Sentence Fragments

How to Avoid Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment, as the name suggests, is a piece of a sentence masquerading as a complete sentence. Many students have been taught that fragments are incomplete in that they lack a subject or a verb, but this is usually untrue and misleads the writer to believe that correcting a fragment involves adding more information. In actuality, the fragment typically constitutes a dependent clause or a participial phrase, both of which contain words that are or could be mistaken for subjects and verbs. Repairing a fragment usually requires no addition of words but simply locating the sentence before or after the fragment that completes the thought and then connecting the two. Fragments, in other words, are not usually the result of fragmentary thinking; they are errors in punctuation.

Learning to recognize and repair fragments on your own is not difficult. If you are in the habit of making fragments and would prefer to write fragment-free prose, your first step is to examine your own fragments. Typically, habitual fragment writers only punctuate certain kinds of clauses or phrases as sentences, and these clauses and phrases begin with recognizable key words. Learning not to make fragments requires that you find out which words your fragments usually begin with so that you can look for them in each new piece of writing. To find and fix fragments, first locate the clauses and phrases that you are likely to punctuate as sentence fragments and intentionally connect each phrase or clause with the sentence before or after it that it depends upon for completeness.

Practical examples

Fragment

Corrected

When I got home. I made myself a Pepsi float.

When I got home, I made myself a Pepsi float.

Here the subordinating conjunction When begins the fragment, indicating that the group of words is a dependent clause.  The clause must be connected to a sentence after it (using a comma) or before it (using no punctuation at all).

Fragment

Corrected

Such decisions prove that it is true.  That privacy matters more to Americans than safety.

Such decisions prove that it is true that privacy matters more to Americans than safety.

That at the beginning of a sentence is also an indicator that the group of words is a clause, in this case a noun clause.  That clauses function as nouns in the sentence preceding or following the clause and are usually connected without any punctuation at all.

Fragment

Corrected

By breaking looms and destroying other machines that were increasingly being used in the during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Workers sought to influence those in a position to give them work.

By breaking looms and destroying other machines that were increasingly being used in the during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, workers sought to influence those in a position to give them work.

In this case the -ing in the word breaking is the fragment signal.  Present participles, verbs ending in -ing, are the head words of participial phrases, which are modifiers most often found at the beginning of sentences.  Getting rid of fragments requires that you look for -ing words beginning sentences and then connect the resulting phrase with the sentence it modifies using a comma.