Questions on Sentence Structure


Question: The subject of my query is a sentence from the best-selling book by Huston Smith, The World's Religions:

The hot issue in philosophy of science in recent years is whether science provides us with true and genuine knowledge, or if not, then what does it give us?

I have been in heated dispute over the grammatical soundness of the above sentence with a friend. It is my stubborn belief that the sentence is ungrammatical, and yet I am unable to explain why.

Could you please analyze the problem (if there is one) and perhaps give me a suggestion or two as to how the sentence might be better phrased (if that be necessary). Thank you very much.

Answer: Oh my. This is a sentence sufficiently ungrammatical that its grammar problems actually affect its logic. Let's start with the pure grammar.

The sentence parses into a standard English type of subject-verb-predicate nominative. There are complicating factors all along the way. In the subject, there is a string of prepositional phrases that don't attach easily to adjacent modifiers. But the real problem is the predicate, which is composed of two clauses. The reader, already taxed by a complicated subject, longs for relief in the predicate. But the predicate is compounded of two nonparallel elements: an indirect question and a direct question. Because direct questions are formed in English by inversions, there's an extra layer of nonparallelism.

Making the predicate parallel will help sort out where the meaning goes awry. Let's try:

The hot issue in philosophy of science in recent years is this: Does science provide us with true and genuine knowledge? If it does not, then what does it give us?

The leap of faith is obvious in the parallel form. The base question is "Does science provide us with something specific?" There's no reason to assume that the negated form of this sentence allows us to keep the premise that science provides anything at all--and it certainly isn't very scientific to make such an assumption.

At any rate, you're right. The sentence is ungrammatical because its predicate is not parallel.


Question: Is it wrong to put a comma before so far in the following sentence?

These lesions were only seen in some patients, so far.

Answer: This is not so much a matter of "right or wrong" as it is a matter of "clear or unclear." The comma before so far gives the phrase the character of a qualifying afterthought and makes you sound very unsure of yourself. Most native English speakers would word the sentence this way:

So far these lesions have been seen only in some patients.

The changes are these: 1. So far is moved out of the position of emphasis (the end of an English sentence) so that it doesn't undercut the main clause. 2. The form of the verb is changed from the simple past tense to the perfect to show ongoing action and match with the so far. 3. The adverb only is moved next to the prepositional phrase ("in some patients") it modifies.


Question (From a manufacturing company): I have an announcement that will be going out from our marketing people that I have to question before I give it to my supervisor to approve. I am sure you can help me.

(The word fit seems inappropriate?)

"We needed someone experienced in specialty feeds and international business, and Billís knowledge and expertise fit our needs," said Smith.

Answer: On some level, whatever Smith said is what Smith said, and what Smith said was not ungrammatical. I assume, however, that you are asking this question because this was only loosely quoted and you have the authority to tweak it a bit. I donít think that fit is the problem. It seems to me that the problem is that the need identified in the first clause is a need for a person with special attributes, and the fit in the second clause is a fit not of a person, but rather of the attributes. To fix the disjunction, you have to change one or the other of the clauses.

You might write:

"We needed someone experienced in specialty feeds and international business, and Bill fit that need," said Smith.

Alternatively, you might write:

"We needed experience in specialty feeds and international business, and we found that knowledge and expertise in Bill," said Smith.

Question 2: How should I punctuate the following sentence?

Our company markets products and services in 28 states and 18 countries. They manufacture one of the widest selections of animal feeds in the industry, including horse; sheep; goat; poultry; exotic, wild and caged bird feeds, as well as dog, cat, rabbit and guinea pig food.

Answer: Are you sure your company isnít manufacturing punctuation? Weíd better get down to basics. A semicolon is a stronger punctuation mark than a comma. In a messy series, itís a good idea to use the semicolon to separate the sentence elements that are most syntactically independent and sprinkle commas elsewhere. Thus:

Our company markets products and services in 28 states and 18 countries. They manufacture one of the widest selections of animal feeds in the industry, including horse, sheep, goat, poultry, bird (exotic, wild, and caged) feeds; as well as dog, cat, rabbit, and guinea pig food.

But thereís more going on here than punctuation. This sentence makes a distinction between animal feeds and animal food. If such a distinction is usually made, it is a distinction that has escaped me entirely for forty years.

I take it from the sentence that the terms are horse feed, but dog food. The first order of editorial business is to check with the company to ensure that this distinction is important and necessary, but maybe that wonít be necessary. This is marketing material, and it should be targeted at a lay reader, not a specialist. Could you get away with this?

Our company markets products and services in 28 states and 18 countries. They manufacture one of the widest selections of animal feeds in the industry. Regina manufactures feed for horses, sheep, goats, poultry, birds (exotic, wild, and caged), dogs, cats, rabbit, and guinea pigs.

Once you start this kind of thing, of course, youíre likely to be unhappy with the emphasis of the series (last position is the position of emphasis). Guinea pigs may be unworthy of star status. Maybe you could move your company to the star status--or better yet, the customer:

Our company markets products and services in 28 states and 18 countries. They manufacture one of the widest selections of animal feeds in the industry. Whether you need to feed horses, sheep, goats, poultry, birds (exotic, wild, or caged), dogs, cats, rabbit, or guinea pigs, our company has a product to meet your needs.


Question (From a psychologist): In your opinion, have I punctuated the following sentences correctly? I realize I have two complete sentences, but I am not sure if the parentheses affect the period after commentator.

I shall be giving a paper at a society meeting with the American Philosophical Association meeting in Los Angeles, with commentator. (I have also put in some department money, but contingencies may require me to divert it to other faculty.)

Answer: The punctuation is fine. You have two independent sentences, which are punctuated independently. It is possible to generate a construction with a parenthetical remark so closely related to the introductory sentence that it is actually a part of that sentence, which is a much harder punctuation problem. Your sentences are not of that type. As a matter of fact, my view as an outsider is that these sentences are completely unrelated. Parentheses and periods may not be enough to separate them. They may need separate paragraphs--or even pieces of paper--or even file folders.


Question: (From a film-subtitling company in Los Angeles): A friendly dispute has arisen at work: I contend that the phrase "Guess what" is a command and thus requires a period. My colleagues insist it is a question.

Answer: Who are these people? I didn't think Californians ever insisted on anything. I thought they just "leaned weakly toward the possibility that . . ."

At any rate, you will be gratified (but not surprised) to hear that you are right, and they are wrong, wrong, wrong -- or at least tilting in the wrong direction. "Guess what" is an imperative, which is conventionally punctuated with a period, not with a question mark.

This, of course, will not satisfy the insisters, who are likely to suspect that you have hired a grammatical ringer. To convince them of the error of their ways, you will have to toss them an analytical bone.

Here's the rest of the story:

Imperative sentences in English are conventionally punctuated with a period, not with a question mark, but this, of course, begs the question whether this is an imperative sentence at all. Many seeming imperatives are actually simply colloquially shortened versions of interrogatives. Let's compare two sentences that seem to be similar:

Know what(./?)
Guess what(./?)

The deep structure of "Know what" can be expanded to "Do you know what?" and "Do you know what?" is clearly a question. Furthermore, "Know what" could never logically be an imperative, since you can't command someone to know something.

"Guess what," of course, is different. You can clearly command someone to guess something, whether or not they choose to comply. And though "Guess what" could perhaps be expanded to "Can you guess what?" the inflectional pattern suggests that that's not what's going on at all.

Let's compare the inflectional patterns. "Know what" starts low and rises. This is what questions do. "Guess what" starts in the middle and stays there. This is what commands do.

This should be enough to cause your colleagues to lean weakly to the view that you could possibly be right in this particular case, though there may be extenuating circumstances that will cause them to alter their views in the future. This is as good as it gets in the grammar business.


Question: I don't know how to rewrite this sentence to make it sound good. I think it's a run-on fragment or something.

Not just the number of articles changed but also the content of the articles changed.

Answer: There are many possibilities. Choose a variant on the basis of main idea and your intended emphasis. (Main idea in main clause; emphasis at the end of the sentence.)

1. There were changes not only in the number but also in the content of the articles.
2. There were changes not only in the number of articles, but also in their content.
3. Not only the number of articles changed, but also the content.
4. Not only the number but also the content of the articles changed.
5. Both the number and content of the articles changed.
6. There were changes both in the number and content of the articles


Question: Can you help me with this thesis statement?

The people of Western and Central Europe must first survive the effects of communism, the desire to embrace Western-style democracies and market economies and the causes of feminism before they can look ahead to the future.

Answer: This sentence is better syntactically than it is logically. Start by moving the adverbial phrase to the beginning. I doubt that you are going to want to talk about the future next. Actually, I doubt that you are going to want to talk about looking to the future at all. Anyway:

Before they can look ahead to the future, the people of Western and Central Europe must first survive the effects of communism, the desire to embrace Western-style democracies and market economies and the causes of feminism.

Next, look to parallel form. The base sentence says: People must survive effects, desire, and causes. Are these the right words? Do people have to survive desires and causes? Are you going to limit your discussion of communism, democracy, and feminism to these nonparallel subcategories? What, for example, would be the effect of surviving the desire to embrace Western-style democracy--a return to communism? Doesn't "surviving desires and causes" imply that Western-sytle democracies and feminism are conditions to be avoided?


Question: (From a graduating senior): Please tell me if the following statement is well written. It is from the cover letter for my resume.

I believe that I am a person who thrives on challenges and do things well.

Answer: The most powerful way to write a sentence is to put the main idea into the main clause. The farther removed from the main clause, the more tentative the main idea.

In this sentence, the main clause is a sentence frame, "I believe (X)." The completing subordinate clause (X) is, "I am a person." This subordinate clause is qualified and restricted by the clause, "(Person) thrives on challenges and do(es) things well."

You will sound more confident if you use the strength of the main clause to declare boldly,

I thrive on challenges and do things well.

If for some reason you choose the more tentative treatment, you must change the ending of do to does so that it will agree with the subject of its clause, who, which substitutes for person.

The Grammar Hotline is confident, however, that you will choose the more powerful syntactic treatment. After all, she has reason to believe that you believe that you are a person who thrives on challenges and does things well.


Question (From a public-school teacher): My daughter has had the following punctuation items marked wrong on a college practice exam. I am a high school English teacher with 23 years' experience, and I find her answers correct. What is your judgment?

The publisher likes traveling with funny people; thus, he plans an annual trip for the staff and regular contributors.
Mad has always sold very well. However, its growth in the last four or five years has been phenomenal.
The publisher of Mad claims that he and his staff are not sure who their audience is; therefore, they publish the things that they like.

My daughter punctuated the sentences as I have here. I say she's right. What do you say? Thanks!

Answer: If all they're looking for is punctuation, I think you have a point. But let's look at the exact sentences you have cited. I'll intersplice some comments in the sentences.

1. The publisher likes traveling with funny people; thus, he plans an annual trip for the staff and regular contributors.

Analysis: Thus certainly looks like a transitional adverb. Here's a similar sentence in the Chicago Manual of Style: "Partridge had heard this argument before; thus, he turned his back on Fenton and reiterated his decision."

My instinct is semicolon, comma, and period. The only judgment at all is the comma--and I'd put it in.

2. Mad has always sold very well. However, its growth in the last four or five years has been phenomenal.

Analysis: Some rulebooks proscribe "however" at the beginning of a sentence. I suppose you could put a semicolon after "very well," but I think you need a comma after "however."

3. The publisher of Mad claims that he and his staff are not sure who their audience is; therefore, they publish the things that they like.

Analysis: The semicolon is fine, and I'd put a comma after this "therefore" too.

General comments: The punctuation, thus, seems fine--as far as that goes. Are you sure, however, that these are really questions on punctuation? As an editor, I would fault them all for failing to make explicit the relationship between the clauses. They coordinate everything, when some of the ideas they put forward are actually subordinate. Consider these alternatives:

Because the publisher likes traveling with funny people, he plans an annual trip for the staff and regular contributors.

Although Mad has always sold very well, its growth in the last or five years has been phenomenal.

The publisher of Mad claims that because he and his staff are not sure who their audience is, they publish the things that they like.

No testing service should require this kind of higher-level thinking on a punctuation test, but I'd be happy (and surprised) to hear that there are writing tests that explore students' ability on this level.


Question (From an N.C. State professor): Here is a sentence from a curriculum-revision proposal:

About half the students in the program are employed full time . . .

Someone misread this as implying that we only have a 50 percent placement rate for graduates. What is meant, of course, is that half of the students when they are students, are employed. So we tried:

About half the current students . . .

But we really mean not just this crop, but in general over the years. Is the only way to do it:

About half the students are employed full time while in the program.

This last version sounds clunky to me.

Answer: The easy way out is to decide to disregard the advice of the only person who has ever managed to misunderstand this sentence. Should you decide to torture yourself, however, and rewrite it, you can best avoid the grammatical sin of clunkiness by moving the clarifying statement out of the way of the original sentence. In short: While they are in the program, about half of the students are employed full time.This has the advantage of retaining the emphatic position of the original sentence -- if it was the whole sentence -- or of clarifying the relationship of the rest of the sentence to the original sentence if it was not.


Question (From an N.C. State freshman): I can say what I have to say out loud, but when it comes to writing, it never makes sense. For example,

Sentence 1: Since violence in society is present before the violence in video games, video games should not be made illegal.

The sentence is supposed to be clear and concise. Every sentence in my paper is like a free-write; a stream of consciousness. Please help!

Sentence 2: Children tend to imitate whatever happens in their environment.

If I say "what happens" it still doesn't sound right. I don't know how to make my sentences flow.

The transition from high school English to college English is more difficult than I thought it would be. This is our first paper and it seems as if I can't get started.

Please respond as soon as possible.

Answer: I will help you through your two sentences, but you may need some face-to-face help. Your freshman composition teacher can help you, and other help is available in the walk-in Tutorial Center in the basement of Nelson Hall. The Tutorial Center has inaugurated a Writing Assistance program this year with four trained graduate assistant tutors.

Sentence 1: Since violence in society is present before the violence in video games, video games should not be made illegal.

Analysis: The most glaring problem with this sentence is the verb in the initial clause. You will be immediately happier with your sentence if you change is to was. That one change will take care of the gibberish, but you still have a weak thesis. The reason is that you have given much too much weight to your initial causal phrase. You imply that the only reason video games ought not to be illegal is that there was violence in society first. I doubt that your essay confines itself to this view.

Start out by stating the premise for your essay: Some people claim (Can you be specific about who these people are?) that video games should be outlawed because they are so violent. Go on to contradict the targeted view: But there was violence in American society long before there were video games. And now you can state your thesis: Video games reflect the violence in society; they do not cause it. Banning them will have no effect on curbing violence.

Sentence 2: Children tend to imitate whatever happens in their environment.

Analysis: First, concentrate on your main verb. You don't want to emphasize tend, do you? Delete it. Make your main verb imitate. Children imitate whatever happens in their environment is already a big improvement.

Next, make sure that your nouns are properly specified. Whatever happens in their environment is vague -- and you'll never fix it by substituting other vague words. Look through your essay. What or who, exactly, do children imitate? Do they imitate their elders? Do they imitate their peers? Do they imitate media personalities? What does their environment have to do with it? What exactly do you mean by environment?


Question (From a writing tutor): I'm helping a writer with a paper, and I have a question. The writer's sentence reads:

They stressed over and over that there was no such thing as "Harvard," "Yale," or "Princeton" science, but simple science.

My question focuses on the phrase simple science. The double meaning of simple grates on me in this use, and I want to suggest a change to simply science. But science is a noun, so why does the adverb modifier sound better to me?

Answer: The parallelism of the structure is illusory. Simple doesn't really modify science in the way that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton do. The deeper structure is "to put it simply."

Among the elements muddying the water is the no such/but coupling. The reader expects but in a not only/but also context. But is confusing as a synonym for instead.

I recommend ending the sentence after "Princeton science," so that the writer can punch up his real message by giving it its own main clause:

They stressed over and over that there is [note historical present] no such thing as "Harvard," "Yale," or "Princeton" science. Science is simply science.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): Can you help me clean up this personal statement for my law school application?

A commitment to purpose means to persevere in reaching a goal. My ultimate goal is to obtain a Juris Doctor degree. The reasons for wanting to study law are many, yet they all focus on the same end -- to effectively create social change. I know that grade point average and a high LSAT score are looked upon as favorable, but these factors alone cannot always determine the best potential law students. Grades are useful in the selection process, but common sense and a strong work ethic are equally as important. I possess three personality traits leadership, the ability to organize, and a charismatic personality which will be essential in my quest for admission to law school.

Answer: Let's take this section by section:

A commitment to purpose means to persevere in reaching a goal. My ultimate goal is to obtain a Juris Doctor degree.

Analysis: I don't understand why you start this way. Did you have a writing prompt asking you for the definition of "commitment to purpose?" Is your goal really a J.D. degree -- or do you want to be a lawyer?

The reasons for wanting to study law are many, yet they all focus on the same end -- to effectively create social change.

Analysis: This sentence has no agent. Are these your reasons or are they everyone's reasons? You ought not to be talking about the multiplicity of reasons in your main clause if you don't intend to discuss those many reasons. The last clause is in emphatic position and has the weight of a pronouncement, which makes it a very bad place to split an infinitive.

I know that grade point average and a high LSAT score are looked upon as favorable, but these factors alone cannot always determine the best potential law students.

Analysis: "Favorable" what? But supplying the noun isn't going to help enough. Once again you have neglected to specify a clear agent. Don't you mean that law schools favor candidates with high GPAs and LSAT scores? Factors don't determine. Who or what does determine?

Grades are useful in the selection process, but common sense and a strong work ethic are equally as important.

Analysis: How is the selection process different from selection? This sentence implies that the grades, common sense, and work ethic select. Once more, there's no agent in sight. Don't say equally as important. Say equally important, or as important.

I possess three personality traits leadership, the ability to organize, and a charismatic personality which will be essential in my quest for admission to law school.

Analysis: What's the most important information in this sentence? Where's the position of emphasis? Is the most important information in the position of emphasis? Look at what you have put in the position of emphasis. Earlier in the paragraph you identified your goal as a J.D. degree. Now you say that simple admission to law school is your goal.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): Can you help me with this thesis statement?

I don't think that the Sokoto Jihad can be explained by any one factor alone. There were several different reasons that people got involved in the jihad. Many people got involved for religious reasons. A number of people wanted social changes. Some people wanted lower taxes. Other people wanted political enfranchisement.

Answer: Try this:

No one factor can explain the Sokoto Jihad. Some people got involved for religious reasons; others wanted social change. Some wanted lower taxes; others wanted political enfranchisement.

Let's look at the edited version. Look at the first sentence. What is now in the position of emphasis? Is this an improvement? Now that Jihad is in the position of emphasis, do you need the second sentence? The next sentences can be streamlined and may be combined. The paragraph cries out for a conclusion, along the lines of "But regardless for their reasons for getting involved, all the participants in the Sokoto Jihad . . . "


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): Can you help me clarify this thesis statement?

In Milton's Paradise Lost, Man is created by God in His image, but he is not immutable. Man is perfect, but only for a creature of his level in the "Chain of Being" -- he does not possess the absolute perfection of God, and his desire f or it ultimately brings about his demise. Though Man falls from his place of immortal grace and is expelled from Eden, Milton's God allows Man to obtain knowledge of good and evil, therefore beginning the first of what Adam calls "steps we may ascend to God"(?). Through analysis of Adam's conversation with God in lines ?-? from book VIII of Paradise Lost, I will show that God created Man perfect but corruptible, and how through this corruptibility and his capacity for choice Man must change and evolve in order to take his preordained place in heaven with his Creator.

Answer: Let's look at this passage by passage:

In Milton's Paradise Lost, Man is created by God in His image, but he is not immutable.

Analysis: The reader reads he in this sentence as referring back to God. I doubt that this is what you mean. I also doubt that you want to use the word immutable, which means unchanging -- or, more accurately, unable to change. I think you mean only that Man is not as great as God -- which is what you say in your next sentence, which makes me wonder how much of this sentence you want to keep.

Man is perfect, but only for a creature of his level in the "Chain of Being" -- he does not possess the absolute perfection of God, and his desire for it ultimately brings about his demise.

Analysis: You have too many coordinate clauses here. Break it up and subordinate the concepts you need only for underpinning. Try: Although man is "perfect," he is perfect only for his station in the Chain of Being; his perfection is less than the absolute perfection of God. It is Man's desire for God's absolute perfection that ultimately brings about his demise.

Though Man falls from his place of immortal grace and is expelled from Eden, Milton's God allows Man to obtain knowledge of good and evil, therefore beginning the first of what Adam calls "steps we may ascend to God"(?).

Analysis: This is out of chronological order, and I doubt that the events it covers are the ones you need to reference. Try: When Man disobeys God and eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he obtains knowledge of good and evil. His disobedience causes him to be expelled from Eden, but it also begins the first of what Adam calls "steps we may ascend to God.".

I'll bet you're right that this quote is wrong. Even if it's right, you need to alter it with a square-bracketed addition so that it incorporates smoothly into your text: "steps [by which] we may ascend to God."

Through analysis of Adam's conversation with God in lines ?-? from book VIII of Paradise Lost, I will show that God created Man perfect but corruptible, and how through this corruptibility and his capacity for choice Man must change and evolve in order to take his preordained place in heaven with his Creator.

Analysis: Oh dear. I thought I had broken you of this. Don't put yourself into your main clauses. Use your main clauses to make your points: Try this: Adam's conversation with God in Book VIII of Paradise Lost shows . . .


Question (From the Internet): Will you please be good enough to tell me if the following sentence is correct and if the commas are used correctly:

If, after reviewing this information, you have any questions, please feel free to call.

Answer: The punctuation is technically correct, but the result is terribly choppy. You can clean things up a little bit by eliminating the most expendable of the commas (the one after if), but for a real improvement you need to go after the clause structure.

The reason you need a comma after information is because the sentence reverses the natural order of the sentence and puts an adverbial prepositional phrase before the subject of the "if" clause. If it were in the predicate of the "if" clause, no extra punctuation would be necessary. Thus:

If you have any questions after you have reviewed this information, please feel free to call.

Furthermore, if you were to move the conditional "if" clause to its natural place in the predicate of the main clause, you wouldn't need any internal punctuation at all. Thus:

Please feel free to call if you have any questions after you have reviewed this information.

This, of course, changes the emphasis to the review of the information. Only the writer knows whether this is appropriate. I can tell you, however, that if you word it this way, you are likely to receive fewer calls from people who have not bothered to review the information before they call.


Question (From an N.C. State staff member): How would you punctuate this sentence:

I expect a lively and informative program but rest assured no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved.

Answer: Punctuation will help this sentence, but it will not heal it.

The sentence consists of two independent clauses:

I expect a lively and informative program
Rest assured no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved.

Independent clauses are separated by commas. Thus: "I expect a lively and informative program, but rest assured no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved." Unfortunately, the resulting sentence is still confusing, primarily because the subject of the clauses shifts unexpectedly.

The first clause is a declarative sentence. The subject of the first clause is "I." The second clause is an imperative sentence. The subject of the second clause is the understood "you." But no reader expects such a shift. A reader expects that the cla uses will be in the same format and that they will have the same subject. He therefore misreads the sentence as meaning,

I expect a lively and informative program, but I rest assured that no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved.

This is nonsense, of course, and the reader knows it. He adjusts his notions quickly, but the damage is done. The sentence is awkward and hard to process.

There are a couple of ways to fix this. You can make the second clause declarative and explicitly state the subject. Thus:

I expect a lively and informative program, but you can rest assured no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved.

While you're at it, you might want to consider whether you want to bury the positive thing you have to say about the program at the beginning while emphasizing the disclaimer at the end. If you flip the sentence you get:

Rest assured that no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved, but I expect a lively and informative program.

This is a little stilted. Most writers would go an extra step and subordinate the first clause to give the second clause even more emphasis. Thus:

Although you can rest assured that no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved, I expect a lively and informative program.

And then you look at the very last word. What has more positive impact: program or one of the adjectives? I'd say the adjectives--but now that I'm looking at them, I don't think they actually speak to the first clause. I'd end up recommending th is:

Although you can rest assured that no one will be put on the spot or made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved, I expect a program that will be lively, informative, and engaging.

If I wanted to shorten it, I'd cut put on the spot or This generates:

Although you can rest assured that no one will be made to feel uncomfortable for not being actively involved, I expect a program that will be lively, informative, and engaging.

Question 2: Care to see the whole letter? :-) Just kidding. I'll scrutinize it myself after reading your page-long critique of what I thought was my one and only problem sentence. Thank you very much for your thorough reply and enlightening suggestions.

Answer 2: Sorry. I guess I just got carried away. I meant to say: Put a comma before the "but." But afterward I'd let my voice trail off mysteriously.


Question (From an ESL student): I am told to find all the transitional sentences in an essay, but, not knowing what this sentence type means, I cannot start. Would you please explain to me what transitional sentences are?

Answer: Transitional sentences are sentences that lead the reader from one idea to another idea. Sometimes they contain words like however or although that are overt clues that something in the argument is about to change. This, however, is not a requirement.

Happy hunting!


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