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Sentence Fragments

Sentence Fragments

In English, there are various sentence types to use, with each one serving a different purpose. The four main types of sentences are simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. However, a type of sentence often overlooked is sentence fragments. Although these may not be considered proper sentences, they are still a part of English grammar.

Sentence Fragments Definition

Sentence fragments are parts of sentences that are either missing a subject (the person/thing doing the action), missing the main verb, or do not express a complete thought (known as a subordinate clause). As 'fragment' itself suggests, sentence fragments are not full sentences. This means they do not make grammatical sense on their own.

Sentence Fragments Complete sentence requirements StudySmarterFig. 1 - A subject and a verb is needed to create a full sentence.

An example of a sentence fragment is:

"because it was too bright"

The meaning of this fragment is unclear as it does not express a complete thought - what happened because it was too bright?

On the other hand, an example of a full sentence is:

"I turned off the light because it was too bright"

OR

"Because it was too bright, I turned off the light."

These sentences make grammatical sense. They contain a subject, a verb, and express a complete thought.

Types of Sentence Fragments

As previously mentioned, there are three main types of sentence fragments:

1. Missing a subject

2. Missing the main verb

3. Expressing an incomplete thought (a.k.a. subordinate clauses).

What are subordinate and independent clauses?

An independent clause is part of a sentence - or a complete sentence - that makes sense on its own. For example, the sentence "I went to the shops, and I bought a magazine" contains two independent clauses:

1. I went to the shops

2. I bought a magazine

Both of these clauses are joined by a conjunction and comma and make sense on their own.

A subordinate clause (also called a dependent clause) is a part of a sentence that cannot stand alone. It must rely on an independent clause to make sense. For example, consider the sentence, "Because I slept through my alarm, I woke up late." It contains the subordinate clause "because I slept through my alarm." It relies on the independent clause "I was late for school" to make sense.

Sentence Fragments Illustration of a fragment and missing elements StudySmarterFig. 2 - Sentence fragments are not complete sentences.

Sentence Fragments Examples

Here are some examples of the three types of sentence fragments. Beneath the fragments are examples of complete sentences. This will show you how you could fix a sentence fragment to ensure it makes grammatical sense.

Missing a subjectMissing the main verbIncomplete thought
Fragment: Want apple juice.Complete: We want apple juice.Fragment: A time of great joy.Complete: It was a time of great joy.Fragment: Because of the sun.Complete: Because of the sun, I had to wear sunglasses.
Fragment: Looking forward to it.Complete: I am looking forward to it.Fragment: The upset child.Complete: The upset child cried.Fragment: Which is fun.Complete: I play basketball, which is fun.
Fragment: Is walking home.Complete: The student is walking home.Fragment: They lunch after work.Complete: They ate lunch after work.Fragment: For better or for worse.Complete: I'll stay by your side, for better or for worse.
Fragment: Went to the park this morning.Complete: I went to the park this morning.Fragment: My sister's cat.Complete: My sister's cat is sleeping.Fragment: So I left early.Complete: I didn't enjoy the party, so I left early.
Fragment: Recommend the movie.Complete: I'd recommend the movie.Fragment: Kathy and Freya at school.Complete: Kathy and Freya met at school.Fragment: Although I like chocolate.Complete: Although I like chocolate, I prefer candy.

Identifying Sentence Fragments

Sometimes, sentence fragments may be mistaken for short sentences. For example, the sentence "I laughed" only consists of two words. However, it is a complete sentence as it expresses a complete thought and contains both a subject (I) and the main verb (laughed).

When identifying sentence fragments, think about the following:

  • Does it lack a subject?
  • Does it lack a verb?
  • Does it express an incomplete thought?

You have identified a sentence fragment if the answer is yes to any of these!

It is also useful to think about the following interrogative words (used to ask WH- questions):

Sentence Fragments Interrogative words StudySmarterFig. 3 - Interrogative words are used to ask questions.

A sentence fragment will often fail to answer at least one type of WH- question. For example, take the fragment "Goes home next week." The meaning of this fragment is unclear - who goes home next week? Another example is "Which is interesting." The meaning of this fragment is also not understandable - what is interesting?

It is worth mentioning that, if the context is understandable, sentence fragments can often be used in informal speech. When we talk casually with friends or family, we don't always need to use complete sentences to be understood. For example, instead of someone saying, "I love it!", they may say, "Love it!" Although there is no subject, it is clear that the person speaking is referring to themselves. In this circumstance, it is okay to use fragments as they are often used in informal speech and there is a mutual understanding of their meaning.

Sentence fragments may also be used in literature for dramatic effect. For example:

"George was going to find his brother. No matter what."

"No matter what" is a sentence fragment as it is an incomplete thought. Here, it is used to highlight a feeling of certainty and urgency. In this circumstance, it is okay to use fragments because they are being used as a language technique for stylistic purposes.

Sentence Fragments and Run-ons - What is the Difference?

Sentence fragments may get confused with run-on sentences, but they are two different things. Let's first take a look at how run-on sentences occur:

A run-on sentence occurs as a result of two or more independent clauses (complete thoughts) not being joined/separated properly. This often happens because of the incorrect use of punctuation or conjunctions.

An example of a run-on is:

I was thirsty I drank water.

This example consists of two independent clauses - "I was thirsty" and "I drank water." They both contain a subject, a verb, and make sense on their own. However, without the proper use of punctuation or conjunctions, the sentence does not flow well.

Instead, the sentence could be written in the following ways:

1. I was thirsty. I drank water - separating the two independent clauses with a period.

2. I was thirsty; I drank water - joining the two independent clauses with a semi-colon.

3. I was thirsty, so I drank water - joining the two independent clauses with a comma and a conjunction.

Although run-ons express a complete thought and consist of two or more independent clauses, they are missing the correct punctuation or conjunctions to make the sentence flow well. On the other hand, sentence fragments cannot make sense on their own. In order for them to be complete, they need to contain a subject, a verb, or a complete thought.

Sentence Fragments - Key Takeaways

  • Sentence fragments are parts of sentences that are either missing a subject, missing the main verb, or do not express a complete thought/idea.
  • Sentence fragments are not complete sentences and do not make sense on their own.
  • The three types of sentence fragments are: missing a subject, missing a verb, and expressing an incomplete thought.
  • Sentence fragments may be mistaken for short sentences, but short sentences are complete and contain both a subject and a verb.
  • Run-on sentences occur as a result of two or more independent clauses not being joined/separated properly. This is due to a lack of correct punctuation or conjunctions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sentence Fragments

An example of a sentence fragment is "but she does it anyway." This fragment is a subordinate clause. It does not express a complete idea and does not make sense on its own.

The three types of sentence fragments are:


1. Missing a subject

2. Missing the main verb

3. Incomplete thought (a.k.a. subordinate clauses).

You can tell a sentence is a fragment if it does not make sense on its own, and does not contain either a subject or a verb.

You can fix sentence fragments by ensuring that it contains a subject, a verb, and expresses a complete thought.

Fragments refer to incomplete sentences that do not make sense on their own. This is because they are missing either a subject, a verb, or express an incomplete thought.

Final Sentence Fragments Quiz

Question

What are sentence fragments?

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Answer

Sentence fragments are parts of sentences that are either missing a subject, missing the main verb, or do not express a complete thought.

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Question

"Enjoyed our time at the zoo."


What type of sentence fragment is this?

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Answer

Missing a subject

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Question

What is the following an example of?


"I walked home."

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Answer

Complete sentence

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Question

"My sister's cat."


What type of sentence fragment is this?

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Answer

Missing a verb

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Question

What is the following an example of?


"But I did it anyway."

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Answer

Sentence fragment

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Question

"Because I was tired."


What type of sentence fragment is this?

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Answer

Expressing an incomplete thought

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Question

A sentence fragment that expresses an incomplete thought is also known as what?

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Answer

Subordinate clause

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Question

True or false?


Sentence fragments are not the same as short sentences.

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Answer

True

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Question

How does a run-on sentence occur?

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Answer

A run-on sentence occurs as a result of two or more independent clauses not being joined/separated properly. 

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Question

If subordinate clauses don't make sense on their own, what type of clause does?

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Answer

Independent clause

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Question

Sometimes, independent clauses are not joined or separated properly. This is due to what?

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Answer

The incorrect use of punctuation or conjunctions.

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Question

True or false?


Sentence fragments don't make sense on their own. 

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Answer

True

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Question

List the three types of sentence fragments.

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Answer

1. Missing a subject

2. Missing the main verb

3. Expressing an incomplete thought

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Question

Depending on the context, sentence fragments can be used amongst friends and family. What type of language do we use to talk to people we know well?

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Answer

Informal language 

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Question

True or false?


Sentence fragments can be used in literature for dramatic effect.

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Answer

True

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