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Identifying and Fixing Sentence Fragments

Level

 intermediate

 advanced

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A common problem in writing, sentence fragments crop up because they make sense to us when we write them. Fragments do not express a complete idea; therefore, your readers have to fill in the missing gaps, which slows them down. That can be pretty annoying.

In this lesson, you will learn how to identify and fix sentence fragments.

What Is a Sentence Fragment?

As its name implies, a sentence fragment is only part of a sentence. It is an incomplete thought. Let’s examine some examples.

Example 1

Because it was raining.

Does the above sentence leave you expecting more? It should because it is not a complete sentence. It is a sentence fragment.

Example 2

What if you wrote the following sentences instead? Would that fix the problem with the sentence fragment?

We stayed home. Because it was raining.

This does not fix the problem in Example 1. The period at the end of each sentence indicates that it finished, so now you have a complete sentence (“We stayed home” ), but you still have a fragment (“because it was raining”).

The problem is that “because it was raining” is a dependent clause, that is, it must be connected to another sentence (the independent clause). To fix this sentence fragment, you must write one sentence connecting the dependent clause to its independent clause.

(1) We stayed home because it was raining.

(2) Because it was raining, we stayed home.

Example 3

Can you spot the sentence fragment in the following sentences?

Copying someone else’s answers to a test is cheating. Simply allowing someone to copy your answers, too.

The first sentence is a complete thought. The second is a sentence fragment. Although you understand what it means, you need the first sentence to make sense of it. By itself, you do not have a complete idea.

To fix the problem, you can combine the two sentences into a single, complete sentence. Here are two possible ways:

(1) Copying someone else’s answers to a test or simply allowing someone to copy your answers is cheating.

(2) Copying someone else’s answers to a test is cheating, and so is simply allowing someone to copy your answers.

Another way to fix it would be to write two separate sentences so that each sentence is complete:

Copying someone else’s answers to a test is cheating. Simply allowing someone to copy your answers is cheating.

How to Identify Sentence Fragments

You usually “catch” sentence fragments when you edit your writing. As you could see from the above examples, a sentence fragment is any sentence that cannot stand alone. To identify a fragment, you must look at each of your sentences by themselves; this way, you are not “fooled” by the idea that, together, two sentences make sense even though one of them is a fragment that “depends on the other” to make sense.

How to Fix Sentence Fragments

You can usually fix a fragment by combining it with another sentence so that the new sentence makes sense by itself. (See Example 3.)

Here are a few examples of sentence fragments and how to fix them. (Sentence fragments are highlighted for screen readers.)

Combine the fragment with another sentence.

Example 1.

The researcher was able to answer interesting questions. Although the study had problems. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

Corrections

(1) The researcher was able to answer interesting questions although the study had problems.

(2) Although the study had problems, the researcher was able to answer interesting questions.

Example 2

People started walking out of the lecture. As soon as the professor started talking about his political views. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

Corrections

(1) People started walking out of the lecture as soon as the professor started talking about his political views.

(2) As soon as the professor started talking about his political views, people started walking out of the lecture.

Change the fragment into a standalone, complete sentence.

Example 1

Thank you for your letter of recommendation. Looking forward to seeing you at the conference. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

Correction

Thank you for your letter of recommendation. I look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Example 2

People are concerned about the effects of technology in the classroom. Worries about possible effects on the still developing brains of children. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

Correction

People are concerned about the effects of technology in the classroom. They worry about possible effects on the still developing brains of children.

When Sentence Fragments Are Okay

In formal, academic writing, all sentence fragments should be avoided. In some types of formal writing such as in journalism and especially in literary writing, some sentence fragments can actually serve a purpose by adding a dramatic tone to a statement. For example, a journalist may write the following:

The congresswoman managed to get her legislation passed. Against incredible odds. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

“Against incredible odds” is a sentence fragment. To fix the fragment, you would end up with “The congresswoman managed to get her legislation passed against incredible odds.” However, the statement with the fragment has more impact because it adds a pause after the main sentence; therefore, it highlights the difficulty that the congresswoman was faced with.

In storytelling, you may read the following description:

Helen left the room. Slowly. Holding her breath in fear. (The second sentence is a fragment.)

Again, the fragments (“slowly” and “holding her breath in fear”) add a more dramatic tone to the description than “Helen left the room slowly, holding her breath in fear.”

Practice

intermed. | Complete Practice 1 to see if you can spot and fix sentence fragments.

advanced | Complete Practice 2 afterwards for a little more challenging material.

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