Revising Sentence Fragments
In written communication, a sentence fragment is a group of words that does not contain both an independent subject and an independent verb. Independent means that the subject and verb are not part of a phrase or a dependent clause. If a writer takes a group of words that is not a complete sentence and punctuates that group of words as though it were a complete a sentence, the writer has created a sentence fragment. In other words, the writer has written only a piece—a fragment—of sentence rather than a complete sentence. Although fragments are often acceptable in spoken communication, fragments not acceptable in academic writing.
In English, readers decode writing by looking for the subject and verb within the sentence. Thus, composing a sentence fragment disrupts that pattern, causing the reader to stumble or to become confused. During the Revising the Draft for Conventions stage of the NCU Writing Process, writers should work to isolate sentence fragment errors and correct them using the information below.
Often sentence fragments are phrases that have been incorrectly punctuated as complete sentences:
As you can see.
To return too early.
On each Monday.
Notice that the above examples would be underlined in blue in Microsoft Word. The underline indicates that the sentences are fragments—the nouns and verbs are objects of the preposition, not free-standing subjects and verbs.
Often sentence fragments are dependent clauses that have been incorrectly punctuated as complete sentences:
When we arrived at the theater. The movie had already begun.
When we arrived at the theater; the movie had already begun.
A clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a verb. Clauses can be dependent or independent. A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. A dependent clause must be attached to an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Any dependent clause that is separated from its main clause by a period or semicolon is a fragment.
If the dependent clause is the first clause in a sentence, it should be followed by a comma.
When we arrived at the theater, the movie had already begun.
If the independent clause is the first clause in a sentence, no comma is needed in front of the dependent clause.
The movie had already begun when we arrived at the theater.
When revising the draft for Conventions in the NCU Writing Process, writers are encouraged to locate the subject and the verb in each sentence and ensure that the subject and the verb are operating as an independent clause.
For more information about this topic, please visit the Writing Centers at Colorado, Purdue, and Chapel Hill.