Fragments are simply grammatically incomplete sentences—they are phrases and dependent clauses. We talked about phrases and clauses a bit in Text: Parts of a Sentence. 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?
As you learn about fragments, keep in mind that length is not very helpful when determining if a sentence is a fragment or not. Both of the items below are fragments:
- Before you go.
- Ensuring his own survival with his extensive cache of supplies (food, water, rope, tarps, knives, and a first aid kit).
Let’s dive in and see just what makes these both fragments.
Common Causes of Fragments
Part of the reason 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. Additionally, fragments often come about in writing because a fragment may already seem too long.
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:
|as far as
|as long as
|as soon as
|in order that
Relative pronouns, like that and which, do the same type of thing as those listed above.
Coordinating conjunctions (our FANBOYS) can also cause problems. If you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, make sure that it is followed a complete clause, not just a phrase!
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:
- Drop and give me fifty!
- Count how many times the word fragrant is used during commercial breaks.
Fixing Sentence Fragments
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:
- Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week. And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.
- The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful. The best ideas that they had heard in years.
- 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 phrase “And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product” in example one. 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.
Let’s look at example two. The phrase “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.
What about example three? 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.
Identify the fragments in the sentences below. Why are they fragments? What are some possible solutions?
- The corporation wants to begin a new marketing push in educational software. Although, the more conservative executives of the firm are skeptical.
- Include several different sections in your proposal. For example, a discussion of your personnel and their qualifications, your expectations concerning the schedule of the project, and a cost breakdown.
- The research team has completely reorganized the workload. Making sure that members work in areas of their own expertise and that no member is assigned proportionately too much work.