How to Handle Sentence Fragments
  • 4-minute read
  • 19th October 2017

How to Handle Sentence Fragments

What do you call a sentence that…? If you think something is missing there, you’re correct.

Sentences are like jigsaws…

And since coming across an incomplete sentence while reading can be very frustrating, in this post we’re looking at how to handle sentence fragments.

What Are Sentence Fragments?

Put simply, a sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. This is usually something that is presented as a sentence (i.e. starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop, question mark or exclamation point), but which doesn’t include a full independent clause.

Terminal points.

In other cases, it’s because another part of the sentence is missing. The first sentence in this post, for example, is missing a complete predicate. This tells us what the subject in a sentence is doing or being. In this case, it should say ‘What do you call a sentence that isn’t complete?’.

This can happen for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because something has been missed or because of an editing error. But sentence fragments are also common in our daily lives, so many people use them in writing without realising that they’re (technically) incorrect.

Are Sentence Fragments Always Wrong?

No. It very much depends on the context. In formal writing, such as an essay, it’s always better to write in full sentences. But sentence fragments can be used in other cases.

Fragments are common in lists, for example. And in fiction, dialogue often includes sentence fragments to reflect how we speak in real life. Sentence fragments can also be used to create a particular effect, such as adding a pause to a statement. For instance:

I write in full sentences. Because grammar.

The ‘because grammar’ here is not a full sentence. But this use of ‘because’ has become common online as a way of suggesting that an explanation or reason is obvious. You wouldn’t use a fragment like this in formal writing, but it works well in some other cases.

How Do I Avoid Errors in My Work?

In less formal writing, all you need to do is ensure sentence fragments make sense. As long as your reader can understand what you mean, it doesn’t usually matter if you use an incomplete sentence.

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However, in formal writing, you should use full sentences where possible. This means making sure that each sentence contains at least one independent clause. This means a sentence should contain at least a subject and a verb. The following, for example, contains a fragment:

The experiment failed. Not enough time.

The first part of this is a complete sentence: it has a subject (‘experiment’) and a verb (‘failed’). But the second part is a fragment without a subject or a verb. We know what it means because it follows from the previous sentence, but to make it grammatically correct we’d need to connect the two:

The experiment failed because of a lack of time.

Here, we say the same thing in one complete sentence, using the conjunction ‘because of’ to introduce the cause of the failure. Alternatively, we could add a subject and verb to the fragment:

The experiment failed. We did not have enough time.

In this case, the subject (‘we’) and verb (‘have’) make the second sentence complete. In other cases, such as when a verb is missing an object, proofreading your work is usually enough to catch errors.

And if you want to be doubly sure your writing is fragment free, you can have it proofread!

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