind of information you are providing.

To ensure the flow and continuity of ideas in your writing, always select signposts that accurately indicate the information you want to communicate.

Scroll to top

9.0 Words

9.1 Word Forms

In English, there are many words that have the same root, but they vary according to their function and form.

Take the word strategy for example:

Strategy is a noun

Strategize is a verb

Strategic is an adjective

Strategically is an adverb

The table below shows the common suffixes that are used to create nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs:


Nominalizations are nouns or noun phrases that are created from adjectives, verbs or clauses.

Here are some examples:

applicable (adjective)      vs.       applicability (noun= nominalization)

investigate (verb)             vs.       investigation (noun  = nominalization)

Many people have lost their jobs (clause). Since then, fewer people have been buying luxury goods (clause).


The loss of jobs (nominalization) has led to a fall in the number of luxury goods

buyers (nominalization).


When penicillin was discovered (clause), malaria was eradicated (clause).


The discovery of penicillin (nominalization) led to the eradication of malaria


In academic writing, nominalizations are often used because they are more formal in style. However, sentences containing nominalizations are usually longer and more complex. Therefore, try not to overuse nominalizations because doing so would make your sentences unnecessarily difficult to read.


9.2 Academic Word List

The Academic Word List, compiled by Averil Coxhead of the Victoria University of Wellington, contains 12 academic word families which are most frequently found in academic writing. They are numbered in a way to indicate how frequently they are used. For example, words that are of the sublist 1 families are the most frequently used ones, whereas those that are of the sublist 10 families are less frequently used than those in sublist families 1.


The link to the Academic Word List is given below:


Scroll to top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *