A sentence fragment is a group of words beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period. Though written as if it were a sentence, it’s not only part of a sentence and can’t stand on its own.
For a basic sentence, you need a subject and verb, and the sentence must be a complete idea. This type of sentence is also known as an independent or main clause. You may have been asked to provide answers on a test or quiz in “complete sentences.” Your instructor was asking you to reply without using sentence fragments.
A group of words may have both a subject and a verb but not make sense on its own. This is what we call a dependent clause. Here’s an example:
- When Joe laughs.
A sentence fragment is like one sentence broken into two. Here are some examples:
- My brother bought a new Mustang convertible. Yellow with black interior;
- We left that store in a hurry. Never to go back.
- The train left. Before I could even buy my ticket.
Imagine someone walking into the room, saying “Never to go back,” and walking out. Would you have any idea what this comment was related to? Go back to where? The sentence is missing a subject and a verb, and clearly it doesn’t make sense by itself.
How do you test for sentence fragments? Ask these questions about your sentences:
- Does the sentence have a subject (a person, place or thing or pronoun) that performs the action of the verb? E.g. George, London, the bed, she, etc.
- Does the sentence have a verb (a word describing the action of the subject)? E.g. eat, rest, look, feel, is, etc.
- Does the sentence make sense on its own?
- Does the sentence begin with words that make it a fragment or dependent clause? Here’s an example:
That I prefer the red pen.
In this independent clause, the word “that” causes confusion. It sounds like this sentence depends on a previous sentence for its meaning. Dependent clauses usually begin with what we call subordinators. Here are some examples: