Sentence Fragment

What Is a Sentence Fragment?

A sentence fragment is a group of words that looks like a sentence but isn't. In other words, a sentence fragment starts with a capital letter and has end punctuation (such as a period (full stop), a question mark, exclamation mark, or a semicolon) but does not qualify as a sentence.

Table of Contents

  • Sentence Fragments (Examples That Do Not Give a Complete Thought)
  • Sentence Fragments (Examples without a Subject)
  • Sentence Fragments (Examples without a Verb)
  • Sentence Fragments As a Writing Tool
  • Why Sentence Fragments Are Important
  • Test Time!
sentence fragment example
Remember that a sentence is a group of words that has the following three traits:
  • (Trait 1) A sentence gives a complete thought.
  • (Trait 2) A sentence contains a subject.
  • (Trait 3) A sentence contains a verb.
If a group of words is missing one of these traits, then it is a sentence fragment.

Sentence Fragments (Examples That Do Not Give a Complete Thought)

The shaded text in each example below is a sentence fragment because it does not give a complete thought.
  • Nothing is an obstacle. Unless you say it is. (Entrepreneur Wally Amos) wrong cross
  • When the egg whites have the consistency of shaving foam. Stop whipping and add the vanilla essence. wrong cross
  • Humans are the only animals that have children on purpose with the exception of guppies. Who like to eat theirs. (Journalist P J O'Rourke) wrong cross

This type of sentence fragment is particularly common with clauses that start with "which."
  • I really hate mowing the grass. Which is a problem because I have a huge lawn. wrong cross
  • Every journalist has a novel in him. Which is an excellent place for it. (Historian Russell Lynes) wrong cross
  • She had a pretty gift for quotation. Which is a serviceable substitute for wit. (Playwright W. Somerset Maugham) wrong cross

A clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence is called a dependent clause. A clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence is called an independent clause. If you punctuate a dependent clause like a sentence (like all the shaded texts above), then you have written a sentence fragment.

Sentence Fragments (Examples without a Subject)

Here are some examples of sentence fragments without subjects.
  • The tallest man ever recorded was Robert Wadlow (1918-1940). Stood 8 feet 11 inches. wrong cross
  • Google was originally called Google Backrub. Renamed Google after googol, the number one followed by 100 zeros. wrong cross
  • Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal in the world. Kill more people than any other creature, due to the diseases they carry. wrong cross

Sentence Fragments (Examples without a Verb)

Here are some examples of sentence fragments without verbs.
  • The best of times, the worst of times. wrong cross
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "strengths," the longest word in English with one vowel. wrong cross
  • Hawaiian pizza created in Canada by a Greek immigrant in 1962. wrong cross
  • At 122 years old, Jeanne Louise Calment, the oldest person ever to have lived. wrong cross

More about Sentence Fragments

Sentence Fragments As a Writing Tool

In all the examples above, the sentence fragments are mistakes. However, not all sentence fragments are errors. As shown below, writers often use them deliberately for relaying information quickly (particularly when creating drama or surprise) and for emphasis. Also, as we don't talk in perfect sentences, written dialogue is usually crammed with sentence fragments.

Sentence fragments are highly expected in verse (e.g., poetry, song lyrics) but less so in formal prose (e.g., business writing). Nevertheless, sentence fragments can be used in formal prose, particularly for emphasis.

Why Sentence Fragments Are Important

Here are three good reasons to think more carefully about sentence fragments.

(Reason 1) Using sentence fragments for creating drama.

Writers can use sentence fragments to create drama. For example:
  • She needed an answer. Tick tick tick. An answer now. Tick tick. Please, now. Tick tick. Now or never.
In the example above, the sentence fragments relay similar information. However, sentence fragments are also useful for relaying new information quickly because readers are presented with just the key points and not the "padding" required to create complete sentences. For example:
  • A tall figure emerged from the shadow. Nicely dressed. Suddenly too close. Staring straight at me. Closing. Do I know him? No. Wave of fear. Teeth!
Using sentence fragments allows writers to accelerate the reading pace.

Quick-fire, back-to-back sentences and sentence fragments are also known as staccato sentences.

(Reason 2) Using sentence fragments for creating surprise.

Sentence fragments are also used to create surprise. With just the surprising information to absorb, readers are given no warning of the "punchline." For example:
  • She heard a tinkle. She looked at the leaves. She kicked them aside. Another tinkle of metal. She brushed her foot over the leaves again. Her ring! A ray of unblemished sparkle. As perfect as the day it was crafted.

(Reason 3) Using sentence fragments for emphasis.

Sentence fragments are also used to create emphasis. Using sentence fragments in this way is particularly common with some deliberate repetition of the same idea (a technique called commoratio). For example:
  • The booklet was gone. At the back? No, definitely, missing. Stolen.
  • We have considered your solution and are impressed by its practicality. It looks viable. Very viable indeed.
  • Here are your deals. Not just any deals. Your deals.
  • (This is an extract from an eBay marketing email.)

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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