What is a sentence fragment?

Author: Ann F.

Date: Mar 22, 2022 | Grammar

Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences that are unable to stand on their own. Normally, they are missing a subject, a verb, or don’t express a complete thought. For a sentence to be complete, it must contain:

  1. The sentence must express a complete thought
  2. The sentence must have a subject
  3. The sentence must express an action, usually a verb

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How to recognize a sentence fragment?

  1. The fragment is missing a subject. (Who or what?)
    • Fragment example: Brushed her teeth and went to bed.
    • Fragment correction: Mary brushed her teeth and went to bed.
  1. The fragment is missing a verb. (What is the action?)
    • Fragment example: That time of joy and fun.
    • Fragment correction: That was a time of joy and fun.
  1. The fragment is a dependent clause. (The fragment must be attached to an independent clause).
    • Fragment example: After I eat dinner.
    • Fragment correction: I will call you after I eat dinner.
  1. The fragment doesn’t express a complete thought. (The fragment needs further detail so the reader knows what the writer is talking about).
    • Fragment example: Milk and sugar.
    • Fragment correction: Milk and sugar are on my grocery list.

Fixing sentence fragments

  1. Revise – Add the components that the sentence is missing.
    • Incorrect: Going to the store now.
    • Correct: She is going to the store now.
  1. Attach – Attach the fragment to another sentence.
    • Incorrect: If you get there before me. Wait at the entrance.
    • Correct: If you get there before me, wait at the entrance.
  1. Rewrite – Rewrite the entire fragment or passage that contains the fragment.
    • Incorrect: My new apartment needs renovations. Such as fixing the sink, installing a new dishwasher, and replacing the locks. Done nothing yet and been weeks.
    • Correct: My new apartment needs renovations, such as fixing the sink, installing a new dishwasher, and replacing the locks. It’s been weeks, but I’ve done nothing yet.

Intentional sentence fragments

Sentence fragments can sometimes be intentionally used, especially for stylistic choices in creative writing. In formal situations, using sentence fragments is not encouraged but writers can use fragments to their advantage to make their writing more persuasive and exciting.

Example: Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a-year. What a fine thing for our girls!

— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

More examples of sentence fragment corrections:

Incorrect: I love dogs. Particularly big ones.

Correct: I love dogs, particularly big ones.

Incorrect: Slept all day.

Correct: I slept all day.

Incorrect: The most beautiful wedding dress.

Correct: She wore the most beautiful wedding dress.

Incorrect: Looking forward to seeing you.

Correct: I’m looking forward to seeing you.