Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a complete sentence. Because a sentence fragment does not express a complete thought, it should be avoided unless you wish such fragments for stylistic purposes. However, you must be careful when you do want fragments that such fragments are clearly justified to the readers by the context of the fragments.

Recognizing sentence fragments:

1) A good way to recognize sentence fragments is to read a paragraph backwards sentence by sentence. If a sentence doesn't seem to make a complete thought, it may be a sentence fragment.

Example: 1) Up to the 1960s, miscegenation laws were still enforced in some parts of the United States. 2) These laws prohibited intermarriage between people of different races. 3) A form of bigotry that implied that races were not somehow equal. 4) Often couples who had lived together for years had to separate. 5) Which caused loneliness and bitterness because of ignorance and a desire to see themselves as better than people of other races. 6) Legislating laws to prohibit marriage between races hurt the couples involved. 7) As well as hurting the nation as a whole.

Explanation: When you read the above paragraph backwards, you notice that sentences 3, 5, and 7 do not make sense when not read in the context of the other sentences. Reading a paragraph backwards takes sentences out of context and forces them to stand alone. If they can't stand alone, they are likely sentence fragments.

2) Another means of recognizing a fragment is to turn the suspicious sentence into a "yes/no"  question. You may have to rearrange words, but don't change the overall meaning. If the question makes sense, then you have an independent clause rather than a fragment.

Example: Often couples who had lived together for years had to separate.

    Yes/no question: Had couples who have lived together for years often separated?

Explanation: The sentence creates a logical question that can be answered yes or no.

Example: Which caused loneliness and bitterness because of ignorance and a desire to see themselves as better than people of other races.

    Yes/no question: Had which caused loneliness and bitterness because of ignorance and a desire to see themselves as better than people of other races?

Explanation: Putting a helping verb in front of a sentence fragment to create a yes/no question produces a question that simply doesn't make sense.

 

It is important to be able to recognize sentence fragments in your writing so that you can correct them by one of two methods:

1. A complete sentence needs a subject and verb. Do not confuse words ending with -ing as verbs; they are participles or gerunds and require helping verbs, such as have, had, has, is, are, was, were to become verbs.

Ex.  A:

Incorrect: Showing his bloody scar and feeling like a big hero.

Correct: Steve was showing his bloody scar and feeling like a big hero.

Explanation: This sentence had neither a subject nor a verb. Showing his bloody scar and feeling like a big hero is an incomplete thought because it doesn't tell who or what is doing the showing. Also showing is a participle and not a verb. By adding was, a helping verb, and Steve, a subject, the sentence becomes a complete thought.

Ex.  B:

Incorrect: For example, sharing time with everyone with whom we have spent a great part of our lives.

Correct: For example, we are sharing time with everyone with whom we have spent a great part of our lives.

Explanation: Since sharing is a gerund, it cannot be used as a verb; thus the first sentence is a sentence fragment.

 

2. A complete sentence must be an independent clause; therefore, do not punctuate a dependent clause as an independent clause.

Ex.  A:

Incorrect: Since there were no further arguments.

Correct: Since there were no further arguments, the committee voted to extend benefits to all part-time employees.

Explanation: The word since is a subordinate conjunction which makes the clause following it a dependent clause, one that must be attached to an independent clause for the sentence to be a complete thought.

Ex.  B:

Incorrect: Though the jury had spent hours reviewing the testimony and deliberating his fate.

Correct: Although the jury had spent hours reviewing the testimony and deliberating his fate, the public felt that the verdict was an injustice.

Explanation: There are two problems with the incorrect sentence. The first problem is that though should never be used in place of although or even though. Secondly, although or even thought are subordinate conjunctions and will always be used to lead into a dependent clause. Notice how the corrected sentence creates a complete thought.

Ex.  C:

Incorrect: Because Antoine had never been late to class and had never missed an assignment.

Correct: Antoine had never been late to class and had never missed an assignment, so he graduated with honors and received a scholarship to the university.

Explanation: Because is a subordinate conjunction and also introduces a dependent clause. Remember that sometimes a sentence fragment is corrected by rewriting it rather than by adding it to an independent clause.

Ex.  D:

Incorrect: Which means that shared incomes can't be used to insure the partner's social security rights.

Correct: Couples that can't marry do not get spousal benefits which means that shared incomes can't be used to insure the partner's social security rights.

Explanation: Sentences rarely, almost never, begin with the word which. If you have a sentence that begins with which, it is likely a sentence fragment.

 

Correct use of fragments

1. A sentence fragment can be used for effect, to draw attention to a particular phrase or statement.

Ex.  A: And what drew Wanda to love Arthur? Personality, pure personality.

Explanation: The writer wants to emphasize the effect of personality on their relationship. By isolating the word into a sentence fragment, special attention is focused on that word.

Ex.  B: Bigotry. It exists when a group of people want to prohibit the rights that they have from a particular group of people identified by a common trait.

Caution: If you overuse this emphasis technique, then it loses its effectiveness by becoming so common that the technique no longer draws attention to itself.

2. A sentence fragment can be used to express a particular emotion, such as scorn or sarcasm.

Ex.  A: The team's defense had an excellent game against their rivals. Yeah, right! They lost 38-26.

Ex.  B: Another argument is that having a ban on marijuana can lead to a ban on tobacco. Hooray!!

2. A sentence fragment can also be used to answer a yes or no question or a question that requires only a one or two-word answer.

Ex.  A: Did the attack on the World Trade Center lead to the war on Iraq? No. Did the threat of nuclear weapons in Iraq lead to that war? No. What led to the war in Iraq was a desire to clean up what was begun in the Gulf War.

Explanation: The writer of the above sentences wants readers to focus on the real reason as opposed to the supposed reasons for the war. Hence, that writer asks and answers questions that require only a "no." Add explanation would detract from the last sentence.

Ex.  B: Ad\Was I happy about the situation? Yes, oh yes!

Caution: As noted earlier, be very careful when intentionally using sentence fragments. The fragments must be justified by their context and be used so seldom that when used, they attract readers' attention on what is being emphasized in the fragment.

 

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