English 365 Banner
Pre-testlessonSourcesquizskills in contextExit Assignment

home :: sentence fragments lesson

Correcting Sentence Fragments

A sentence must be able to stand on its own as a completed thought. However, when writers are caught up in the flow of their ideas and are trying to capture those ideas on the page, they do not always pay close attention to the stops and starts of thoughts. As a result, writers often end up with sentences that are not complete—"fragments" of thought that need something more to stand on their own. However, what professional writers do that many beginning writers do not is to carefully proofread their work to make sure that before publication, each sentence passes the test for completeness. In this module you will learn to spot fragments in your work and to turn those fragments into complete sentences.

By the end of this module students should be able to

  • recognize sentence fragments and their causes
  • correct sentence fragments by revision and sentence combining
  • use sentence fragments intentionally for special effect

What is a sentence? A sentence fragment?

What is a sentence? Here are two definitions that may be useful:

Definition 1: A sentence is a group of words arranged to express a complete thought.  The arrangement of the words follows the rules of English grammar.

Definition 2: A sentence is group of words that begins with a capital letter, has a subject and a complete or finite verb, and ends with a period.

Complete sentences are also sometimes called independent clauses. Groups of words that modify part or all of an independent clause are called dependent clauses. Dependent clauses begin with subordinating words (relative pronouns, prepositions, or adverbs).  By themselves, dependent clauses form sentence fragments.  Keep the distinction between dependent and independent clauses in mind, because it will help you tell the difference between sentence fragments and complete sentences.

It is useful to group sentences into 4 types.

1) Simple sentences, which have one subject and one verb.

Example: Pinnochio hoped to become a real boy.  (“Pinnochio” is the subject; “hoped” is the verb. )

2) Compound sentences, in which a conjunction links two simple sentences.

Example: Pinnochio hoped to become a real boy, and the Blue Fairy granted his wish.

3) Complex sentences, which join a dependent clause to an independent clause.

Example: After the Blue Fairy granted his wish, Pinocchio lived happily ever after.  (“After the Blue Fairy granted his wish” is a dependent clause; “After” is the subordinating word.)

4) Compound-Complex sentences, which combine types 2 and 3.

Example: After Pinnochio saved Gepetto, the Blue Fairy granted his wish, and he became a real boy.

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence punctuated as if it were complete.  Consider the following passages to see if you can locate the sentence fragments:

She didn't want to be on vacation anymore. She wanted to be back with her things. Her things that meant so much to her.

The downtown takes you back to the time when there was a single sweet shop, baker, and post office in every city. When people knew the shopkeeper by name and knew about each other’s lives.

In each paragraph, the last sentence is a fragment. The last sentence in the first paragraph lacks a sentence verb; and in the second paragraph, the word "when" turns the clause into a subordinate clause.  In the rest of this module, students will learn how to correct sentence fragments.

 

Correcting Sentence Fragments...

Dependent clauses, and other groups of words that lack a subject or a verb, are called sentence fragments.  Think of them as broken or incomplete thoughts.  You need to fix them, so that your reader can understand your thoughts.  Below, the common sources of sentence fragments are identified, and examples are given to help you identify and correct fragments in your own writing.

Sentence Fragments Caused by a Missing Verb:

After years of searching for a cancer cure, the scientist finally.

This thought feels incomplete.  It has a subject--“the scientist”--but not a verb.  We wonder what the scientist finally did.  Note that the thought can be completed in a number of different ways:

Corrected:

After years of disappointment in her search for a cancer cure, the scientist finally made a breakthrough.

or

After years of disappointment in her search for a cancer cure, the scientist finally gave up.

other examples . . .

My favorite flavor of ice cream.

The two puppies.

The clouds drifting in the sky.

Corrected:

My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip.  (verb: “is”)

The two puppies chased each other.  (verb: “chased”)

The clouds were drifting in the sky.  (complete verb: “were drifting”)

Verb forms that end in “ing,” or participles, are not complete by themselves.  They need an auxiliary or “helping” verb.  In the last example above, “were” is the helping verb that completes “drifting.” 

 

Sentence Fragments Caused by a Missing Subject:

Zoomed down the slope on my new snowboard.

Went to the video store.

Hoping to be free.

Corrected:

I zoomed down the slope on my new snowboard. (subject: “I”)

Tess and her mom went to the video store.  (subject: “Tess and her mom”)

The slaves were hoping to be free.  (subject: “The slaves”)

 

Sentence Fragments Made up of Dependent Clauses:

Because she was pregnant with my baby brother.

While sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed.

After I changed my fuel filter.

Who led the slaves to freedom.

Corrected:

Because she was pregnant with my baby brother, my mother decided not to go skydiving with us. 

While sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed, Goldilocks dreamed of flying.

After I changed my fuel filter, my car’s gas mileage improved.

Moses was the prophet who led the slaves to freedom.

At this point, you may be thinking these fragments are pretty easy to identify.  In the real world, however, fragments are sometimes quite difficult to spot.  They are often closely connected to a point in a previous sentence, and so they seem like correct sentences even when they are not.  Take a look at the paragraph below and see if you can spot the fragments:

The “nuclear family” has been the model for American home life since at least the 1950s when shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were popular. In each of these shows, a steadfast and masculine father, a proper and demure mother, a little rascally boy to take after the father, and/or a perfect princess girl to bake with the mother, all living in a quiet suburban home with a white picket fence.

The last, long sentence is actually a fragment. The verb "living" is not complete, and so the sentence is a series of phrases. To correct the sentence, the subject must be located, and the correct form of the verb provided:

The “nuclear family” has been the model for American home life since at least the 1950s when shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were popular. In each of these shows, a steadfast and masculine father, a proper and demure mother, a little rascally boy to take after the father, and/or a perfect princess girl to bake with the mother, all live toether in a quiet suburban home with a white picket fence.

One technique for spotting fragments is to reformat your essay, temporarily, as a worksheet.  With this technique, you use a simple command to quickly separate each sentence onto its own line, so that the sentences can be seen more clearly.  Click on the link below to go to a video lesson on using this technique:

Melissa Kort's Computer Tips: Worksheet Format

 

Using Sentence Fragments for Special Effect...

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.
—Mark Twain

Occasionally, it is acceptable to use a sentence fragment for a special effect.  However, be very careful here.  Your reader may assume the fragment is unintentional if the rest of your writing is not polished and free of errors. 

A fragment can create emphasis on a single word or phrase:

He stood stock still. Listening. Waiting for the sound of an approaching car.

Baseball.  The most American of sports is experiencing a real return to popularity.

She wants a home with a white picket fence. Ozzie & Harriet's house, if possible.

A sentence fragment can also be used to express a strong emotion:

Selma told her dad she finished her homework.  Yeah, right!  She didn't even open her math book.

Wow!  I never knew that you could play soccer so well.

A fragment can be used to present an answer to a question:

How did we win the tournament? Nerve.

 

 

 

 

Video Lesson

fragments video lesson

Objectives

1. What is a sentence fragment?

2. Correcting sentence fragments

3. Using sentence fragments for special effect

instructor English 365 Home my 365