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What is a Sentence Fragment? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Sentence Fragments and…
  • 1:18 Subordinators
  • 1:46 Fragment Phrases
  • 2:55 Fragment Temptations
  • 3:36 Are Sentence Fragments…
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what sentence fragments are and how to correct them. Learn the different ways sentence fragments can happen and how they relate to phrases as well as dependent and independent clauses.

Definition of a Sentence Fragment

Sentence fragments are groups of words that look like sentences, but aren't. To be a sentence, groups of words need to have at least one independent clause. An independent clause is any group of words that contain both a subject and a verb and can stand on its own. For example, 'I like cheeseburgers' is an independent clause.

Sentence fragments never have independent clauses, but instead are dependent clauses or phrases. Fragments can masquerade as real sentences because they begin with a capital letter and end with a period. If you read them more closely, you'll see that fragments don't form a complete thought. A sentence fragment is a little like having only half of the pieces to a puzzle. Without all the pieces, you won't have the whole picture.

Missing Piece

Where to Find Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments usually appear before or after the independent clauses to which they belong. For example:

When we got in the car. We rolled down the windows.

'When we got in the car' is a sentence fragment and a dependent clause. It clearly belongs to the independent clause that follows it and should be rewritten like this:

When we got in the car, we rolled down the windows.

Or like this:

We rolled down the windows when we got in the car.

Subordinators

The sentence fragment 'When we got in the car' also has the subordinator 'when'. Some other examples of subordinators are: 'after', 'although', 'before', 'if', 'since', 'until', 'when', 'where', 'while', and 'why'. Clauses with subordinators can be called either dependent clauses or subordinating clauses, but when those clauses appear at the beginning of a sentence, they should be followed by a comma.

Fragment Phrases

Phrases are groups of words that are missing a subject or verb, or both. Phrases can also masquerade as sentences, like dependent clauses can. Here are some examples.

Here's an example missing subject and verb:

From morning until night.

This fragment can be made a complete sentence by changing it to:

I worked from morning until night.

Adding 'I' as the subject and 'worked' as the verb corrects this fragment and makes it an independent clause and a complete thought.

Here's an example of a missing subject:

Start after the weekend.

This fragment can be made a complete sentence by changing it to:

Classes start after the weekend.

Adding the subject 'classes' corrects this fragment and makes it an independent clause and a complete thought.

Finally, here's an example of a missing verb:

Some girls in the class.

This fragment can be changed to:

Some girls in the class study together.

Adding the verb 'study' corrects this fragment and makes it an independent clause and a complete thought.

Fragment Temptations

Certain words and expressions make it easy to fall into the sentence fragment habit. Some of these words include 'also', 'for example', 'and', 'but', 'for instance', 'mainly', 'or', and 'that'. Here's how they appear in a sentence:

Harris claims that men and women have different ideas about dating. For example, that men should pay for dinner on a date.

Can you find the fragment in the sentence above? It's a little tricky! The second sentence relates closely to the one preceding it. It is also missing a verb and subject. It could be corrected like this:

For example, she explains that women feel men should pay for dinner on a date.

Are Sentence Fragments Ever Correct?

Sentence fragments are considered major English errors in most situations. However, authors, copywriters, and journalists will sometimes use sentence fragments for emphasis. For example, 'Because it's the best around.'

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