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Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a clause that is punctuated like an independent clause, but it lacks a grammatical element required to make it a complete sentence. As we discussed before, an independent clause must have a subject and a verb. Without both a subject and a verb, a clause is a sentence fragment because it cannot function alone.
 
Example (independent clause):

I ran down the road.

Examples (sentence fragments):

Ran down the road.

Running down the road.

 

The independent clause above has both a subject (I) and a verb (ran). The first example of a sentence fragment, however, has only a verb (ran). The last example contains the participle Running, which needs a helping verb like was as well as a subject like He: He was running down the road.
 


To correct sentence fragments in your writing
  • (Step 1) identify them.
  • (Step 2) revise them.

Step-1

Identify sentence fragments in your writing.
 
To find sentence fragments in your writing, first analyze each sentence. In your analysis, mark the subject and verb by underlining the subject once and the verb twice.
 
Following are some examples:
 
Example

On our way to the store tomorrow, we need to stop at the bank.

Sprinting toward the finish line, Dan took a deep breath and pressed on.

Providing equal opportunity to all citizens is of utmost importance.

The first two examples begin with introductory phrases, which can be confusing so take care in identifying these types of clauses and isolating them from the independent clause. The third example contains a gerund, providing, which acts as a noun. Now let’s analyze each sentence of a paragraph. First, we will underline each subject and each verb. Then we will flag each sentence that is a fragment with a star.
 


Dan always has busy days at his law office. *In the morning, stops for breakfast at a coffee shop near the office. *Upon entering the office. Dan gets his messages from his secretary. For the rest of the day Dan keeps busy. *Reviewing briefs and preparing witnesses. Usually Dan does not have time to go out to lunch, but his secretary generally has something delivered to him. Dan’s afternoon progresses in much the same way as his morning. *When he gets home. He is exhausted. *Because he is so tired. He goes to bed at 8:00.

Clearly, many of the sentences in this paragraph need to be revised. Before we can complete the revisions, though, we need to analyze what the problem is in each of the identified sentence fragments. Let’s look at each sentence:

Dan always has busy days at Meadowcreek High School. (This sentence is fine.)
 
* In the morning, double-checks his homework while he’s on the bus. (The introductory phrase here can make the sentence tricky because you may be tempted to identify morning as the subject. Although double-checks  is the verb, the subject is missing.)
 
*Upon entering the school. (This introductory phrase has been set off by itself.)
 
Dan gets his books from his locker. (This sentence is fine.)
 
For the rest of the day, Dan keeps busy. (This sentence is fine, but again there is an introductory phrase, which can be deceiving.)
 
*. *Doing schoolwork and participating in class discussions. (This clause should act as the object of the sentence and therefore is missing both the subject and the verb.)
 
Usually Dan does not bring his own lunch, but his mom gives him money to buy school lunch. (Two independent clauses are correctly joined here with a comma and a conjunction. In a sentence like this, identifying the subject and verb can be confusing. In the second clause, for example, it would be easy to mistake his as the subject when his is actually an adjective modifying the subject mom.)

Dan’s afternoon progresses in much the same way as his morning. (This sentence is fine, but again, Dan’s could be confused as the subject when afternoon is actually the subject.)
 
*When he gets home. (The subject here is he, and the verb is gets. However, the subordinator when makes the sentence a dependent clause and it therefore cannot stand alone as a sentence.)
 
He does his homework. (This sentence is fine.)
 
* Because he is so tired after doing homework. (The subject here is he, and the verb is is. However, the subordinator because makes the sentence a dependent clause and it therefore cannot stand alone as a sentence.)
 
He goes to bed at 10:00. (This sentence is fine.)

Step-2

After you have identified the sentences that are fragments, you must revise them. There are two ways to revise sentence fragments:
  • Combine sentences to make them complete.
Example
(Fragments) Because I was at the office working. I didn’t make it to dinner.
(Revised) Because I was at the office working, I didn’t make it to dinner.
 
  • Add the necessary elements to the fragment to make it complete.
Example
(Fragments) From the beginning. Wanted to practice law in a small town.
(Revised) From the beginning, he wanted to practice law in a small town.
 

Now, let’s revise our example from Step 1:

 
Dan always has busy days at Meadowcreek High School. In the morning, he double-checks his homework while he’s on the bus. Upon entering the school, Dan gets his books from his locker. For the rest of the day, Dan keeps busy doing schoolwork and participating in class discussions. Usually Dan does not bring his own lunch, but his mom gives him money to buy school lunch. Dan’s afternoon progresses in much the same way as his morning. *When he gets home, he does his homework. Because he is so tired after doing homework, he goes to bed at 10:00.

*In the morning, double-checks his homework while he’s on the bus. (We corrected this sentence by adding the subject he after the introductory phrase.)

*Upon entering the school. (We corrected this sentence by replacing the period after school with a comma and thereby making it an introductory phrase and combining it with the next sentence.)

*Doing schoolwork and participating in class discussions. (We corrected this fragment by simply combining it with the complete clause that preceded it.)

*When he gets home. (We corrected this sentence by replacing the period after home with a comma and thereby making it an introductory phrase and combining it with the next sentence.)

*Because he is so tired after doing homework. (We corrected this sentence by replacing the period after homework with a comma and thereby making it an introductory phrase and combining it with the next sentence.)

Once you have made your revisions, make sure you reread your writing. Identify the subject and verb in each sentence once again to make sure your revisions corrected the fragments.





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