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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
What is a sentence? A sentence fragment?
What is a sentence? Here are two definitions that may be useful:
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.
2) Compound sentences, in which a conjunction links two simple sentences.
3) Complex sentences, which join a dependent clause to an independent clause.
4) Compound-Complex sentences, which combine types 2 and 3.
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:
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
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:
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:
other examples . . .
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:
Sentence Fragments Made up of Dependent Clauses:
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 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:
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:
Using Sentence Fragments for Special Effect...
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:
A sentence fragment can also be used to express a strong emotion:
A fragment can be used to present an answer to a question:
1. What is a sentence fragment?
2. Correcting sentence fragments
3. Using sentence fragments for special effect