Scripting the perfect essay: Tips to master sentence structure

The craft of essay writing cannot be mastered overnight. It requires regular practice in the right direction. Given the high weight age provided to Essay writing in the selection process of various top MBA colleges including the IIMs, XLRI etc, it is important for an aspirant to master this craft. In this article, we provide you certain sentence structure rules that you should keep in mind while writing essays.
A. Commas
The comma is the most misused punctuation mark, possibly because writers fret so much about following the rules that they forget to pay attention to how the words sound when spoken. Commas allow a reader understand the rhythm of the sentence. If you are having problems with commas, say your sentence out loud, and listening for natural pauses. The task of a comma is to slow the reader down for a brief moment, making the reader pause. The omission of a comma can make phrases and clauses to collide into one another, thus confusing the reader. Commas can alter the meaning of your sentence.
For example:
The pasta tastes terrible, however the cook fixes it.
The pasta tastes terrible; however, the cook fixes it.
In the first sentence, the pasta tastes terrible no matter how the cook fixes it. In the second sentence, the cook improves the taste of the pasta. Again, the comma influences the meaning.
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Rules for Commas
  1. Use a comma to divide two independent clauses connected by and, but, or, nor, for.
    David was usually a shy man, but he screamed when he entered the room.
    The unknown man lying under the tree appeared to be dead, or just possibly he was only sleeping.
    If the independent clauses are short, you can do away with the comma.
    The lady was still and her foot was bleeding.
    His cap was on but his trousers were off.
  2. A comma is used to separate elements in a list or series. Don't omit the final comma.
    Rahul tried to take a breath, to keep from fainting, and to remember his first aid.
    Next to the man was a teapot, a packet of biscuits, and his dog.
  3. A comma is used to distinguish introductory phrases and clauses from the independent clause, especially if the phrase or clause is long.
    After catching his breath, Ram squatted next to the doctor and took his pulse.
    When he felt nothing, David picked up the feather and blew it.
    Although he had never played the piano before, he somehow managed to make beautiful music.

  1. Incase the introductory phrase is either a gerund, participial, or infinitive phrase, put a comma even if the phrase is short. Otherwise the reader may be confused:
    When Ram began to speak, rats ran across the room.
    Not: When Bob began to speak rats ran across the room.
  2. When there is a series of adjectives, use a comma if the adjectives could also be separated by 'and'.
    The big, fat and tough man began to start crying.
    (Wouldn’t write as: The big and fat and tough man)
    If the 'and' doesn't seem to fit, don't use the comma:
    The man's blue cotton shirt was kept in a corner.
    (Wouldn't write as: The man's blue and cotton shirt)
    If the rule stated above seems confusing, read the sentence out loud. If there is a slight pause between adjectives, put in commas. Otherwise, leave them out. Another test: if you can change the order of the adjectives, put in commas.- For example:
    The charming, brilliant teacher
    Not: The brilliant, charming teacher
    The yellow party dress
    Not: The frilly yellow dress
  3. Use commas to set off clauses but do not use commas for restrictive clauses. (Quick review: An essential or restrictive clause is one that can't be left out of a sentence. Clauses that don't define can be lifted from the sentence without changing the meaning.)
    Apples that are green taste sour.
    (That are green defines which apples we mean)
    Apples, which grow in the tropics, do not need refrigeration.
    (Which grow in the tropics refers to all apples. The clause can be taken from the sentence without altering the meaning.)
    Let's look at a sentence that you could punctuate either way, depending on the meaning:
    The men who were hungry and mentally tired began eating the KFC bucket.
    (who were hungry and mentally tired is a defining clause, telling us which men we mean
    The men, who were hungry and mentally tired, began eating the KFC bucket.
    Who were hungry and mentally tired describes all of the men and doesn't differentiate these men from other men who weren't hungry and mentally tired.)
  4. Words or phrases that interrupt the sentence should be set off by commas.
    Now then, let's get down to work.
    "Help me," he said, before falling in the pond.
    On the other hand, error can lead to revelation.
    What the coach asked, in fact, is impossible to achieve.
  5. Use commas to set off an appositive. An appositive is a noun or pronoun that explains or identifies the noun that precedes it.
    Mrs. Wormwood, my favorite teacher, is wearing a wig.
    Sussie, the president of the student council, is on probation.
    Remember that commas are one way to make your writing clear. Reading your sentences aloud is a very good way to find the natural place for commas, as is inspecting your sentences for ambiguity or confusion.
B. Semi-colons
  1. Use a semicolon to link two separate clauses.
    To give a good New Year's party, you must consider the lighting of the dance floor; no one feels comfortable under the bright glare of fluorescent lights.
    Please note that the two clauses are connected in thought. Also-and this is the thing to understand about semicolons-you could use a comma and a conjunction in place of the semicolon.
    To give a good New Year's party, you must consider the lighting of the dance floor, since no one feels comfortable under the bright glare of fluorescent lights.
  2. A semicolon is used to separate elements in a list if the elements are long - or if the elements themselves have commas in them.
    To get completely ready for your dinner, you should wash your utensils; make sure your old stereo works; prepare a lot of tasty, strange food; and expect weird, antisocial, and frivolous behavior on the part of your guests.
  3. Semicolons belong outside quotation marks.
    A beautiful lady at the party sat in a corner and read "The Secret Diary of Luv Khurana"; she may have been shy, or she may have found "The Secret Diary of Luv Khurana" too exciting to put down.
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C. Colons
  1. Use a colon when making a list.
    There are four ingredients necessary to a good party: music, lighting, food, and personality.
D. Hyphens
  1. Use the hyphen with the compound numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine, and with fractions used as adjectives.
    CORRECT: Seventy-five students formed a majority.
    CORRECT: A two-thirds vote was necessary to be considered eligible.
  2. Use the hyphen with the prefixes ex, all, and self and with the suffix elect.
    CORRECT: The law protects against homicide.
    CORRECT: The president-elect was called up to chair the meeting.
  3. A hyphen is used with a compound adjective when it comes before the word it modifies, but not when it comes post the word it modifies.
    CORRECT: The no-holds-barred party continued late into the night. The party continued with no holds barred.
  4. Use the hyphen with any prefix used before a proper noun or adjective.
    CORRECT: His pro-Asian sentiments were thoroughly applauded.
    CORRECT: They believed that his activities were un-European.
  5. The dash is used to refer to a sudden change of thought. In general, however, formal writing is best when you think out what you want to say in advance and avoid abrupt changes of thought.
    CORRECT: The inheritance must cover the entire cost of the proposal-Shiva has no other money to invest.
E. The Apostrophe
The apostrophe shows ownership. Most of the time, it presents no confusion: David's cat, the man's finger. The tricky part is using an apostrophe when the owner is plural.
  1. When the plural noun doesn't end in -s, put an apostrophe and -s.
    (This is the easy part.)
    the man's fingers
    the fungal's growth
    the rat's hairballs
  2. If the plural ends in -s, add an apostrophe at the end.
    the childs' bottoms
    the horses' stable
    the politicians' agenda
  3. When the word is a proper noun that ends in -s, add an apostrophe and an -s. (This is the part people get wrong.)
    Keats's poem
    Ron's riddle
    Rahul's crisis
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