Identifying Sentence Types

In English, sentences are classified into four basic structures: Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex. Learning the nuances of each of these structures will help add variety to your writing.

These four basic sentence structures are based on the use of dependent and independent clauses in a sentence, so first, we need to understand how these clauses work.

Dependent Clause:

A dependent clause is not a complete sentence, and does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause can, however, contain a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand alone as a sentence, as in the examples below:

When the semester was over.

Because she stayed up all night.

When they went to the movies.

As you can see, these sentences do not represent a complete thought; they are dependent on other words to complete the sentence.

Independent Clause:

An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. It expresses a complete thought and needs no other words to complete it. It will always have a subject and a verb, as in the examples below:

The snow fell all day long.

The dog jumped the fence.

The college closed for the summer.

Even very short sentences can be independent clauses or complete sentences, as long as a subject and verb are present:

The snow fell.

The dog jumped.

The college closed.

Consequently, very long sentences (or what appear to be sentences) can still be dependent clauses:

Although the rain fell all morning and into the night as the thunder rolled across the hillside.

While the car sped out of control during the rain-delayed race at Sunset Hills Speedway.

Beginning with the final play of the half when the quarterback was carted off the field after he was tackled.

Each of the previous sentences, even though quite long, are dependent clauses and need other words to form a complete sentence.

Now that we understand clauses, let’s look at our four sentence structures.

Simple Sentence

A simple sentence contains one independent clause and no dependent clause.

S  V
I eat blueberry muffins.

S    V
My uncle sold his old Ford pickup.

S                   V
School has been cancelled due to the snow storm.


Compound Sentence

A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses, but no dependent clauses. The clauses are joined by a conjunction (or coordinating conjunction).

S     V                                       S      V
He cooked dinner, and she cleaned up.

“He cooked dinner” is a complete thought or sentence, with a subject and verb. “She cleaned up” is also a complete sentence with a subject and verb. The coordinating conjunction, “and” joins the two independent clauses together to form a compound sentence. Below are other examples of compound sentences.

The screaming children frightened the pelicans, and they flew away.

Winter is almost over, and spring isn’t far behind.

Joe quit his job, but he found a new one.


Complex Sentence

Complex sentences are a bit more – complex. These sentence types have one independent clause (I) and at least one dependent clause (D). The dependent clauses are italicized:

D                                                                       I
After John couldn’t find a job, he realized he should go back to school.

D                                                     I
While away on vacation, the neighbor’s house was burglarized.

D                                                                     I
Since Lisa was absent from class, she had to make up the exam on Monday.


Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound-complex sentence has multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The dependent clause is introduced by either a subordinate conjunction (such as while, although, or because) or a relative pronoun (such as who
or which).

Below, the independent clauses are underlined, and the dependent clauses are in red.

Catch-22 is widely regarded as Joseph Heller’s best novel, and because Heller served in World War II, which the novel satirizes, the zany but savage wit of the novel packs an extra punch. (example from Purdue Owl)

Because I am a writing tutor, some people expect me to write perfectly without fail, but that is unrealistic.

Although I love reading, I don’t like romance novels, although some can be entertaining.

When a dependent clause begins a sentence, a comma will follow at the end of the clause, before the independent clause. Also, a comma should be placed after an independent clause if followed by a dependent clause, as in the third example.

For English language learners and beginning writers, it is important to learn how to formulate simple sentence structures first, and then begin to incorporate more complex structures to add variety to your writing.

The ability to identify and understand different types of clauses and sentence categories will not only help you punctuate sentences properly, but will also improve your writing style.

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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.

All About Semi-Colons

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DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE A SEMI COLON!

Semi-colons are arguably the most misused punctuation in writing; they can be quite confusing.

Do you know why a semi-colon is used in the first sentence? It is separating two independent clauses, or complete sentences. A semi-colon creates a full stop in a sentence, unlike a comma, which is used as a pause.

When it comes to using semi colons in writing, most errors are made when the writer fails to understand the difference between an independent and dependent clause. The name of each clause offers clues to their uses. Once you understand clauses, semi colons are a snap.

Let’s review:

INDEPENDENT CLAUSES         

Independent clauses, or main clauses, can stand alone as a sentence. They will always include a subject and a verb:

The window is open.

 James plays the guitar.

 The dog barked. 

I went to the gym.

Even a short three-word sentence can be an independent clause if it contains a subject and verb, as the examples do above. Don’t be fooled by the length of a sentence, but consider, is it a complete thought?

DEPENDENT CLAUSES

Dependent clauses cannot stand alone as a sentence. They are dependent on other words to complete a sentence.

When James plays the guitar.

If the window is open.

Beginning with the files.  

These examples are dependent clauses. They are not complete thoughts and need more information in the sentence for them to make sense.

When James plays the guitar, it reminds me of Jimi Hendrix.

If the window is open, flies will get in.

It’s time to organize the office, beginning with the files.  

Now each of those dependent clauses makes sense, as we added independent clauses to complete the thought.

Below the dependent clause is italicized:

Because the window is open, the room feels cold.

I’d love to go to dinner, although I’m not dressed appropriately.

When you fix the tire, we’ll ride our bikes around the block.


USING SEMI-COLONS WITH INDEPENDENT CLAUSES

Semi-colons are used to separate two independent clauses when the ideas of the two clauses are closely related.

Don’t drink and drive; you could lose your license.

The dog escaped from his pen; I hope I find him soon.

Dinner was a great success; everything turned out perfect.

In the above examples, the second independent clause is closely related to the first part of the sentence, so keeping them “linked” with a semi colon makes sense.

You cannot separate two independent clauses with a comma, or you would create a comma splice, which is incorrect punctuation and will always be marked as an error. However, you could use a period, creating two sentences.

Wrong: Dinner was a great success, everything turned out perfect.

Correct: Dinner was a great success. Everything turned out perfect.

Correct: Don’t drink and drive. You could lose your license.

Correct:  Don’t drink and drive because you could lose your license.


How to Determine When to Use a Period or Semi Colon

If both a period and a semi colon would be correct punctuation, how do you know which to use in different situations?

As stated earlier, the rule for a semi colon is you can use it if the second clause is closely related to the first clause. In many cases, using a period may sound okay, and not really affect the flow of the sentence. However, if you had several short sentences and you used periods to separate each one, the sentences become choppy and tedious to read. Read the paragraph below and see how it sounds with all periods:

Dinner was a great success. Everything turned out perfect. The steaks were tender. Mine almost melted in my mouth. I wish Mom could have come. She wasn’t feeling well. I hope it’s nothing serious.

Notice that it reads a bit like a galloping horse, plodding. This becomes quite boring to read after a while. Partly this is due to the repetitive subject-verb-object construction, but some of it could be alleviated with the use of a semi colon or two. See if you can tell a difference:

Dinner was a great success; everything turned out perfect. The steaks were tender. Mine almost melted in my mouth. I wish Mom could have come; she wasn’t feeling well. I hope it’s nothing serious.

Did you notice you took less of a pause when you got to the semi colons in the second example?

USING SEMI-COLONS FOR ITEMS IN A SERIES

Most often, commas are used to separate items in a series. Sometimes though, the items themselves contain commas, so using a semi-colon to separate the items makes the sentence clearer and easier to read.

I bought shiny, ripe apples; small, sweet, juicy grapes; and firm, Anjou pears.

I have been to Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon in the North; Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi in the South; and New York, Connecticut, and Maine in the North East.

The newest additions to the cast are Josey Wales, who will play Will Davis; Deborah Farr, who will play his wife; and Tom Duffy, Farr’s young love interest.

Using semi-colons to separate the items above prevents confusion that might come from an abundance of commas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Take care not to use a semi-colon too often. Any punctuation, if used too often, can become distracting. Sometimes it is simply a matter of judgement when and where to use semi colons. If you do incorporate them into your writing, use them sparingly and make sure you are using them correctly.

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 EXERCISE

A semicolon belongs in each of the following sentences. Determine where the semicolon belongs. Then select the word that comes just before the semicolon.

 

  1. It is raining outside I will bring my umbrella with me.

raining

outside

umbrella

 

——————————————————————————–

  1. There is a lot of financial aid around you just have to know where to look for it.

lot

aid

around
_______________________________________________

 

  1. It’s such a beautiful day I will walk in Memorial Park.

beautiful

day

walk

——————————————————————————–

  1. We will play tennis tomorrow then we will go out for dinner.

play

tennis

tomorrow

 

——————————————————————————–

  1. She had very high grades in high school she applied to Harvard University.

grades

school

applied

 

[Some examples and exercises from The St. Martins’ Handbook and OWL Online Writing Lab.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write-Speak: Correcting Faulty Sentence Constructions

 

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When I was an undergrad writing major, I was told “Write like you talk.” If I were writing a work of fiction that needed realistic dialogue, writing like I talked worked great. But in all other forms of writing, if I were to write like I talked, it would look something like this:

“It’s like where you go. . . I mean. . . it’s when you turn left. . . like. . . up in the house when the corner turns . . .”

Or

“I can’t believe my Royals. . . Like. . .Oh my gosh! They were all going crazy. . . like, when they won. . . I was where I couldn’t talk, I was so excited!”

If you listened to just about any casual conversation, you would hear patterns of inconsistency (and really bad grammar!). Many, if not most, of our spoken sentences would be fragments or incomplete sentence structures. We talk it bits and pieces, and mix sentence constructions without even knowing it. Many of us intersperse our spoken sentences with numerous “filler” words, such as “like” in the examples above. So you can see how difficult it becomes to maintain consistency in our writing. Recognizing these patterns of inconsistencies is the first step to editing these incomplete structures.

Inconsistent Subjects & Predicates

Identifying the subject and predicate can be the first step toward identifying sentence inconsistencies. In the examples below, the subject and predicate don’t fit together grammatically or just don’t make sense:

EX.
From all his hard work helped Karl graduate.

When you read the sentence, you might “hear” something is wrong, but might not be able to identify the problem. The sentence begins with the prepositional phrase, From all his hard work, which acts as the subject of the verb. This is not a grammatically correct construction.

Revised:

All his hard work helped Karl graduate.

That sounds better.
______________________________________________

Look at the following problem example, where you’ll see an issue with inconsistent subject/predicate:

EX.

A characteristic that I admire is a person who is generous.

The subject of the sentence is “characteristic.” The verb is “admire.” But “a person” is not a characteristic, so this statement isn’t logical.

Revised:

A characteristic that I admire is generosity a person who is generous.

“Generosity” is a characteristic that can be admired in a person.

 

See if you can catch the faulty predication in the following example:

EX.

A compromise between the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

If you said that the subject of the sentence – “compromise” – cannot be an “ideal place,” you would be correct. It isn’t logical.

Revised:

A place combining features of the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

OR

The ideal place to vacation would be a location combining features of the mountains and the beach.

___________________________________________________

Keep Consistent Grammatical Patterns

Mixed Structures

One of the most common inconsistencies is what is referred to as a mixed construction. In mixed constructions, the grammatical pattern used in the first part of a sentence is not carried through in other parts of the sentence, creating an illogical sentence. The speaker of the sentence sets out to say one thing and switches to something else, resulting in confusion:

EX.

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

The subject of the sentence, The fact, is followed by a dependent clause, that I get up at 5:00 a.m.; a predicate (verb or verb phrase) is needed to complete the independent clause. However, the sentence is mixed with another dependent clause, a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening, which creates a fragment.

Revised:

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., explains a wake-up time that why I’m always tired in the evening.

OR

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

Another mixed sentence can occur with is when and is where, as in the following examples:

An examination is when you are tested.

An examination is where you are tested.

Think about what the subject actually is in this sentence. Examination is a test. Examination is not a time or place. When should only be used when referring to time. Use where only when referring to a place.

Revised:

An examination is a test of what you know.
___________________________________________________________

The ability to identify subjects and predicates is helpful in avoiding faulty sentence constructions, but sometimes we just know something doesn’t sound right when we read it. Carefully reading through your sentences to see if they are logical is the first step to editing out sentence-level inconsistencies.

Examples from http://wps.ablongman.com and The Everyday Writer: A Brief Reference.

Improving Sentence Style

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Describing good style in writing is one of those things that is hard to explain. Like fashion sense or a winning personality, either you have it or you don’t. But you can learn how to improve your sentence style by following a few easy steps.

Avoid Using Vague Nouns

The words below are examples of vague nouns. Relying on vague nouns often leads to wordy construction, so it’s always best to avoid them if you can:

  • factor
  • aspect
  • area
  • situation
  • consideration
  • case

Examples

Vague: Consumer demand is rising in the area of services.

Precise: Consumers are demanding more services.

Vague: Strong reading skills are an important factor in students’ success in college.

Precise: Students’ success in college depends on their reading skills.

Vague: Photography took on new aspects during the Civil War.

Precise: The Civil War saw the advent of graphic battlefield photography.

As you can see in the examples above, the sentences become wordy and confusing when vague nouns are used. This often can impede rhythm in sentences, which hurts the flow. This means that the reader must slow down to read the sentence, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

 

Incorporate Absolute Phrases

If you’ve ever felt your essay plodding along in a repetitive “subject/verb/object” order, you probably could use some absolute phrases to enliven your rhythm and sharpen your style.

What exactly is an absolute phrase? An absolute phrase is a group of words that modify an independent clause. Just as an adjective modifies a noun, an absolute phrase modifies an entire clause.

Example:

Her arms folded across her chest, Professor Smith warned the students 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 students 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 students 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:

(S)                                                                                         (V)
Professor Smith, her arms folded across her chest, warned the students not to text in class.

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

 

Eliminate Wordiness

Do you ever get your essays back from instructors with such comments as, “tighten,” “condense,” or “wordy”? What this means is that you are trying to communicate your point with more words than necessary. For example, note the difference in

“It is the opinion of our professor that we have failed to meet his expectations.”

and

“We have failed to meet our professor’s expectations.”

The second sentence is tighter, uses fewer words, and is stronger and more direct. Just remember, if you can communicate your point in fewer words, do it. Less is more.

Consider the following redundancies in italics:

Ex. 1:

It is absolutely essential that all students meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

If something isessential,” can it be any more essential withabsolutelyin front of it? Probably not.

Ex. 2:

The advance preview of Transformers scored big at the box office.

You might have seen this one in film reviews, or even on E TV. If a movie is a preview, doesn’t that mean it is in advance of the release?

Ex. 3:

In my personal opinion, everyone could benefit from eating more chocolate.

Everyone, at one time or another, has at least said this, if not written it. So what is wrong with this example? If it is your opinion, isn’t it personal?

Ex. 4:

The final outcome of the Literature exam was better than I expected.

The outcome of something is always final, right?

These are all examples of redundant words that create inflated sentences. Carefully edit your final drafts to make sure you’re not redundant.

Avoid Dangling Modifiers

A modifier is a word (or group of words) that qualifies or adds to the meaning of other parts of the sentence. A dangling modifier is created when the modifier is joined to the wrong words in the sentence.

To correct, make the “doer” of the action the sentence’s subject, as in the example below:

Wrong: Coming over the hill, the barn was seen. Who saw the barn?
Correct: Coming over the hill, we saw the barn.

Wrong: Having arrived late for practice, a written excuse was needed.

Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. The possible revision might look like this:

Correct: Having arrived late for practice, the team captain needed a written excuse.

The main clause now names the person (the captain) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

 

Choosing the best words to express your ideas in the best possible way sounds easy, but often is more difficult than we think. Improving your writing style may take some time and effort, but by following a few simple rules, your writing will become more readable and your style will be the envy of your peers!

 

(Sources: Purdue Owl, Essentials of English Grammar, writing.wisc.edu/Handbook.)

Simple Steps to Improve Your Writing Over the Summer

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We’re at the end of the term here at Metro Community College and heading into summer. Many new students will be planning to take their first-year writing classes in the fall. For students who may not love writing as much as we do here at the Writing Center, taking their first college writing class can be unnerving. However, taking a few simple steps over the summer to prepare yourself for college-level writing will put you one step ahead in the fall.

  1. Read. It’s that simple. Read as much as you can over the summer. It’s obvious to instructors the students who are readers and those who only read text messages. When you read, read like a writer. What does that mean? Reading like a writer means to read with a critical eye, analyzing the choices the writer has made. If you are reading literary fiction or nonfiction, study the language the writer uses. Read setting details with a critical eye, considering how the writer has avoided telling what something looks like and instead has shown through sensory specifics and literary devices, such as simile and metaphor.

 

  1. Fix your Problems. You know what I mean. Fix those problems you’ve had since 7th grade, when you learned – or didn’t learn – what a comma splice was. College instructors aren’t always going to teach you a lesson on how to fix your comma splices, or fragments, or run-on sentences; they will assume you have learned how to fix them yourself. If your high school essays were marked for the same punctuation error over and over, it’s time to learn how to fix it. Don’t carry the problem with you to college. I know some college professors who will hand a paper back ungraded with more than two punctuation errors on a page. There are hundreds of websites where you can brush up on punctuation and grammar, and many even have online quizzes. Two great ones are Purdue Owl and The Grammar Book.

 

  1. Break up with Semi-colons. For some unknown reason, beginning writers are in love with semi-colons. The problem is that most beginning writers misuse them. Semi-colons are used to separate two independent clauses, which are complete sentences (as well as items in a multi-word list). You create fragments, another punctuation error, by inserting semi-colons in the middle of sentences where there is only one independent clause. Most semi-colon errors in student papers are made when the writer tries to separate an independent clause from a dependent clause. If you just read this explanation and have no idea what all these terms mean, that means you should use periods. Period.  

 

  1. Brush up on Research Skills. If you didn’t have access to library databases in high school, such as EBCSO or Lexis Nexis, or have a chance to learn the ins and outs of academic research, spend some time over the summer to familiarize yourself with your college’s database resources. Having even a slight familiarity with how to use these resources for your inevitable research paper will save you an enormous amount of time and trouble. We see so many students who have never used databases or even know what they are, that it puts them way behind when it’s time to write their first research paper. Websites, blogs, YouTube, and yes, even Wikipedia, are not acceptable modes of research for college. Use your down time this summer to visit your college’s library or writing center and tool around their online databases. You might even have fun doing it.

 

  1. Keep your Voice. Many new college students have the opinion that the more “academic” their voice in their writing, the better. This is a mistake. If you are using a dictionary to find fancy words when writing a paper, it’s painfully obvious in the final product. Write within the limits of your vocabulary. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s being authentic. Your voice is the one thing that makes your writing unique. Don’t bury it under academic jargon. Just today when I was reading a student paper, I crossed out the word “hence” in the middle of a perfectly good sentence. So throw away the list of academic lingo you’ve been compiling, and go with what you know.

 

Have a great summer!

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All About Fragments

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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!

Practice:

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)