How to Identify Sentence Fragments

 

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A sentence fragment is simply an incomplete sentence, meaning, more words are needed to make a complete thought, sort of like a puzzle missing some pieces. Even though it sounds simple, fragments are one of the most common sentence-level errors for English language writers. To identify a sentence fragment, let’s do a short review on exactly what qualifies as a sentence.

A complete sentence requires an independent clause. An independent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. For example, “John drives racecars” is a complete sentence. Even though it’s short, it has a subject (John) and a verb (drives). When you read an independent clause, you don’t require additional information to complete the thought. Below are other examples of short, independent clauses:

  1. The boat sank.
  2. Sara hates bowling.
  3. His shirt is torn.
  4. A storm is coming.
  5. She pet the dog.

A sentence is a group of words that contain at least one independent clause. All of the examples above are complete sentences, and all independent clauses.

A fragment, in contrast, is a group of words without an independent clause. It may look like a sentence, and even be quite long, but it is not a complete thought. In everyday speech, we often talk in fragments, but in writing, a fragment is an incomplete thought, often lacking a subject or verb. Below are some examples of sentence fragments:

  1. Even though I drove downtown.
  2. Being quiet in the library.
  3. Cars honking all night long.
  4. Stinging jellyfish on the beach in Florida.
  5. Smothered in gravy with a side of bacon.

The sentences above begin with a capitalized word and end in a period, but it takes more than that to make a complete sentence!

If we were going to turn the previous examples into independent clauses or complete sentences, we would need to add either a subject, a verb, or both.

  1. Even though I drove downtown, I couldn’t find the bookstore.
  2. I am being quiet in the library.
  3. I heard cars honking all night long.
  4. Stinging jellyfish swarmed on the beach in Florida.
  5. I ate biscuits smothered in gravy with a side of bacon.

What other ways could you create complete sentences in the examples above to correct the fragments?

Identifying Fragments in Paragraphs

It’s often easier to identify sentence fragments when they stand alone, but it gets more difficult when they’re hidden in a paragraph. Can you identify the fragments in the following paragraph?

American football is a sport played by two teams. With eleven players on each team. It’s played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, which is the team controlling the oval-shaped football. The offense attempts to advance down the field by running or passing the ball. While the defense, which is the team without control of the ball, aims to stop the offense’s advance. The offense must advance at least ten yards in four downs, or plays. If the offense succeeds in advancing ten yards or more and are given a new set of four downs. They will maintain possession and attempt to move the ball down the field. Attempting to score a touchdown, worth 6 points, or a field goal, worth 3 points.

Could you identify all of the fragments? Check below to see if you were correct. The red bold sentences are fragments:

American football is a sport played by two teams. With eleven players on each team. It’s played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, which is the team controlling the oval-shaped football. The offense attempts to advance down the field by running or passing the ball. While the defense, which is the team without control of the ball, aims to stop the offense’s advance. The offense must advance at least ten yards in four downs, or plays. If the offense succeeds in advancing ten yards or more and are given a new set of four downs. They will maintain possession and attempt to move the ball down the field. Attempting to score a touchdown, worth 6 points, or a field goal, worth 3 points.

Tips for Avoiding Sentence Fragments

  1. Read your sentence out loud. You’ll hear a sentence-level mistake when you’ll often overlook it when reading silently.
  2. Does each sentence have a subject and a verb? If you are unsure, identify the subject – a person, place, or thing being discussed – and verb – a physical or mental action, or state of being.
  3. Watch for sentences that begin with “-ing” phrases (being, thinking, doing); these often create sentence fragments.
  4. Sentences that begin with words that denote time – while, during, after, since, before, etc. – will always require (at least) one dependent clause and one (at least) independent clause. Make sure the thought is complete.

 

More Practice

Correct the following fragments:

  1. Growing up in a large family in the Appalachian Mountains. He feared that a college education would be an impossibility.
  2. Scientists have repeatedly warned us. To stop polluting our water before it is unsafe for human use.
  3. After delaying several weeks, Jeff finally began his paper. On the same subject of legalizing marijuana in the US.
  4. The planet Venus, known to have a rough surface scarred by volcanoes and quakes.
  5. Opera is one of the most appealing of the arts. Although it is also one of the most complex and difficult.
(Exercises from Reviewing Basic Grammar: A Guide to Writing Sentence and Paragraphs; 7th Edition)