SB1: Incorporating Core Sentence Components (Avoiding Fragments)

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Recognize fragments.
  2. Convert fragments to complete sentences.
  3. Write complete sentences.

A complete sentence includes two core components: a subject and a predicate. Fragments are essentially dependent clauses that cannot stand on their own. They result when you attempt to write a sentence without one of those two core components. You can use these pointers to recognize fragments:

When you read a sentence, ask yourself, “Who (or what) performed the action?” If you can answer that question, you are reading a sentence. If not, you are reading a fragment.

Self-Tests for Identifying Fragments

Test these examples:

  • Where are you?
    • Who or what is asking?
    • I am asking you where you are.
    • I can answer the question, so it’s a sentence.
  • Sandra ate lunch early.
    • Who or what ate lunch early?
    • Sandra ate her lunch early.
    • I can answer the question, so it’s a sentence.
  • After the shelf came loose.
    • Who performed an action or what action occurred?
    • Something happened after the shelf came loose, but I don’t know what.
    • I can’t answer the question, so it’s a fragment.

Fill in this blank with your sentence: Did you know that _________? If the completed question makes sense, you are reading a sentence. If it doesn’t make sense, you are reading a fragment.

Test these examples:

  • Lost my earring.
    • Did you know that lost my earring?
    • The test doesn’t make sense, so the original is a fragment.
  • The dog with the white paws near the gate.
    • Did you know that the dog with the white paws near the gate?
    • The test doesn’t make sense, so the original is a fragment.
  • Someone left the window open.
    • Did you know that someone left the window open?
    • The test makes sense, so the original is a sentence.
  • Spaghetti squash is a great substitute for pasta.
    • Did you know that spaghetti squash is a great substitute for pasta?
    • The test makes sense, so the original is a sentence.

To identify fragments, when you have a group of sentences within a paragraph, read the sentences from last to first so that no sentence can gain information from the preceding sentence. This technique will help sentence fragments stand out since they will not make sense alone.

Ultimately all these pointers are designed to get you into the habit of asking whether your sentences stand on their own. If you have problems with writing fragments, perform these tests until recognizing a sentence becomes second nature to you. When you recognize a fragment, you can turn it into sentence by adding the missing component. Try these examples:

  • This fragment has no subject: Giggling and laughing all the way to school.
    • One possible way to add a subject and turn this fragment into a sentence:
    • The girls were giggling and laughing all the way to school.
  • This fragment has no predicate: A brand new iPhone with all kinds of apps.
    • One possible way to add a predicate and turn this fragment into a sentence:
    • A brand new iPhone with all kinds of apps isn’t cheap!

Just as sentences require a subject and a predicate, they also have boundaries. See Section P “Punctuation”, which covers “Eliminating Comma Splices and Fused Sentences,” “Using Commas Properly,” and “Writing with Semicolons and Colons” for guidelines on fixing fused sentences and comma splices and for options on punctuating independent clauses.


Adapted from “Sentence Building” in Writer’s Handbook, 2012, used according to Creative Commons  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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