You may remember your high school English teacher telling you to never use sentence fragments in your writing. However, sentence fragments are used constantly in everyday speech and casual writing. If you are wondering what a sentence fragment is, how to fix a sentence fragment, and when (if ever) you can use one, here is a quick guide for you.
What are sentence fragments?
First, it’s important to remember that a complete sentence has at least one independent clause, which consists of a subject and a verb that work together to express a complete thought.
- “I went to class.”
- “The dog caught the ball.”
Simple, right? Now look at these sentences:
- “When the girl went home.”
- “Because they enjoyed singing and dancing.”
At first glance, these sentences might seem correct. The first one has a subject (“the girl”) and a verb (“went”). The second one also has a subject and verb (“they” and “enjoyed”). However, something about the sentences still seems off. This is because both sentences have a subordinating conjunction in them, which turns them into sentence fragments.
Subordinating conjunctions are words like “because,” “if,” “that,” and “while” that come at the beginning of dependent clauses. These conjunctions show the relationship between an independent clause and a dependent clause. They’re basically signaling that one clause is more important than another or that one clause indicates something that happened before, after, or because of the actions in the main clause.
How do you fix a sentence fragment?
Sentence fragments are easy to fix—you just need to do one of two things. You can turn the dependent clause into an independent clause by removing the subordinating conjunction. You could also add an independent clause to the existing dependent clause. Make sure that each sentence expresses a complete thought.
Let’s look at the sentence fragments again:
- Sentence fragment: “When the girl went home.”
- Complete sentence: “The girl went home.”
- Sentence fragment: “Because they enjoyed singing and dancing.”
- Complete sentence: “They tried out for the play because they enjoyed singing and dancing.”
When would you use a sentence fragment?
People use sentence fragments all the time in everyday conversations, particularly in informal situations. For example, if your friend asked you, “What are you doing this weekend?” you might reply, “Going to the movies.” Although this answer lacks a subject, your friend understands from context that you’re talking about yourself going to the movies. Similarly, if someone asks you for the time and you reply “5:30,” it’s clear that you are answering the question even when you don’t use a subject and verb.
Even though they’re common in everyday speech, sentence fragments are discouraged and considered inappropriate in most forms of writing, especially in academic, business, or technical writing. Sentence fragments sound extremely informal and can cause serious confusion among readers.
However, some writers—particularly novelists—often use sentence fragments to mimic everyday speech and to make their writing sound more natural. If you want to use sentence fragments in your writing, go ahead! Just make sure that you don’t overuse them and that the meaning is clear.
‘Til next time!