A sentence fragment is a word, phrase, or dependent clause that is punctuated as a sentence, but the subject, verb, or both may be missing.
A sentence fragment is a sentence that’s missing some key piece to complete it grammatically. In order to be a complete sentence, a group of words needs to contain a subject and a verb. If it is missing either a subject or a verb, a sentence is fragmented; it is missing an essential element. A sentence fragment leaves readers hanging as they wait for the rest of the idea.
In order to be a complete sentence, a group of words needs to contain a subject and a verb. If a sentence is missing either a subject or a verb, it is a sentence fragment.
1. Check that the sentence has a subject.
The girl sitting on the bench is my best friend.
The subject of the sentence is the girl sitting on the bench. She is the actor at the beginning of the sentence.
2. Check that the sentence has a verb
The girl sitting on the bench is my best friend.
The sentence’s verb is is.
3. The sentence is a complete sentence that doesn’t leave the reader guessing. It has both a subject and a verb that work together to form a complete thought, so it is not a sentence fragment.
What are some common fragments?
There are many ways to create a sentence fragment. These aren’t the only kinds of fragments, but they are common errors, so be aware of them in your own writing.
1. Look out for subordinating conjunctions. Subordinating conjunctions are words like after, because, although, since, if, though, when, while, unless, or until, which introduce dependent clauses and phrases.
Original: After I left the store.
Revised: After I left the store, I remembered that I also needed milk.
2. Look out for relative adverbs. Relative adverbs are words like who, which, or that.
Original: That won the contest.
Revised: The dog that won the contest belongs to my neighbor.
3. Look out for words that end in -ed,-d,-t, or -n. These words (like followed, led, slept, broken) resemble verbs, but are actually acting as adjectives and can’t be the main verb of the sentence. They’re describing attributes of things, not actions.
Original: Lost in the woods.
Revised: The hiker wandered lost in the woods.
4. Look out for prepositions. Prepositions are words like at, to, toward, in, on, up, near, by, etc. Prepositions begin with prepositional phrases which cannot stand on their own as complete sentences.
Original: By going to bed early.
Revised: I avoid oversleeping by going to bed early.
5. Look out for infinitives. infinitives are verbs with the word “to” in front of them (like to sing, to dance, to breathe). Infinitives can begin sentences, but they cannot make complete sentences on their own.
Original: To drive like a professional.
Revised: Her dream had always been to drive like a professional.
6. Look out for gerunds. Gerunds are words that end with -ing and resemble verbs but are actually acting nouns and can’t be the main verb of the sentence.
Original: Raining all day.
Revised: It was raining all day.
7. Look out for groups of nouns that lack a verb.
Original: The most beautiful voice in the world.
Revised: The singer had the most beautiful voice in the world.
8. Look out for sentences beginning with words like especially, such as, particularly, usually, specifically, preferably, like, or including. Extra information introduced by these words should be added to the previous sentence or expanded with its own subject and verb into a complete thought.
Original: I like dogs. Especially big ones who try to cuddle on your lap.
Revised: I like dogs, especially big ones who try to cuddle on your lap.
Original: I enjoy Keanu Reeves movies. Such as The Matrix, The Replacements, and Sweet November.
Revised: I enjoy Keanu Reeves movies such as The Matrix, The Replacements, and Sweet November.
9. Look out for sentences starting with a coordinating conjunction. Be sure each side is complete with subject and verb, or connect them together to avoid a fragment.
Original: She loves the car. And wants to buy it.
Revised: She loves the car and wants to buy it.
Not all sentence fragments are ineffectual. Artful frags happen.
How to fix fragments
There are two convenient tests to see if you have a sentence fragment: the embedding frame and the tag question. They aren’t foolproof, but they can be useful in a pinch.
- For the embedding frame, simply put the group of words in question at the end of the phrase “I believe that.” For instance, if my sentence is “Roger sang at the concert,” I can say, “I believe that Roger sang at the concert.” This idea makes sense. Now, if my sentence is, “Because the man washed his car,” I would end up with, “I believe that because the man washed his car.” This sentence is a fragment. The idea is incomplete. What happened as a result of the man washing his car?
- For the tag question, simply add “isn’t it?” to the end of your sentence. For example, for the sample sentence “The weather is lovely,” the tag question makes it “The weather is lovely, isn’t it?” This question makes sense. On the other hand, for the sentence fragment “To appreciate the weather,” the tag question makes it “To appreciate the weather, isn’t it?” This question doesn’t make any sense. Most of the time, sentence fragments will become insensible with the tag question, but this isn’t a perfect test. It doesn’t work all the time (sometimes “isn’t it?” has to become “doesn’t it?” or “wouldn’t he?”), but it is a good method to use in conjunction with others.
How can a sentence fragment be edited to create a complete sentence?
- Look for misplaced periods that may incorrectly separate words into incomplete sentences.
- Series of fragments: The student’s paper. So late. Should have started on it sooner.
- Add the missing subject or verb to create a complete sentence.
- The student’s paper was turned in late.
- Join two or more fragments into a complete sentence (subject and predicate must both be included), using appropriate punctuation.
- The student’s paper was turned in late; she should have started working on it sooner.
- Combine the fragment with a nearby complete sentence, using appropriate punctuation.
- If she had not turned her paper in late, the student could have avoided the penalty to her grade.