Tips on avoiding the dangerous sentence fragments
Stumbling over Sentence Fragments
by Vivian Gilbert Zabel
When sentences are not correct, are not finely tuned, the quality and clarity of communication is lost. One way to keep sentences from working is stumbling over sentence fragments. A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a sentence but which lacks a subject, a verb, or both, and which doesn’t contain a complete thought.
Let’s examine the following paragraph to discover some sentence fragments:
Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak. Climb higher and higher. Up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top. They can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.
All of the sentence-like-punctuated groups of words in the preceding are fragments except the last. We will keep the paragraph in mind as we look at some ways to correct sentence fragments.
Sometimes a fragment lacks a subject. Therefore, adding a subject makes the fragment a sentence.
Fragment without a subject: Climb higher and higher.
Sentence: They climb higher and higher.
Another way to correct a sentence fragment would be to connect the fragment with a sentence, rewording it if neccesary.
Fragment without subject or verb:Up the frozen slopes.
Sentence: They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes.
At times a fragment lacks a verb, perhaps using a verbal or verb without a helping verb. The way to correct this type sentence fragment would be to add a verb or change a verbal to a verb.
Fragment without a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak.
Sentence by adding a helping verb: Intrepid mountain climbers are scaling a tall peak.
Sentence by changing a verbal to a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak.
At times, a fragment has a subject and verb but doesn’t contain a complete thought. To create a correct sentence, usually the fragment will need to be connected to a sentence.
Fragment lacking a complete thought: When they reach the top.
Sentence: When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.
Now let’s see how the original paragraph filled with fragments can be a correctly formatted paragraph.
Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak. They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.
A side note, sometimes writers will use an occasional sentence fragment for effect, but only occasionally. The effect is easily recognized by the reader when this practice is used. Otherwise, avoiding the problem is best.
Finally, once we conquer the problem, we have no more stumbles because of sentences fragments, which could be dangerous on steep, frozen slopes.
1. Writer's Companion copyright 1995 by Printice-Hall, Inc.
2. Literature and Language copyright 2001 by McDugal Littel.
3. Notes and lesson plans by Vivian Zabel