A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. It will start with a capital letter and ends with punctuation; however, it is a dependent clause. Learn the definition, roles, and rules of a sentence fragment with examples and ESL infographic.
What is a Sentence Fragment?
Sentence Fragment Definition
A sentence fragment is a multiword that is similar to a sentence but it isn’t. It begins with a capital letter and ends with punctuation but it is a dependent clause. For a sentence to be complete it must have at least one independent clause, otherwise, it is termed as a dependent. Independent clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb and can express a complete thought. For example, ‘I like swimming’ is an independent clause because it has the subject “I” and the verb “swimming”. Fragments may miss a subject, a verb or both.
Sentence fragments are composed of dependent clauses or phrases but lack independent clauses. Sentence fragments can be easily mistaken with complete sentences since they start with capital letters and end with a full stop. It is easy to spot a fragment in a sentence since they never express a complete idea.
Where Fragments Appear in a Sentence
A sentence fragment can appear before the independent clause or after. For example:
- When we moved out. We met with friends.
‘When we moved out’ is a dependent clause and a sentence fragment because it vividly comes from the independent clause that comes next. Therefore it should read as follows;
- When we moved out we met with friends or we met with friends when we moved out.
Roles of a Sentence Fragment in a Sentence
There are several things that can lead to a sentence fragment resembling a sentence even when it can’t relay a complete thought. These are as stated below;
A sentence fragment locates something at a specified time and venue with a prepositional clause. However, it lacks a good subject-verb relationship in the midst of an independent phrase. For example:
- ‘In the U.S during the festive season and just before new eve.’
The above fragment has neither a subject nor a verb but is playing a great role in placing the readers in time and place.
Apart from locating something as revealed in the above example, a sentence fragment also describes something without necessarily talking about the subject-verb relationship.
Again, a sentence fragment may lack an –ing verb string which cannot form a verb without being accompanied by the auxiliary form of a verb.
Subordinators in Fragments
A fragment like ‘when we moved out’ has a subordinator ‘when’ and clauses with subordinators are referred to as subordinate clauses or dependent clauses. However, when subordinate clauses appear at the beginning of the sentences, they should be preceded by a comma.
- When we moved out, we met with friends.
A fragment clause is a group of words that miss a subject or a verb or even both and it can be mistaken for a complete sentence just like a dependent clause. Below are some of the examples that miss a subject or verb;
- From evening until midnight.
It is possible to change this fragment into a complete sentence as follows;
- I read from the evening until morning.
It is clear that adding ‘I’ as the subject and ‘read’ as the verb makes this fragment and independent clause and with a complete thought.
Another example of a missing subject is;
- Start after the holiday.
This fragment can be changed into a complete sentence as follows;
- The drama starts after the holiday.
The subject ‘drama’ has been added to correct the fragment and make it an independent clause as well as having a complete thought.
An example of a fragment missing a verb is outlined below:
- Some students in the class.
This fragment can be corrected as follows;
- Some students in the class walk together.
By adding the verb walk to the fragment, makes it an independent clause and with a complete thought.
Rules of a Sentence Fragment
A sentence fragment must not have a subject, that is, a noun that performs the action in a sentence.
It must not have a predicate, that is, the verb that is tied to the subject of the sentence
It must not be a complete thought, that is, it does not necessarily need to make sense or stand on its own.
As noted above, fragments can appear in other forms of writing like novels and newspapers among others. However, they should be avoided at all costs in any written work because they never communicate a complete thought.