A Few Words about Fragments
You've been told time and again not to use sentence fragments. Right? (Notice that fragment?) Generally speaking, you shouldn't use fragments because they can confuse your reader, and they sometimes don't get your point across.
How can you recognize fragments? The textbook definition says that a fragment is “a group of words that isn't a sentence.” Okay, so what constitutes a sentence? Again, the textbook definition says a sentence is a group of words that (1) has a subject, (2) has a predicate (verb), and (3) expresses a complete thought.
Depending on when and where you went to school, you might be more familiar with the definition that says a sentence must form an independent clause. Actually, an independent clause must have a subject, predicate, and complete thought, so the definitions are the same.
If a string of words doesn't have all three of the qualifications (a subject, a verb, and an expression of a complete thought), then you have a fragment rather than a sentence. That's pretty straightforward, don't you think? Take a look at these two words:
You have a subject
Now, look at this group of words:
This example is a subordinate clause that's punctuated as if it were a sentence. You have a subject
A participial phrase often creates another common sentence fragment. Look at these examples:
Neither of these groups of words has a main clause to identify who or what is being talked about. Who was scared stiff? Who was going to the beach? Obviously, something's missing.
If you're not sure if the words you've used constitute a sentence, first write them by themselves and then ask yourself if they could be understood without something else being added. If you're still not sure, let them get cold for a while and then reread them. If you're
Another good way to see if you have a fragment is to take the word group and turn it into a yes-or-no question. If you answer yes to the question, you have a sentence; if you answer no (or if the question makes no sense), you have a fragment. Look at these examples:
Did scared stiff by the intense wind and storm? No, that doesn't make sense. You have a fragment.
Read the following paragraph and see if you can spot the fragments:
Did you spot all the fragments? Take a look at:
If you had those words alone on a piece of paper, would anybody know what you meant? No — those words don't form complete thoughts.
Now, how can you correct these fragments? Usually the fragment should be connected to the sentence immediately before or after it — whichever sentence the fragment refers to. (A word of caution: Just be sure that the newly created sentence makes sense.)
The first fragment (
The corrected sentence should read:
You could also put the fragment at the beginning of a sentence:
Or you could put the fragment inside the sentence:
Each of these three new sentences makes sense.
Now, look at the second fragment:
By slightly changing some wording (without changing the meaning), you could also add this fragment to the end of the sentence:
Here's another example of possibilities for rewording a sentence when you incorporate a fragment. Take this fragment and its related sentence:
You might reword the fragment and sentence and combine them this way:
Another way you might revise is to create an appositive phrase. Take this combination of a sentence and two fragments:
It can be rewritten to read:
Acceptable Uses of Fragments
Formal writing generally doesn't permit you to use fragments; however, using fragments in casual writing is okay — if they don't confuse your reader. Remember that using fragments (even sparingly) depends on your audience, the restrictions of your instructor or company, and your personal writing style.
Remember that you may use fragments if you're quoting someone; in fact, you
You might use fragments in short stories or novels (you've started your Great American Novel, haven't you?). A rule of thumb is that you shouldn't use them too often and you certainly shouldn't use them in any way that would puzzle your readers.
Rarely — if ever — should you use a fragment in a news story in a magazine or newspaper. If, however, you're writing an editorial, a fragment might be just what you need to get your point across.
Fragments are also acceptable in bulleted or numbered lists. Take a look at the following example:
Acceptable uses of a fragment include the following:
when you're quoting someone
in a bulleted or numbered list
to make a quick point — but only when the construction isn't confusing to readers
Taken individually, each of the bullets is a fragment, but its meaning is clear. In the type of writing that you do, if you're permitted (or even encouraged)to include bulleted lists, then using fragments is fine.
You'll often see fragments as titles, captions, or headings; that's generally acceptable because space restrictions usually won't allow complete sentences. Fragments are also frequently used in advertising. Since fragments are short, readers probably remember them more easily than they would complete sentences.
Sometimes you'll see a fragment intentionally used for emphasis or wry humor. Look at the title of this section and you'll see words that were deliberately constructed as fragments. Also, take a look at this example: