Sentence Fragments

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize sentence fragments
  • Revise sentence fragments

Fragments are simply grammatically incomplete sentences—they are phrases and dependent clauses. These are grammatical structures that cannot stand on their own: they need to be connected to an independent clause to work in writing. So how can we tell the difference between a sentence and a sentence fragment? And how can we fix fragments when they already exist?

A sentence fragment is simply a sentence that is missing one of its crucial elements: a subject, a verb, or a complete thought.

  • Missing a subject: Slammed the door and left.
  • Missing a verb: The answer to our prayers.
  • Not expressing a complete thought: Since she never saw the movie.

Length is not an indication of a sentence fragment. For example, the following short sentence is not a sentence fragment:

  • She ran.

The following, much longer sentence is a sentence fragment.

  • Which is why we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.

Common Causes of Fragments

One of the reasons we write in fragments is because we often speak that way. However, there is a difference between writing and speech, and it is important to write in full sentences.

Non-finite verbs (gerunds, participles, and infinitives) can often trip people up as well. Since non-finite verbs don’t act like verbs, we don’t count them as verbs when we’re deciding if we have a phrase or a clause. Let’s look at a few examples of these:

  • Running away from my mother.
  • To ensure your safety and security.
  • Beaten down since day one.

Even though all of the above have non-finite verbs, they’re phrases, not clauses. In order for these to be clauses, they would need an additional verb that acts as a verb in the sentence.

Words like “since,” “when,” and “because” turn an independent clause into a dependent clause. For example “I was a little girl in 1995” is an independent clause, but “Because I was a little girl in 1995” is a dependent clause. This class of word includes the following:

after although as as far as as if as long as as soon as
as though because before even if even though every time if
in order that since so so that than though unless
until when whenever where whereas wherever while
  • Because the one I have isn’t working too well.
  • As his girlfriend chased him down the hall screaming her head off.

Relative pronouns, like “that” and “which,” do the same type of thing as those listed above. Coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) can also cause problems. If you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, make sure that it is followed by a complete clause, not just a phrase.

  • Which I prefer to keep secret.

As you’re identifying fragments, keep in mind that command sentences are not fragments, despite not having a subject. Commands are the only grammatically correct sentences that lack a subject, because the subject is implied:

  • Drop and give me fifty!
  • Count how many times the word fragrant is used during commercial breaks.

Watch it

Watch the following video for more examples and practice in identifying sentence fragments.

You can view the transcript for “Recognizing fragments” here (opens in new window).

Fixing Sentence Fragments

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

Example 1

  • Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week. And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.

Let’s look at the phrase “And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product” in this example. It’s just that: a phrase. There is no subject in this phrase, so the easiest fix is to simply delete the period and combine the two statements:

  • Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week and made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.

Example 2

  • The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful. The best ideas that they had heard in years.

The part after the period, “the best ideas they had heard in years,” is simply a phrase—there is no verb contained in the phrase. By adding “they were” to the beginning of this phrase, we have turned the fragment into an independent clause, which can now stand on its own:

  • The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful; they were the best ideas that they had heard in years.

Example 3

  • She spent a full month evaluating his computer-based instructional materials. Which she eventually sent to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.

Let’s look at the clause “Which she eventually sent to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.” This is a dependent clause; the word “which” signals this fact. If we change “which she eventually” to “Eventually, she,” we also turn the dependent clause into an independent clause.

  • She spent a full month evaluating his computer-based instructional materials. Eventually, she sent the evaluation to her supervisor with the strongest of recommendations.

Try It

Check your understanding of sentence fragments in the following interactive.

 

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