Fragments and Run-ons on the SAT: How to Spot ‘Em and Fix ‘Em!

Before we can spot Fragments and Run-Ons it’s important to understand a few key definitions when it comes to sentence construction. A clause is a group of words with a verb and a subject. An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. A dependent or subordinate clause cannot. Let’s look at a couple of quick examples:

Independent clause: I love studying for the SAT.

Dependent clause: Because I use GMATRockstar.com.

The first sentence is a complete thought and can stand on its own while the second can not. The dependent clause is what we would call a fragment. A fragment is missing one of three things: a subject, a predicate verb, or the information needed to logically complete the sentence (like the dependent clause above). A subject is the main noun of the sentence. It is the person or thing doing the action. A predicate verb is the verb that says what the subject is doing. It must be in a tense that matches the subject.

Here are some examples of fragments:

Missing a Subject
WRONG: Climbed to the top of the mountain.
RIGHT: He climbed to the top of the mountain.

Missing a Predicate Verb
WRONG: She sleeping like a baby.
RIGHT: She sleeps like a baby.

In both of these examples we fixed the Fragment by adding the missing subject or the missing predicate verb. You can also fix a fragment by keeping it as it is and joining it to an independent clause:

Because I use GMATRockstar.com, I love studying for the SAT.

A run-on is a sentence that contains more than one independent clauses which are not properly combined. The most common run-on you will see on the SAT is two complete sentences separated by a comma.

Example: They went to the store, she bought a candy bar.

You CANNOT combine two independent clauses with a comma. That is a big SAT no-no! So let’s look at the ways we can fix this Run-on:

#1. Make it Two Sentences
They went to the store. She bought a candy bar.

#2 Add a FANBOYS (leave the comma)
They went to the store, so she bought a candy bar.

FANBOYS is an acronym for all of the coordinating conjunctions. These are special words that can link independent clauses. FANBOYS stands for:

For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So

#3 Add a Semi-colon
They went to the store; she bought a candy bar.

#4 Making One Clause Dependent
Because they went to the store, she bought a candy bar.

Those are the most common ways to fix a run-on! Occasionally, you can also fix one with a Colon or a Dash.

A colon (:) is used to introduce a list, an explanation or a quote. If the first independent clause is doing one of those things, then adding the Colon is acceptable.

INCORRECT: She packed her lunch an apple, a sandwich and a soft drink went into the bag.
CORRECT: She packed her lunch: an apple, a sandwich and a soft drink went into the bag.

A dash (-) indicates a sudden change in thought:

Our teacher wanted all of us to fail the test – or so we thought.

For SAT purposes, the most common ways to fix the run-on will be to add a FANBOYS or a Semi-Colon. Run-ons can also contain no commas or more than two independent clauses, so let’s make sure we can identify those as well:

INCORRECT: She went surfing the wave she caught was huge. (No comma)
CORRECT: She went surfing; the wave she caught was huge.

INCORRECT: She went surfing the wave she caught was huge she fell off her board.
CORRECT: She went surfing; the wave she caught was huge and she fell off her board.

One important thing to remember is that the correct answer will always be the one that fixes the error, without introducing a new one. If there is more than one answer choice that fixes the error, compare them. Does one introduce a new grammatical error? Is one wordier or slightly awkward? Look for the subtle differences in style between the two.

The best answer choice on the SAT will fix the error and will be the most concise choice that does not change the sentence’s meaning.

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