All About Fragments


For a sentence to be a sentence, it must contain a subject and a verb. Toby barked is a complete sentence, as it contains a subject, Toby, and a verb, barked. A sentence is a sentence if it has at least one independent clause, which is a cluster of words that are “independent” of other phrases or clauses to form a grammatically correct sentence.

A fragment is created when the sentence lacks a subject, a verb, or both. Instead of an independent clause or complete sentence, this creates a fragment, or a group of words that require other words, phrases, or clauses to make it complete.


Missing Subject:

Walking down the block.

Who or what is walking down the block? We don’t know by the information given. This sentence is incomplete, as it lacks a subject.

The man was walking down the block.

Now it’s a complete sentence, or independent clause. It’s a full thought and a complete sentence.

Missing Verb:

The team when the others lost.

What did the team do? This again is an incomplete sentence, as the crucial verb is missing, creating a fragment.

The team won when the others lost.

The verb, “won” now completes the sentence.


Sometimes you can ask yourself if the sentence forms a complete thought, but sometimes spotting fragments can be tricky. Some fragments are actually modifying the sentence, and a reader often reattaches the sentence together, even though the punctuation demands they are separate.

He got his car running again. By fixing the oil gasket.

The first sentence in the example above is an independent clause, or complete sentence. However, the second sentence is a fragment and cannot stand alone without help. It is dependent on other words to form a complete sentence, so it should be attached to the previous sentence (independent clause).

He got his car running again by fixing the oil gasket.


Spotting Fragments

One way to test if a sentence is a fragment is to see if you can rephrase the word group into a yes or no question.

EX. 1

She bought the chocolate from the vending machine.

?          Did she buy the chocolate from the vending machine?

Answer: YES – so this is NOT a fragment.


EX. 2

Bought the sandwich to eat after class.

?          Did ____ buy the sandwich to eat after class?

            Answer: The question has no subject, so it is a fragment.

Dave bought the sandwich to eat after class.


EX. 3

The manager hiring workers for the night shift.

(HINT: avoid beginning the question with is/are or has/have.)

?          Does the manager hiring workers for the night shift?

Answer: The word, hiring, cannot act as the verb in this form.

The manager is hiring workers for the night shift.


Be aware that even very long sentences can be fragments, as we see in the example below:

Some films like Twister, which had cows flying through the air, cars hurdling into the sky, and houses exploding into toothpicks with high-tech special effects.

Don’t be fooled by long sentences. Let’s run our test:

?                      Do some films like Twister, which had cows flying through the air, cars hurdling into the sky, and houses exploding into toothpicks with high-tech special effects?

Answer:        Do some films. . . what? We don’t have a question, so it’s a fragment. Note that the verbs in the relative clause beginning with “which” (flying, hurdling, exploding) are not the main verbs of the sentence.


Even though in academic and business writing, fragments should be carefully edited out, creative writers and advertisers often use fragments as a creative device. Fragments are a part of normal speech patterns and often a stylistic choice when writing dialogue. Writers who use fragments purposefully do so because they know the rule they are breaking.

“Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous!”

“No can do. Too much work to do. Terrible, really.”

Mice in the house? Try Mice-B-Gone!


Turn the following fragments into sentences. Can you identify what makes them fragments?

1. In plenty of time for dinner.

2. A tune most people know.

3. Without any fear at all.

4. Discovered by the police detective.

5. For example, next Sunday.

6. Predicting the weather even with complex instruments.

7. A book I read when I was a child.

8. Hanging around famous people.

9. Making some mistakes.

10. To sit together at dinner.

(from Bedford St. Martin Exercise Central)




Blueprint for Success: Overcome Roadblocks to Build a Great Thesis


Writing an essay is like constructing a building. A blueprint offers a builder guidelines to help erect a building. A writer requires the blueprint of a focused thesis to guide his or her paper to completion. Without a strong, focused thesis statement, a paper may lack the solid structure it requires to maintain a logical argument through to the end.

Once you have decided on a topic, ask yourself the big “SO WHAT?” What do you want to say about your topic? What is your opinion? This question trips up many students who don’t feel they should have a strong opinion on a subject. Many writers prefer to ride the fence, or stay safely in the middle of an argument. That won’t work with a thesis statement. In fact, a thesis should be a statement of opinion that someone would disagree with. If there is no possibility of disagreement, the thesis needs more questioning.

Revising Thesis Statements

Maybe you have an idea what you want to write about, but don’t really know what direction to take. Forming the idea into a research question will begin paving the road to the thesis.

Say you have a passion for the environment. After doing some initial research, you are curious as to why, with all our current legislation, greenhouse gas emissions are still on the rise. So you might form a question something like this:

Research Question: Why are greenhouse gas emissions still on the rise?

This isn’t a thesis yet, but it’s on its way. A thesis statement must be a declarative sentence, or a sentence that declares something in the form of an opinion. A thesis cannot be a question, as there is no opinion in a question. However, if you have a question, a thesis could be the answer to that question, but only if it creates disagreement.

The following example takes the research question and forms a declarative statement:

Non-debatable Thesis: Greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the environment.

This thesis statement is not debatable, as it’s an obvious fact that greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the environment. No one would argue pollution is good, right? Saying greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the environment is like saying smoking is bad for your health, again, a proven fact. It cannot be debated, so there is no argument to pursue, and therefore, no thesis.

Often it helps to narrow the focus of the thesis so it isn’t too broad. Consider how we might make this more specific:

Non-debatable Thesis: One of the fastest causes of the rise in greenhouse gas emissions is international transportation.

This is an interesting fact, but, alas, still a fact. I would like to know more about international transportation and its effect on the environment, but this isn’t quite a thesis statement yet. It’s non-debatable because this fact can be looked up in research and found to be true, so not yet an arguable thesis.

You could rework the topic to focus on how we might prevent greenhouse gas emissions:

Arguable Thesis: The US should focus anti-pollution legislation on ocean and air transport, or international transportation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a thesis that is arguable and makes a declarative statement. It is strong and succinct. The best part is that this thesis is unique, one you (or your instructor) probably haven’t read about. The instructor will approach it with fresh eyes and mind, as opposed to a paper on why we should lower the drinking age, a tired, worn-out topic.

Beware of Feelings over Facts

Often we become so passionate about a topic that it’s difficult to separate our feelings from fact.

Personal Feelings Thesis:  The songs of rock group Post & Stone relate to the feelings of individuals who dare to be different, and are meaningful to me because I can identify with them.

You can’t compose a thesis statement based on personal feelings, as they will never hold up in an argument. But, you ask, isn’t a thesis supposed to be your opinion? Yes, but this thesis has no real argument, as an audience can’t disagree with whether or not music is meaningful to another person.

So how might you rephrase this topic into an arguable thesis? In the previous examples, we needed to narrow the focus to create an arguable thesis. However, this thesis is too narrow, and it will be difficult to keep it focused on one musical group, so consider how you might broaden the scope.

As you read more, you’ll find that music therapy is a popular form of psychotherapy. It’s also shown to be effective in dementia patients. If you want to keep the focus on music, consider the following:

Arguable Thesis: As music therapy has been proven to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, military psychologists should be required to offer music therapy to veterans.  

Arguable Thesis: To decrease medication use, lower costs, and improve patient recovery times, music therapy should be standard practice in all hospitals.

These are both workable thesis statements, and you can see how they will guide each paper. The first will focus on military only, although you could certainly tweak the language for different sub-groups; the second thesis will show how music therapy decreases the need for medication, decreases hospital costs, and speeds recovery times in hospital patients.

Once you’ve done some initial research, you can always adjust the thesis statement. When you have your blueprint in place, building the essay will be much easier than attempting to construct an essay on a faulty foundation.

Thesis Practice

Revise each of the thesis statements below to create an arguable thesis. 

  1.     There are positive and negative aspects of legalizing marijuana.
  2.     This paper will be about the health benefits of exercise in children.
  3.    Fashion magazines have no right arbitrarily to define standards of “beauty,” which often lead to
    eating  disorders.
  4.    Body piercing is popular among kids today.
  5.    Child obesity is a terrible problem society must fix.


Five-Dollar Words: Defining Academic Vocabulary

images words

Recently I was thumbing through a new writing textbook and came upon a glossary of vocabulary. As I skimmed through the pages, it became clear that, though I had heard some of these terms referenced at one time or another, I wasn’t exactly sure what some of them meant. As an instructor, writer, and writing consultant, I thought if I didn’t know what some of these words meant, then I would bet $5 students might not know what some of these five-dollar words meant either.

Students whose first language is not English have an additional burden of learning a foreign language in addition to learning the sometimes foreign language used in college classrooms. You might find that you are familiar with some of these terms listed below. You might find that the term sounds familiar, but you might not be able to define its meaning. Some of the words below might actually look like a foreign word!

A few of the terms below are specific to English academic writing and arguments in particular. Many of the terms may have a slightly different meaning in another language. You may never run across some of these words again in your academic career. Some of the terms are common in academic classes and critical to know; some terms are useful but not critical; and some are interesting, but not really useful (  If you recognize any of these terms from previous classes, it might very well turn up again, so it never hurts to be prepared.

Vocabulary List

Allegorical: from “allegory”; a poem, play, picture, etc. in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning; a symbolical narrative. 

Antithesis: the direct opposite; opposition; contrast. The antithesis of an argument paper is the opposite position of the thesis (anti-thesis).

Assonance: the use of a repetitive vowel sound in successive words or stressed syllables, as in a line of verse. Examples are time and light or shade and made.

Collocation: arrangement of words in a sentence, specifically what nouns go with specific verbs; a co-occurrence of lexical (see below) items, as perform with operation or commit with crime.

Enthymeme: syllogism (see below) or other argument in which a premise or the conclusion is unexpressed; in an enthymeme, part of the argument is missing because it is assumed.

Expository: expounds, sets forth, or explains; a type of essay that informs reader through exposition or explanation.

Gerund: a word with characteristics of both a noun and a verb (by adding the “ing” suffix to the noun);  Reading is easy.

Idiom: a language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people; unpredictable meaning for words used:  “It was raining cats and dogs.”

Infinitive: the simple or basic form of the verb, as come, take, eat, used after auxiliary verbs, as in I didn’t come, I can’t eat, or this simple form preceded by a function word, as to in I want to eat.

Lexical: the words (or vocabulary) of a language, generally distinguished from its grammatical and syntactical (see below) aspects.

Nominalization: to convert (another part of speech) into a noun, as in changing the adjective lowly into the lowly or the verb legalize into legalization.

Participle:  a form of a verb that is used to indicate a past or present action and that can also be used like an adjective.

Peremptory: leaving no opportunity for denial or refusal; admitting of no contradiction.

Syllogism: deductive reasoning; an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument; a formal argument in logic that is formed by two statements and a conclusion which must be true if the two statements are true.

Syntax/Syntactical:  the organization of words in a sentence; the rules and principles that govern the sentence structure of any language