As the word ‘fragment’ suggests, a sentence fragment is a ‘part of’ a sentence. In other words, a sentence that is not complete. To be able to talk about sentence fragments it is important to talk about a sentence first.
For a group of words to form a complete sentence, it needs to first of all be a complete thought. This basically means that what is being expressed makes sense. The sentence should have a clear meaning by itself, without relying on other sentences around it to give it meaning.
Secondly, for a group of words to be a sentence, there needs to be a subject. This is the someone or the something that the sentence is about.
The third condition for a group of words to qualify as a sentence is that it needs to have a main verb. The main verb helps to explain what the subject (so the someone or something) is or does.
The following is an example of a complete sentence:
The researchers chose three random samples.
In this sentence ‘The researchers’ is the subject and ‘chose’ is the verb. Also, the sentence expresses a complete thought because it has a clear meaning by itself.
So, let’s move on to the sentence fragment. In a sentence fragment, important information is missing and therefore it does not express a complete thought. These sentence fragments often occur in informal types of writing, for instance when the writer tries to use a more journalistic style, but in formal writing, fragments should not be used. Now, let’s look at these three examples of fragments:
Because the team made three awkward choices.
A plan with many risks involved.
Potential for making money everywhere.
There are four reasons groups of words are considered fragments.
- There is a subject missing
- The main verb is missing
- They are both missing
- The writer has created a subordinate clause.
The Subject is Missing
One way in which a sentence fragment can be created when you write a sentence that has no subject, like in this example:
By simply shipping more units can make this business profitable again.
Here the writer mistook the prepositional phrase ‘By simply shipping more units’ for a subject, which created the sentence fragment. To correct this mistake, the preposition, so ‘By’ could be taken out, making the activity of ‘Simply shipping more units’ the subject of the sentence. Now it is a complete sentence that works.
The Main Verb is Missing
Sometimes a fragment is created because the sentence lacks a main verb, like in the following example:
Affordable products sold everywhere.
Possible revisions, in this case, could be either completing the verb, creating:
Affordable product were sold everywhere.
… or turning the fragment into the direct object of the sentence by adding a subject and a verb. Like here:
They saw affordable products sold everywhere.
The Sentence Lacks a Subject and a Verb
Sometimes the subject and the verb are both missing from the sentence, like in this example:
Without a suitable explanation.
In this fragment there is no someone or something, doing or being anything, and it is also not a complete thought. To revise this fragment, (to turn it into a sentence), a subject and a verb could be added, and the sentence would look something like this:
She left without a suitable explanation.
The Writer has Created a Subordinate Clause
The final reason why a group of words is a sentence fragment is that the writer has created a subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause, so a clause that needs independent clause to make a sentence). A subordinate clause is a group of words that does contain a subject and a verb, but that does not express a complete thought because this type of clause needs to be combined with an independent clause to give it meaning. A subordinate clause by itself is a sentence fragment. Here is an example:
Until all the preliminary data has been processed.
To turn this fragment into a sentence it needs to be combined with an independent clause (In this case ‘the project cannot move forward’), and the sentence could look like this:
Until all the preliminary data has been processed, the project cannot move forward.
This is now a sentence that expresses a complete thought.