What is a Fragment in Writing: A Guide to Complete Sentences

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Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

what is a fragment in writing

If you’re a writer, blogger, or content creator, you’ve likely heard the term “fragment” in writing.

A fragment is an incomplete sentence that doesn’t express a complete thought. It’s a common mistake that can make your writing seem choppy, unprofessional, and difficult to read.

In today’s post, I’ll talk about what is a fragment in writing and how you can fix it to communicate your vision, tell captivating stories, or persuade effectively.

Table Of Contents:

What is a Fragment in Writing?

We’ve all encountered them – broken sentence threads, faltering clauses, and truncated thoughts.

You can tell you have a sentence fragment if:

  • It’s missing a subject (who or what the sentence is about).
  • It’s missing a verb (the action or state of being).
  • It doesn’t express a complete thought or idea.

Fragments vs. Complete Sentences

A complete sentence must have three things:

  1. A subject (who or what the sentence is about)
  2. A main verb (the action or state of being)
  3. A complete thought or idea

If a sentence is missing any of these elements, it’s a fragment.

For example, “Ran to the store.” is missing a subject, while “Because I was hungry.” is an incomplete thought.

In a complete sentence, the subject and verb must also agree in number. That means a singular subject needs a singular verb, and a plural subject needs a plural verb.

For instance, “The dog barks.” is a complete sentence because “dog” is singular and “barks” is a singular verb form.

But “The dog bark.” is a fragment because the subject and verb don’t agree.

When you understand how the different parts of a sentence work together, you’ll be well-prepared to spot and fix grammar mistakes like sentence fragments, leading to clear and effective communication of your ideas.

More examples of fragments from Your Dictionary

Common Types of Fragments

Now that you know the difference between a fragment and a complete sentence, let’s take a closer look at some common types of fragments you might encounter.

Fragments Beginning with -Ing Verbs

One type of fragment starts with an -ing verb (also known as a participle).

For example: “Walking through the door and tripping over the step.”

This participle phrase doesn’t have a subject or express a complete thought. It leaves us wondering who walked through the door and tripped.

There are two ways to fix this fragment:

  1. Add a subject: “She was walking through the door and tripping over the step.”
  2. Attach it to a complete sentence: “She made quite an entrance, walking through the door and tripping over the step.”

Fragments Beginning with Linking Words

Another common type of fragment starts with a linking word like “because”, “when”, “although”, or “if”.

For instance: “Because he forgot his umbrella.”

Now this sentence has both a subject and a verb, but the linking word “because” in the beginning is problematic.

To fix this fragmented sentence, complete the thought by adding the missing information.

“Because he forgot his umbrella, he got soaked on the way to work.”

Now the fragment is attached to an independent clause, forming a complete sentence.

Fragments That Are Lists or Examples

Sometimes a fragment is a list or series of examples that can’t stand alone.

For example: “Be sure to bring pens, pencils, and paper to class.”

While this looks like a complete sentence, it’s actually a noun phrase fragment. It’s missing a subject and verb.

To fix this type of fragment, you can attach it to a complete sentence:

“To succeed in class, one essential trio is required: sturdy pens, an array of colored pencils, and an unrollable jot of paper.”

How to Identify Sentence Fragments in Your Writing

Knowing what a fragment is one thing, spotting them in your work is another.

Fragments can be sneaky, disguising themselves as complete sentences.

So how can you identify sentence fragments and weed them out?

  • Read your work out loud. Fragments often sound incomplete or abrupt when spoken.
  • Look for phrases that start with -ing verbs, linking words, or that are lists or examples.
  • Check that each sentence has a subject and a verb.
  • Make sure each sentence expresses a complete thought and can stand alone.

Remember, avoiding fragments is key to writing clear, complete sentences. When in doubt, read the sentence out loud and trust your ear. If it sounds incomplete, it probably is.

Three Ways to Turn a Fragment into a Complete Sentence

If you spot a sentence fragment in your writing, don’t panic. There are a few simple ways to turn it into a complete sentence:

  1. Add the missing subject or verb.
  2. Connect it to a nearby complete sentence.
  3. Rewrite it to form a complete thought.

For instance, you could fix “Running through the park” by adding a subject: “She was running through the park.”

Or, you could attach it to another sentence: “It was a beautiful day, perfect for running through the park.”

How to Avoid Fragments in Your Writing

The key to avoiding sentence fragments is to proofread carefully. As you read through your work, ask yourself:

  • Does each sentence have a subject and a verb?
  • Does each sentence express a complete thought?
  • Are there any phrases or clauses that can’t stand alone?

If you find any incomplete sentences, use the strategies above to fix them. With practice, spotting and correcting fragments will become second nature.

When Is It Right to Use a Fragment?

Sentence fragments can be effective in writing when done intentionally and for specific purposes. Here are some situations where using a fragment is appropriate:

1. Emphasis

Fragments can draw attention to a particular word or phrase, adding impact to your writing.

  • Example: “She had only one thing left to say. Enough.”

2. Dialogue

People often speak in fragments rather than complete sentences, so using them in dialogue can make characters’ speech more realistic and natural.

  • Example: “Where are you going?” “Home.”

3. Stylistic Effect

Fragments can be used to create a certain rhythm or tone in your writing, often adding to the dramatic or emotional quality of a piece.

  • Example: “The night was dark. Silent. Eerie.”

4. Stream of Consciousness

In stream-of-consciousness writing, fragments can reflect the natural flow of thoughts and perceptions.

  • Example: “Running late. Need coffee. Where are my keys?”

5. Lists and Bullet Points

When making lists or using bullet points, fragments are often used to keep information concise and clear.

  • Example:
    • Pack suitcase
    • Confirm flight
    • Check passport

6. Transitions and Summaries

Fragments can be used at the beginning or end of paragraphs to summarize or transition smoothly between ideas.

  • Example: “Which is why we need to act now.”

7. Narrative Voice

In first-person narratives, especially in young adult or informal writing, fragments can reflect the character’s voice and inner thoughts more authentically.

  • Example: “I couldn’t believe it. All of it. Gone.”

Guidelines for Using Fragments Effectively

If you’re intentionally using fragments in your writing, be sure to follow these best practices:

  • Intention: Ensure the fragment is used deliberately for effect, not by accident. Fragments should serve a specific purpose, whether it’s to emphasize, create tension, or reflect natural speech.
  • Clarity: The meaning should be clear to the reader even with the incomplete sentence structure.
  • Moderation: Use fragments sparingly to avoid confusing the reader or disrupting the flow of your writing.

When used thoughtfully, fragments can add variety, emphasis, and authenticity to your writing.

Conclusion

In the world of writing, fragments are often seen as the enemy of clear communication. They can make your writing seem disjointed, confusing, and unprofessional.

But the truth is, fragments aren’t always a bad thing.

In fact, when used intentionally and sparingly, they can add emphasis, create a sense of urgency, or even mimic the way people speak in real life.

Want to craft sentences that resonate with your readers? It all starts with understanding the power of sentence fragments. By mastering the subtleties of these fragments, you can refine your writing to convey your message with precision and clarity.

So don’t be afraid of fragments. Embrace them as a tool in your writing toolkit. With a little practice and a lot of intention, you can master the art of using fragments to enhance your writing and connect with your readers on a deeper level. And that’s what great writing is all about.

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Julia

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