Sentence Fragments; Definition & Examples

A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated improperly as if it were a complete sentence, starting with a capital letter and ending with a period or other end punctuation.

A sentence fragment may appear to be a complete sentence, but it is not. Sentence fragments usually lack a subject or verb, or they don’t convey a complete thought and function as an independent clause.

The subject of a sentence is “who” or “what” the statement is about. The simple subject, which must be a noun or a pronoun, is the word(s) that names the sentence’s topic. The predicate, also known as the complete verb, expresses something about the subject; the entire subject is made up of the simple subject and its modifiers. An independent clause consists of a subject and a predicate that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Nobody goes through high school English without being penalized for writing a couple of sentence fragments, but not everyone remembers what they are or how to fix them. Simply explained, a sentence fragment is a clause that falls short of forming a complete sentence due to the absence of one or more of three key components: a subject, a verb, or a complete thought.

Because our incomplete thoughts might readily pass for sentences, we frequently fail to detect our sentence fragments. All a string of words requires is a capital at the start and punctuation at the finish, and boom! It appears to be a sentence. However, in order for a sentence to be completely complete, it must include an independent clause that, when taken out of context, communicates the entire story.

However, before we can properly grasp what a sentence fragment is, we must first define what a complete sentence is.

What are complete sentences?

Complete sentences

Both a subject and a verb must be present in a complete sentence. The verb identifies the activity being performed, whereas the subject identifies who or what is performing it. Additional information or details can be found in either the main portion of the sentence (the independent clause, which can stand “independently,” or by itself) or the auxiliary part (the dependent clause, which “depends” on some other part of the sentence for its meaning and cannot stand alone). Sentences can range in length from a few words to several lines of text, therefore length isn’t always a good indicator of whether or not a sentence is full.Take a look at the phrases below:

  • “Students who want to excel”
  • “Preparing themselves for war”
  • “Although there are many modules to cover”
  • “Certainly requires daily practice”

Each of these sentences communicates a fraction of a statement but not the whole thought. Even though it contains both a subject and a verb, a phrase is deemed a sentence fragment if it does not convey a complete thought. A complete sentence must be able to stand alone as an independent clause. Because it has a clear subject and accompanying verb phrase or predicate, it does not need to rely on other elements of the sentence to convey its message. A sentence fragment occurs when the complete thought is not communicated due to the absence of either the subject or the verb.

The limitation of fragments is that they don’t tell the entire story. The reader is left dangling without a feeling of the whole thought because key pieces are absent. Although it appears to be a simple task, some extended sentence fragments can make it difficult to locate the missing element.

Examples of complete sentences

I do.

This sentence contains a subject ( I ) and a verb ( do ).

Writers and artists educate and inspire.

This sentence has a compound subject (writers and artists) and two verbs (inspire and educate).

The bag, which was believed to be stolen, has been found.

This sentence has a subject ( the bag ) and a verb ( has been ). It also contains a dependent clause ( which was believed to be stolen ) that describes the subject but which cannot stand by itself.

It’s worth noting that imperative statements are full sentences with inferred subjects. For example, the subject “you” is inferred in the statement “Do your job.”

Common errors which produce sentence fragments:

Because a sentence fragment can be confusing to the reader, it’s usually better to resolve it by either adding what’s missing from the sentence or attaching it to another sentence.

Sentence fragments occur when phrases are punctuated as if they were sentences, despite the fact that they are not. We frequently write them after we believe we have completed conveying an idea and then decide to add to it – but incorrectly.

To recognize sentence fragments, you must first identify the errors that tend to cause or lead to them.

Here, we’ll go through three common mistakes that result in sentence fragments, along with examples and fixes, as well as examples of how useful an intentional sentence fragment may be.

Sentence Fragment Without a Subject

  • The person, place, or object performing the action of the sentence is the subject of the sentence. The subject is the person or thing that the sentence is about. A noun or pronoun is normally included in the basic subject, but it can also include modifying words, phrases, or clauses.You may add a subject to some sentence fragments if they lack one. Below are some sentence fragment examples, as well as a proposed modification that adds a subject to the fragment
  • Sentence Fragment: Shows no change in your behaviour.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know what shows no change.)

Correction: The evaluation shows no change in your behaviour.

  • Sentence Fragment: Kicked the ball and scored.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know who kicked the ball.)

Correction: Joshua kicked the ball and scored.

  • Sentence Fragment: Was running down the stairs and into the living room.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know who was running down the stairs.)

Correction: The girl was running down the stairs and into the living room.

  • Sentence Fragment: Discovered the hideout of the thieves.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know who discovered the hideout of the thieves.)

Correction: The police discovered the hideout of the thieves.

  • Sentence Fragment: Gave many excuses but didn’t apologize.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know who gave the excuses.)

Correction: The man gave many excuses but didn’t apologize.

  • Sentence Fragment: Tired of having to pick up after him.

(The bold text statement is lacking of a subject; we do not know who is tired.)

Correction: I am tired of having to pick up after him.

Sentence Fragment Without a Verb

In a sentence, verbs are the action words that describe what the subject is doing. Verbs, like nouns, are the most important portion of a sentence or phrase because they tell a story about what is happening. In truth, whole thoughts cannot be conveyed without a verb, and even the simplest statements, such as Sophia sings, require one. A verb, like Sing! and Drive! can be a sentence in and of itself, with the subject, in most cases you, inferred.

Some sentence fragments do have subject but no verb. A verb must be added to complete the sentence. See below a few sentence fragments that are missing a verb and how to fix them.

  • Sentence Fragment: That period of innovation and invention.

(Here, the statement in bold does not contain a verb. Looked at by itself, we do not know which period was being referred to)
 The 19th century was a period of innovation and invention.

  • Sentence Fragment: Thirty, the answer to the question.

(Here, the statement in bold does not contain a verb. We are not sure of the relationship between thirty and the answer to the question)
 Thirty is the answer to the question.

  • Sentence Fragment: The elected mayor for our city unpopular.

(Here, the statement in bold does not contain a verb. Looked at by itself, we do not know what is being said about the elected officials in the city)

Correction: The elected mayor for our city was unpopular.

  • Sentence Fragment: People playing football on the street.

(Here, the statement in bold does not contain a verb. Looked at by itself, we do not know what is being said about the people playing football on the street)
Correction: There were people playing football on the street.

  • Sentence Fragment: Jane showing her certificate and smiling.

(Here, the statement in bold does not contain a verb. The verb ‘was’ gives the sentence meaning)

Correction: Jane was showing her certificate and smiling.

  • Sentence Fragment: Malls and Parks scattered around the town.
     Malls and Parks are scattered around the town.

NOTE: Infinitives (the “to” form, i.e. “to play”), past participles, and present participles (words ending in “ing” or “ed,” such as “playing,” above) look to be verbs but do not function as verbs within a sentence.

Sentence fragment with a dependent clause without an independent clause

A clause is a group of words consisting of a subject and a verb. An independent clause is a group of words that can be used to form a complete sentence on their own. When a clause can’t stand on its own and needs the independent clause to make sense, it’s called a dependent clause. A dependent clause is often started with a subordinating conjunction, a related pronoun, or a relative adverb. A dependent clause fragment is formed when a dependent clause is utilized by itself. The most prevalent fragment type out of all the fragment types is this one.

Some sentence fragments are dependent clauses, which means they can’t stand on their own. As a result, you’ll need to add an independent clause to finish the sentence. Below are several examples of Sentence Fragments with a dependent clause, as well as a possible change to make the sentence complete.

The bold sentences are dependent clauses, which provide more information about the independent clause. There is no independent clause for each statement.

  • Sentence Fragment: Because we were not prepared.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know what was caused by not being prepared.)
Correction: We canceled the event because we were not prepared.

  • Sentence Fragment: After I finish the assignment.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know what is to happen after finishing the assignment.)
Correction: I will relax after I finish the assignment.

  • Sentence Fragment: Since he has never been to a concert.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know the significance of him never been to a concert.)
Correction: We should get him a ticket since he has never been to a concert.

  • Sentence Fragment: Such as writing, singing and dancing.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know the significance of writing, singing and dancing.)

Correction: I have few hobbies, such as writing, singing and dancing.

  • Sentence Fragment: To explain why that happened.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know the significance of an explanation.)
Correction: He failed to explain why that happened.

  • Sentence Fragment: Worrying that he would fall.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know why he was worried.)
Correction: He stopped running, worrying that he would fall.

  • Sentence Fragment: Because the bus broke down.

(there is no independent clause so we do not know the significance of the bus that broke down.)

Correction: I was late for class because the bus broke down.

NOTE: A cue word, usually a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun, can identify a dependent sentence, even if it has a subject and a verb. Some of the cue words include: as soon as, when, as if, if, so that, in order that, although, though, even though, before, because, after, as long as, provided that, since, as, unless, even if, whereas, while.

Identifying Sentence fragments

sentence fragment examples

Let’s look at several ways to recognize a sentence fragment to avoid the mistakes mentioned above.

Fragments can be identified by simply using one of the following:

1) Add “wasn’t it?” or “didn’t it?” to the end of the statement to make it a true or false question. Then ask yourself, “Am I able to answer this question?”

2) Consider whether the statement would convey a full thought if it were not accompanied by the other sentences.

3) Keep an eye out for noun groups that lack a verb.

  • Original: The most beautiful wife in the world.
  • Revised: I have the most beautiful wife in the world.

4) Look for terms with the suffixes -ed, -d, -t, or -n. These words (such followed, led, slept, and broken) look like verbs, but they’re actually adjectives that can’t be the sentence’s main verb. They’re describing characteristics of things rather than acts.

  • Original: Lost in his thoughts.
  • Revised: The man sat lost in his thoughts.

4. Keep an eye out for infinitives. Verbs containing the word “to” in front of them are called infinitives (like to sing, to dance, to breathe). Infinitives can start sentences, but they can’t finish them by themselves.

  • Original: To dance like Ciara.
  • Revised: Her dream had always been to dance like Ciara.

5. Keep an eye out for relative adverbs. Words like who, which, and that are examples of relative adverbs.

  • Original: That won the match.
  • Revised: The team that won the match cheated.

6. Keep an eye out for gerunds. Gerunds are words that finish in -ing and look like verbs, but they’re actually acting nouns that can’t be the sentence’s main verb.

  • Original: Sleeping all day.
  • Revised: I was sleeping all day.

 7. Look out for subordinating conjunctionsSubordinating conjunctions create dependent clauses and phrases using words like after, because, although, since, if, though, when, while, unless, or till.

  • Original: After I left the office.
  • Revised: After I left the office, I remembered that I had not closed the windows.

8. Pay attention to sentences that begin with a coordinating conjunction. To avoid a fragment, make sure each side has a complete subject and verb, or join them together.

  • Original: He loves the sneaker. And wants to buy it.
  • Revised: He loves the sneaker and wants to buy it.

9. Look for words like notably, such as, particularly, typically, specifically, preferable, like, or including in sentences. The extra information presented by these words should be added to the previous sentence or expanded into a complete thought with its own subject and verb.

  • Original: I like cats. Especially big furry ones.
  • Revised: I like cats, especially big furry ones.
  • Original: I enjoy Adele songs. Such as Hello, Rolling in the deep, and Someone like you.
  • Revised: I enjoy Adele songs such as Hello, Rolling in the deep, and Someone like you.

10. Keep an eye out for prepositions. Words like at, to, toward, in, on, up, near, by, and so on are prepositions. Prepositions start prepositional phrases that aren’t entire sentences on their own.

  • Original: By exercising daily.
  • Revised: I try to burn fat by exercising daily.

There are, however, some exceptions to these rules. For aesthetic or emphatic goals, sentence fragments are permitted in some genres of writing. They’re employed in poetry, advertising, and journalism, among other things. Sometimes, authors intentionally use sentence fragments to emphasize their writing or convey something harsh or disjointed. Dive into a few intentional Sentence Fragments made by professional writers to convey a specific message.

Examples of Intentional Use of Fragments

  • Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end. No apologies. No regrets.
  • “Because I’m worth it” Slogan
  • “A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.” Brave New WorldAldous Huxley
  • No one thought that Ethan could make the jump; it was just too high. All the same, he was determined to astound us. No matter what.
  • “Late afternoon. The sky hunkers down, presses, like a lover, against the land. Small sounds. A far sheep, faint barking. Time to drive on, toward Strathpeffer, friends, a phone call from my father.” – “Culloden,” Only the Dance by Judith Kitchen
  • “I’m home, but the house is gone. Not a sandbag, not a nail or a scrap of wire.” – “The Vietnam in Me,” The New York Times Magazine by Tim O’Brien
  • “He looked levelly at the great red face across the desk. ‘It’s a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge.” – Moonraker, Ian Fleming
  • When you care enough to send the very best.
  • “The hawk sailing by at 200 feet, a squirming snake in its talons. Salt in the drinking water. Salt, selenium, arsenic, radon and radium in the water in the gravel in your bones.” – Journey Home, Edward Abbey

Know Your Sentence Fragments

Although commonly thought to be a grammatical error, as seen in the instances above, sentence fragments can be used intentionally to add meaning to words or convey a specific tone. However, it’s always a good idea to double-check sentence fragments to make sure they don’t need to be rewritten to carry a whole thought. 

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By David Adewusi

David is a blog writer who likes writing about literature, English grammar, and editing methods. He has also worked as a copy editor and proofreader. He has written excellent blog posts for Scientific Editing.

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