Sentence construction is often compromised by simple errors involving a gratuitous comma or a missing conjunction, and often both. Here are five faultily constructed sentences shored up by correcting minor problems such as these.
1. “As a consequence, he said, he lost his job, his family, and has scraped by from one low-wage job to the next to make ends meet.”
In this sentence, the listed results of a previously referenced misfortune are not parallel in construction, as you can see by attaching he to each item: “he lost his job,” “he his family,” and “he has scraped by . . . .” The simple solution is to provide a verb for the second item, but better yet, merge the closely related first two items so that they share a verb: “As a consequence, he said, he lost his job and his family and has scraped by from one low-wage job to the next to make ends meet.”
2. “During the peak of the grove’s early popularity, presidents Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and many other prominent people had visited it.”
Here, presidents is intended to be shared between “Benjamin Harrison” and “Theodore Roosevelt,” but the comma after the first name cuts the term off from the second name. As with the previous example, delete the comma and add and to enable sharing of the word: “During the peak of the grove’s early popularity, presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt and many other prominent people had visited it.”
3. “Females must produce an egg, carry, and nourish the embryo.”
Once again, an obstructive comma (in this case, two such commas, actually) prevents the sharing of a part of speech. Carry must be allowed access to embryo, but using the previous solution renders the sentence “Females must produce an egg, carry and nourish the embryo.” To smooth the sentence out, the remaining comma must also be replaced with and: “Females must produce an egg and carry and nourish the embryo.”
4. “It enables individuals and groups to meet online to collaborate, share presentations, applications, or their entire desktop while increasing reliability and security, and reducing costs.”
In this example, there are two levels of organization: First, individuals and groups collaborate and share, and second, they share in one of three ways. This hierarchy should be represented by distinguishing the simple element of collaboration and the more complex counterpart of sharing by preceding each with its own infinitive (to): “It enables individuals and groups to meet online to collaborate, and to share presentations, applications, or their entire desktop, while increasing reliability and security and reducing costs.”
The commas framing “and to share . . . their entire desktop,” rendering that phrase parenthetical, are essential to clarify that while refers to additional benefits, rather than simultaneous ones. Also, the comma that precedes “and reducing costs” in the original sentence exemplifies the case of punctuation problematically used as a “breath here” marker, confusing the issue; I’ve deleted it from the revised version.
5. “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants, telephone, cable television, and broadband companies.”
Here, again, there are two categories: power plants and companies (of which three types are mentioned). To distinguish them, “power plants” must be set off from the list of types of companies by and: “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants and to telephone, cable television, and broadband companies.” I’ve also inserted to before the list of types of companies to discourage the implication of a close relationship between “power plants” and telephone.