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Fragments

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Overview:

A sentence fragment is any group of words that do not form a complete sentence. It is important to avoid fragments because they are not only grammatical errors, but they interfere with your reader’s ability to understand your writing. Fragments also disrupt the flow of your writing. In order to maintain clarity and cohesion, ensure that all sentences are complete and learn to avoid sentence fragments.

Even though a sentence fragment often looks like a complete sentence, it is usually missing a subject, a verb, or both.  A fragment can also be a complete sentence preceded by a subordinating conjunction making it dependent upon another sentence for completeness. In order to be a complete sentence, a word group must form an independent clause, containing both a subject and a verb, and have the ability to stand alone without grammatical support from the clauses around it.

Simple Sentence Fragments

Ways of fixing sentence fragments vary according to what element is missing from the sentence.  Most simple sentence fragments can be made complete through fusion with another nearby sentence or through transformation into a sentence.

Consider the following examples where the simple sentence fragment is indicated by italics:

Fragment: I wrote my paper. At my desk.

Fused complete sentence: I wrote my paper at my desk.

Fragment turned into a complete sentence:  I wrote my paper.  I worked on it at my desk.

Hanging Dependent Clauses

Sentence fragments are often hanging dependent clauses. Because dependent clauses act as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns, they cannot stand alone as a sentence.

To fix this type of fragment, either join the dependent clause followed by a comma to the independent clause that proceeds or follows it or attach the dependent clause to the end of the appropriate independent clause it modifies.

Consider the following example where the hanging dependent clause is indicated by italics:

Fragment:

            There are still grammatical errors. Even though I proofread my paper.

Complete sentence:

            Even though I proofread my paper, there are still grammatical errors.

            There are still grammatical errors even though I proofread my paper.

Unattached Phrase Fragments

Similar to dependent clauses, phrases function as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns. As such, unattached phrases are also sentence fragments if they stand alone. Pull fragmented phrases into the appropriate nearby sentences or make these phrases complete sentences by adding a subject, verb, or both.

Consider the following examples where the unattached phrase fragment is indicated by italics:

Fragmented phrase:

    Analyzing the relationship between Asian and American education systems.  I wrote a comparison and contrast essay.

Complete sentences:

    Analyzing the relationship between Asian and American education system, I wrote a comparison and contrast essay.

    I wrote a comparison and contrast essay analyzing the relationship between Asian and American education systems.

Fragmented phrase:

    I am still working on my research paper. An essay about the increase in gang violence.

Fragmented phrase turned into a complete sentence:

    I am still working on my research paper.  It is an essay about the increase in gang violence.

Other Fragmented Word Groups

Other fragmented word groups include portions of compound predicates. Since compound predicates contain verbs that take the same subject, both parts should go in the same sentence.

Consider the following example where the fragmented compound predicate is indicated by italics:

Fragmented compound predicate:

    Jane does prewriting to gather her ideas. And then drafts her essay.

Complete sentence:

    Jane does prewriting to gather her ideas and then drafts her essay.

Fragments also commonly occur with lists and examples introduced by “such as,” “for example,” etc. List fragments can often be attached to a nearby sentence or joined with either a colon or a dash.

Consider the following example where the list fragment is indicated by italics:

Fragmented list:

    I enjoy the works of many authors. Such as Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, and Franz Kafka.

Complete sentence:

    I enjoy the works of many authors such as Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, and Franz Kafka.

    I enjoy the works of many authors: Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, and Franz Kafka, among others.

Style Matters:

As you are editing and proofreading, it is important to test sentences for completeness in order to prevent errors and confusion for the reader. Sentence fragments hinder the clear understanding of your meaning.  Take a look at a piece of your own writing. Focus on one paragraph at a time.  Do all of your sentences contain a subject and verb and express a complete thought, or have you created sentence fragments? If you notice any groups of words that are not complete but seem to be pieces of complete sentence, revise those fragments by fusing them with nearby independent clauses, adding the missing subject and/or verb, or revising to make the sentence complete. This will eliminate errors in your writing and improve clarity by ensuring that your reader understands your point.


Copyright (C) 2010. All rights reserved.

This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab. Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is prohibited.