Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Sentence Fragments

Remember a group of words that begin with a capital letter and end with a period do not always make a complete sentence. Every COMPLETE sentence must have at least one subject, one verb, and must express a complete thought.  If it doesn’t, it is a fragment.

Example 1:

Incorrect: After an hour, the dancers changed partners.  And learned a different dance.

Correct: After an hour, the dancers changed partners and learned a different dance.

The incorrect portion in the example leaves the reader with questions. We don’t know who learned a different dance without using the previous sentence to figure it out.  A complete sentence can stand on its own; if you were to take out everything around it an outside reader would still be able to understand its meaning. The bolded section is a fragment because it has no subject and does not express a complete idea. In the correct version, the sentence is complete because the idea that the dancers changed partners and learned a different dance is clear. 

Correcting Fragments in Your Writing

Before we can correct fragments, we have to be able to identify them. Here are the three elements that a complete sentence must have:

  1. a clear subject. The subject is the who or what the sentence is about.
  2. a clear verb. The verb is what the who or what of the sentence does or is.
  3. at least one independent clause. An independent clause is a word group consisting of a subject and verb that does not begin with a subordinating conjunction (dependent word- because, when, if, as, until, although, whenever, while) and expresses a complete thought or statement. If your sentence begins with a subordinating conjunction, be sure to add an independent clause after it to express a complete idea.

If our sentence is missing any one of these three elements, it is a fragment, and now that we know how to identify fragments, we can easily correct them.

Most fragments can be corrected by one of two methods:

  1. connecting the fragment to a nearby independent clause (complete sentence).
  2. revising the sentence itself by adding the missing element (a subject or verb or both).

First check to see if you can connect your fragment to a nearby complete sentence. Many fragments can be easily corrected by connecting the fragment to the sentence either before or after it. (See example 1).

Example:

That summer, we had the time of our lives. Fishing in the morning hours and splashing in the lake after lunch.

That summer, we had the time of our lives, fishing in the morning hours and splashing in the lake after lunch. (Fragment is connected to the previous sentence by a comma.)

If there is no sentence to connect your fragment to, then you need to revise the fragment. Here are some guidelines for revising different types of fragments.

Dependent word fragments

Many times fragments start with a dependent word (subordinating conjunction) like because, when, if, as, until, although, whenever, while. Usually a dependent word fragment can be combined with a nearby sentence, but if it can’t, the dependent word might need to be eliminated. Here is an example:

Example:

When the candidates either disagreed about priorities or pushed for different strategies.

The candidates either disagreed about priorities or pushed for different strategies.

Phrase fragments

A phrase fragment is a fragment that lacks a subject or a complete verb – or both. Phrase fragments often begin with verbals (words that sound like verbs but aren’t) like “ing” words. Most of the time these fragments can be revised by connecting them to a nearby sentence, but if this doesn’t work, the verbal needs to be turned into a subject and verb phrase. Here are two examples of revising a phrase fragment.

 Example:

That summer, we had the time of our lives. Fishing in the morning hours and splashing in the lake after lunch.

That summer, we had the time of our lives. We fished in the morning hours and splashed in the lake after lunch. (Fishing is turned into subject/verb group we fished. Notice that we had to change splashing to splashed as well.)

“For example” fragments

Watch for fragments that begin with words that introduce examples. Most of the time, the missing elements (both subject and verb) need to be added. Let’s look at these examples.

Example:

Hansel and Gretel faced many dangers. For example, their cruel stepmother, the wicked witch, and the dangers of the forest. 

Hansel and Gretel faced many dangers. For example, they had to contend with their cruel stepmother, outsmart the wicked witch, and survive the dangers of the forest.  (We had to supply the needed subject and verb (they had) in order for this sentence to express a complete idea.)

The best tip for finding fragments:

Read your essay out loud from end to beginning (last sentence to first). This might sound strange at first, but it really works! Reading our sentences out of logical order forces our brains to read our words out of context; this causes us to really see if what we have written expresses a complete idea.  Give it a try. You’ll see that it works.