Don’t let sentence fragments weaken you!
Well – don’t let them weaken your writing which is an extension of you at least.
Last week I wrote about run-on sentences. A sentence fragment is basically the opposite of a run-on sentence. You will want to avoid both of them in your formal writing.
(Friendly letters, texts, and even fiction writing follow different conventions, but there are still times you might want to be careful in these writings as well.)
A sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence rather than a full sentence.
For example, you might have the subject for a sentence:
“The raging bull with fierce, glowing eyes.”
This is not a sentence because there is no predicate. We don’t know what happens!
You might have the opposite problem with only a predicate and no subject:
“Charged down the chute and nearly trampled the farmers at the bottom.”
This is not a sentence because there is a predicate but no subject.
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I am sure you have already realized that these two fragments or “pieces” of sentences could be combined to create a full sentence:
“The raging bull with fierce, glowing eyes charged down the chute and nearly trampled the farmers at the bottom.”
Here is a different example:
“Her mother who lives in Toronto.”
Again we have a subject but no predicate, although it looks like there might be one. The clause “who lives in Toronto” adds information, but does not answer what happens. Use an appositive to finish the sentence: “Her mother, who lives in Toronto, goes to the theatre every week without fail.” Alternatively, you could remove the word “who” and have a full sentence: “Her mother lives in Toronto.”
You must be aware of appositives and subordinating words that can turn a full sentence into a fragment.
“Although the raging rock stars had plenty of time. ”
Without the word “although” this would be a complete sentence: “The raging rock stars had plenty of time.”
“Whenever all the children from Wyoming High School sang.”
This looks like a sentence, but it is a sentence fragment. What happened whenever the children sang? We don’t know. We need a predicate to tell us.
Beyond following grammar rules and proofreading your sentences for subjects and predicates, you can use the following method to help you “weed out” fragments.
While proofreading your written work, (yes, you must!) ask yourself if the sentence makes sense by itself. In other words, if you were to say the sentence aloud to someone, would he or she understand what you mean? Would he or she feel that the thought is complete?
“Despite the torrential rain.”
If someone said this to me, I would wait for a moment (maybe he or she is thinking) and then ask, “What about the rain?”
“Jumped over the fence, ran down the muddy slope, and fell face-first into the ditch.”
Who did? What did? (Oh, by the way, the sentence fragment above is not a run-on sentence; however, many students might think that it is. Look back to the run-on sentences blog and video to see why.)
When proofreading, read slowly – out loud if possible.
Another trick is to read from the bottom up. Read your last sentence then second last, etc. This forces you to pay closer attention to the individual sentences because your brain is not automatically “filling in” missing words or correcting errors that are on the page. We often “read” what we think we wrote, or what we meant to write, rather than what we actually put on the page or on the computer screen.
Have a friend, colleague, mother, father, sister, brother, etc. read your work. Fresh eyes can often catch errors you missed.
Speaking of “fresh eyes,” walk away from your writing for a few hours or a day and then look back with a refreshed mind. You might be surprised what you find!
Always watch out for run-on sentences and sentence fragments as part of your proofreading and editing process.
Watch the video for more ideas: Sentence Fragments
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