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)
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Best Websites for Grammar Help

For those of us who need to brush up on our grammar skills, some great websites exist that possess a ton of useful tips, examples, and even tutorials. Many of these websites are referenced here on our own blog. Check out the following article, “10 websites to help improve your grammar,” which can also be found at
https://prowritingaid.com/art/111/10-websites-to-help-improve-your-grammar.aspx

 

10 websites to help improve your grammar

Grammar is an essential part of writing, as it helps to convey the message or idea you are trying to get across. That being said, most writers might agree that their grammar skills could use a little freshening up from time to time. Luckily there are various websites that exist strictly for the purpose of improving one’s grammar. The ProWritingAid blog is a great place to start, but we also recommend the following sites.

WritingForward – This blog, which was created by a passionate writer, offers tons of posts on creative writing, grammar, and more. It helps writers of all kinds get ideas flowing so they always perform their best. This site also has exercises that help you brush up on your grammar and writing skills.

GrammarBook – Looking for a great site that will help you improve your grammar? Look no further than this informative site, which offers free grammar rules, fun quizzes, and a blog with lots of tips on all things writing.

Grammarly – This innovative website acts as an automated proofreader and professional grammar coach. It checks your writing for spelling and grammar errors, as well as plagiarism, so you are always sure to create the best work possible. Writers of all kinds can definitely benefit from this site.

PurdueOnlineWritingLab – The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a helpful site that features over 200 free resources. Advance your knowledge in areas such as grammar and mechanics and learn about various writing styles. If you are interested in improving your grammar, this site can help.

GrammarBlog – If you are looking for a refreshing take on grammar, this site is perfect for you. It pokes fun of common grammar mistakes that people make every day, which can instantly put a smile on any writer’s face. Although this site doesn’t necessarily teach grammar, it does show you what not to do when you are writing.

LousyWriter – This cool site has tons of tips that will help you become a better writer. It features sections on grammar, writing styles, parts of speech, misused words, punctuation, capitalization, and more. You can also find blog posts, podcasts, and video tutorials that help you improve your grammar.

DailyGrammar – Anyone looking to brush up on their grammar skills should visit this site. It offers lots of simplified lessons and quizzes that make it easy to improve your grammar in many different ways.

ChicagoManualOfStyle – If you work with words, you may want to take some time to check out this helpful site. It features a forum where writers can correspond with one another and ask questions. You can also use several tools that help you proofread and polish your work.

GrammarGirl – Looking for an easy-to-use website that offers tips and tricks on all things writing? If so, you need to explore this site. It helps with grammar, word usage, punctuation, and more. In addition to all the helpful writing hints, there is also a free newsletter that you can subscribe to.

Dr.Grammar – This website, which was created by the University of Northern Iowa’s Department of Languages and Literature, is an excellent resource for writers looking to improve their grammar. With lots of frequently asked questions and helpful tips in many areas, you are sure to find some help on this site.

Improving your grammar is easy if you take the time to visit these sites. They all offer helpful ideas, tips, and tricks that are sure to make you a better writer in no time at all.

The Art of Articles

An article is a word which is always used before a noun. In English, there are only three articles – a, an, and the. When you see an article, a noun will follow; however, the article may be followed by an adjective – such as “the tired dog,” or “the pretty girl.” The article-adjective-noun may also include an adverb, such as “the very tired dog,” or “the extremely pretty girl.”

Technically, an article is considered an adjective, as the article modifies the noun just as an adjective does. Articles are also referred to as “determiners” as they determine whether something is specific or nonspecific. Articles in English are either definite (specific), or indefinite (nonspecific).

THE = Definite Article

The is a definite article, which refers to something specific. For example, “Let’s go to the movie,” refers to a specific movie. If the sentence stated, “Let’s go to a movie,” it could mean any movie, or a nonspecific movie.

Other examples of definite articles:

I want to go to the party. (a specific party, not just any party)
Can a have the cookie? (a particular cookie, not just any cookie)
I want the coat on sale. (a particular sale coat)

Definite articles are also used before names of educational departments, buildings or institutions, such as

I want to go to the University of Nebraska.
He works in the Department of Gerontology.

Definite articles also precede bodies of water and mountain ranges:

I have heard the Great Lakes are beautiful.
Have you been to the Rocky Mountains?
I want to ski the Swiss Alps.

Other notes on definite articles

If you are referring to a country that is only one word, you would not use an article:

I am from Africa. (not the Africa)
I have visited France. (not the France)

You would use an article before the United States, but not America.

You would not use “the” for planets:

Incorrect: The Pluto is the smallest planet.
Correct: Pluto is the smallest planet.

Finally, omit “the” before cities, towns, states, continents, names of streets, languages, nationalities, sports (football), and academic subjects.

But DO use “the” before rivers, oceans, seas, specific points on the globe (the South Pole), geographical areas, deserts and forests.

A and An = Indefinite Articles

A or An are indefinite articles, which refers to a non-specific noun. For example, “Can I get a dog?” refers to any dog in general. In contrast, “Can I get the dog,” is referring to one specific dog.

The beginning letter and sound of a word will determine whether you’ll use A or An.
A singular noun beginning with a vowel will use “an”: an orange; an airplane; an opera. Also, an will precede a noun with a silent “h” such as hour. However, if the “h” is not silent, you would use the article a, such as a horse or a hobby.

A singular noun beginning with a consonant will use “a”; a car; a boy; a tornado. “A” is also used with a singular noun that has a consonant sound, such as university, which begins with a “y” sound, a consonant.

Other examples of indefinite articles:

I’d like to go to a university. (any university will do)
Can I have an apple? (any apple)
I want to see an octopus. (doesn’t matter which one)

We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns and noncount nouns:

She was wearing red shoes. (shoes is a plural noun)
She has long brunette hair. (hair is a noncount noun)
I want to wear denim jeans to work Friday. (jeans is plural)
I have so much homework to do! (homework is noncount)

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Now you try!

Fill in the blanks to the following sentences.

  1. There are ____ observers who believe that collecting is America’s fastest-growing hobby.
  2. According to Miller’s Fashion Doll, ­­­­­_____ popular magazine for doll collectors, dolls are second only to stamps as ­­­_____ most popular collectible in America, and Barbie is by far _____ most popular collector doll.
  3. While _____ people do make money selling the dolls, most simply have _____ large collection of Barbies and _____ interest in keeping her legacy alive.
(exercises from Bedford St. Martin Exercise Central)

For English Language Learners, visit these resources to learn about articles and for practice:

http://www.eslcafe.com/grammar.html
http://www.usingenglish.com/
http://www.esl-lounge.com/student/index.php

 

 

 

All About Absolute Phrases

Last week here at Writing Center Underground, we learned about independent and dependent clauses, and the 4 sentence types – Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex. Now that we know about clauses and sentence types, we’ll look at absolute phrases.

An absolute phrase combines a noun and a participle with accompanying modifiers or objects. Noun + Participle + Optional Modifier(s) and/or Object(s)

Absolute phrases modify entire sentences, not just one word. They are optional in sentences and can be removed without damaging the grammatical integrity of the sentence, and are always set off with commas (and sometimes dashes).

 Example:

Her arms folded across her chest, Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class.

In the sentence above, the absolute phrase is at the beginning of the sentence – Her arms folded across her chest.

The clause, Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class, is an independent clause, which means it can stand alone as a sentence. The absolute phrase (a dependent clause) is modifying this entire clause.

Building Sentences with Absolutes

Absolute phrases can be arranged in different positions in a sentence. In the example above, the absolute could be placed after the independent clause:

Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class, her arms folded across her chest.

Absolute phrases can also be placed in the middle of a sentence, between the subject and verb:

Professor Smith, her arms folded across her chest, warned the class not to text in class.

Note that the absolute phrase is set off in the sentence with a pair of commas.

Revising with Absolute Phrases

Incorporating absolute phrases into your writing works to break up short, choppy sentences. The example below has combined two sentences by omitting “were” in the second sentence, turning it into an absolute phrase:

The hikers made their way down the wooded trail.

Their boots were caked in mud.

Their boots caked in mud, the hikers made their way down the wooded trail.

In the example below, three sentences are combined:

I went snorkeling in Mexico.

The water was warm.

The sun was bright.

The water warm and sun bright, I snorkeled all afternoon.

In the above example, The water warm and sun bright modifies the independent clause, I went snorkeling in Mexico.

As you can see, absolute phrases are a great way to incorporate variety into your writing. They are especially useful in narrative writing when description is necessary, and when you want to break up short, plodding sentences.

 

 

 

 

 

All about Conjunctions

 

Conjunctions function as connectors in sentences. They join words, phrases, clauses and sentences. Short sentences often weaken the effectiveness of your writing, so by joining short, choppy sentences with conjunctions, the sentence variety is improved, thereby improving the style and flow of your writing.

In the first example below, notice how the style is improved by joining sentences with conjunctions in the second example:

Maria created a resumé. She copied it on expensive, high-quality paper.  Her prospective employer was not accepting resumé.

Revision: Maria created a résumé, and she copied it on expensive, high-quality paper, but her prospective employer was not accepting resumé.

(example from Purdue Owl)

In the previous example, the conjunctions “and” and “but” join the sentences, the most commonly used conjunctions. Their use is pretty straightforward; “and” means “in addition to,” and “but” means “yet” or “on the contrary.” However, choosing the appropriate conjunction can sometimes be a bit difficult.

Conjunctions are classified as either coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, or subordinating conjunctions. We’ll discuss coordinating and subordinating conjunctions below.

Coordinating conjunctions include and, but, or, yet, for, nor, and so. These conjunctions are used when you want to relate equal ideas in a sentence.

They purchased the ranch and they began to raise goats and sheep.

Steve purchased a cup of coffee in the new shop, but the service was quite slow.

Amanda needed yarn for her scarf, so she went to the fabric store.


Subordinating conjunctions are used to emphasize one idea over the other. This means one idea is “subordinate,” or secondary to, the other idea.

Common Subordinating Conjunctions

after     although     as      as if     as long as
as though     because     before     even if
even though     if     if only     in order that
now that     once     rather than     since     so that
than     that     though     till     unless     until
when     whenever     where     whereas     wherever     while

Understanding when to use a coordinating conjunction or a subordinating conjunction can be a bit tricky. The conjunction “and” is often overused, and a sentence would be more clear and effective with a subordinating conjunction. The sentences below show the difference in emphasis when a coordinating conjunction is used as opposed to a subordinating conjunction:

Example:

Aqua Blues is a great band and they only recorded one album.

Revision:

Aqua Blues is a great band, even though they only recorded one album.

The first example is grammatically correct, but the two clauses don’t really carry equal weight. By using a subordinating conjunction, the emphasis is placed on the independent clause (Aqua Blue is a great band).

Note the differences in the examples below when the sentences are revised using subordinating conjunctions:

Example: John practiced the cello and the cat screeched from the porch.

Revisions:

John practiced the cello while the cat screeched from the porch.

Although the cat screeched from the porch, John practiced his cello.

John practiced the cello even though the cat screeched from the porch.


To edit your writing for appropriate use of conjunctions, ask yourself, does the independent clause contain the most important idea you want to convey?:

The textbook was short and had good information.

The textbook was short but had good information.

The textbook was short although it had good information.

Although the textbook was short, it had good information.

 

Visit http://www.englishgrammar.org/conjunctions-exercise-2/ for conjunction exercise.
 (Some explanation cited from The Everyday Writer by Andrea A. Lunsford)

Season’s Greetings! Holiday Punctuation Tips

This is the time of year we are busily writing our holiday messages, so it’s important to note that those cheery holiday messages can be a slippery slope into punctuation errors. Read on to learn how to perfect your holiday greetings.

When to Capitalize

Different sources of reference have differing opinions on when to capitalize holiday terms. Any time you refer to the actual holiday by name, always capitalize it as you would a proper name. Below are examples from Merriam Webster Dictionary:

We’re spending Christmas with my parents.

We had a very happy Christmas this year.

I wish you all a merry Christmas.

You might notice that “merry” is not capitalized in the final example. Reference sources vary on this, and the Cambridge Dictionary’s example shows to capitalize “merry”:

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

The greeting cards I am mailing have the phrase capitalized. In this case, it’s probably more a matter of stylistic choice than following any specific reference source. Other common holiday greeting terms, happy holidays, merry Christmas, season’s greetings, are not capitalized. But note the apostrophe in “season’s”; it is the possessive form when used with “greetings.”

“Happy New Year” follows the same rule, so you would not capitalize “Happy” – unless it begins the sentence. You would include an apostrophe when using the terms New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day. According to Chicago Manual of Style, also capitalize “Eve” and “Day” when referring to the actual days.

When wishing someone a happy Hanukkah, knowing how to spell Hanukkah correctly is the most common question. According to Merriam Webster, common variants of the spelling are Chanukah or Hanukah. Why so many different ways to spell Hanukkah? The spelling often depends upon your religion, and most traditionalists will spell it “Chanukah.” In America, the most common spelling is “Hanukkah,” as this is the spelling used by the Library of Congress.

Other Holiday Terms

If you are planning to enjoy a glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve, the word is capitalized – Champagne. Why is a drink name capitalized? This particular drink originates from the province in France – Champagne, France, so it would be capitalized.

Are you planning to give Grandma the gift of a beautiful red holiday plant? If you include a note, “I hope you enjoy this poinsettia,” is poinsettia capitalized?

The poinsettia plant is named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and physician who was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico and who introduced the plant into the United States in 1828. So logic would tell you if it was named for a person, it would be capitalized, right? It depends. The Associated Press style manual capitalizes Poinsettia, but plant names are usually not capitalized, even when they are named for a person (the name of the species is not capitalized but the genus is). The only exception is when proper nouns are used, as in black-eyed Susan.

The real problem with poinsettia is the spelling, which ends with “ia.” We commonly pronounce the plant with an “a” as in poinsetta, but technically, even that pronunciation is incorrect. It’s poinsett-i-a.

Happy holidays from the MCC Writing Center!

(For further reading on the origins of Christmas, visit Encyclopedia Britannica. )

Identifying Phrases and Clauses

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Learning the basic rules of sentence construction will help you identify the parts of a sentence that make up the whole. This will help you to avoid punctuation errors like comma splices, as well as give you the knowledge to create more complicated sentence structures, which will improve the style of your writing.

Phrases

A phrase is a group of words that form a single unit in a sentence, but do not include a subject, or a verb, or both. Since a phrase does not have a subject and/or verb, it does not form a complete idea or thought. Since a phrase does not contain a subject or verb, it cannot stand alone as a sentence, and is considered a fragment.

Examples of phrases:

  • closing the door
  • under the tree
  • because of his illness
  • running past the gate

In the previous examples, you’ll see nouns (door, tree, illness, gate) and verbals – or forms of a verb (closing, running) – but the nouns are not functioning as the subject of a sentence, and the verbals have no subject performing the action.

Types of Phrases:

  • Noun: his brand new bike; the stinky old cat
  • Prepositional: over the wall; in the bedroom
  • Verb: will be done; can swim
  • Verbal: There are 3 types of verbal phrases: participial, gerund, and infinitive.
    Participial: The pond, frozen over since early December, is now safe for ice-skating.
    Gerund: Cramming for tests is not a good study strategy.
    Infinitive: My goal is to be a teacher.
    Absolute: I stood on the dock, the lake breeze chilling me to the bone.
    Appositive: The book, a 600-page biography, received great reviews.

Clauses

A clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a predicate. A predicate is a word or phrase that describes the action or state of the subject. Predicates always includes verbs.

Unlike a phrase, a clause can be a complete sentence – if it has a subject and a predicate. This type of clause is called an independent clause, as it can stand alone independently, with no other words or phrases needed to make it a complete sentence.

Examples of independent clauses:

  • Fried green tomatoes are popular in the South.
  • The door remained closed.
  • The car sounded noisy.
  • I stood on the shore.

Unlike an independent clause, a dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, even though it has a subject and a verb. A dependent clause is dependent on an independent clause as part of either the subject or the predicate.

Examples of dependent clauses:

  • while the wind was blowing.
  • which I made by hand.
  • although the room was cold.
  • because the pool was deep.

These examples begin with subordinate conjunctions – while, which, although, because – so do not form a complete thought. When we see subordinate conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, we expect extra information to complete the thought. These dependent clauses require other words to make a complete sentence.

Troubleshooting

Recognizing phrases and clauses will help you to avoid comma splices, fragments and run-on sentences. Look at the sentences below and identify which are complete sentences, and which are incomplete sentences. Can you identify the phrases and clauses?

  1. Driving across town in rush hour traffic.
  2. My head pounding.
  3. I answered the door.
  4. Talking on a cell phone in a restaurant.
  5. Call the babysitter.
  6. Because he wanted to.
  7. I stood silently.
  8. In the darkest corner of the room.
  9. To go to bed after midnight.
  10. Loud singing from the back of the room.
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