A sentence fragment is a group of words that doesn’t contain all of the required parts of a sentence. In other words, a sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. It generally lacks a main subject, a verb, or both. A subject is the noun (person, place, or thing) that performs the main action of the sentence. This main action is the verb. Conversely, a complete sentence always has a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought.
Here’s an example: “John runs.” This is a complete sentence because it contains a noun (John) and the corresponding verb (runs). It also expresses a complete thought. If someone were to ask where John is running, you could answer with “To work.” This would be considered a sentence fragment as there is neither a subject nor a verb. If you wanted to make the fragment into a complete sentence, you’d include the subject (he) and verb (runs) to say “He runs to work.”
An example of a sentence fragment is found in Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted: “But when we were alone, we preferred to slide and yell all the way down. And run back up for another ride, and a third, and a fourth.” Here, the first sentence is complete, as it contains a subject (we) and a verb (preferred) that express a complete thought. The second sentence lacks a subject, and is considered a sentence fragment even though it has a verb (run).
Fixing Sentence Fragments
There are two main ways to fix a sentence fragment: You could add the fragment to the beginning or end of a nearby complete sentence, or you could add the additional words necessary to make it a complete sentence.
In the example above, the sentence fragment can be fixed by attaching it to the end of the complete sentence that comes before it: “But when we were alone, we preferred to slide and yell all the way down and run back up for another ride, and a third, and a fourth.”
You could also correct this sentence fragment by adding the missing subject: “But when we were alone, we preferred to slide and yell all the way down. And we would run back up for another ride, and a third, and a fourth.” The addition of we would makes the fragment into a complete sentence.
When to Use Sentence Fragments
It’s best to avoid using sentence fragments in academic or professional writing. In more formal writing it’s best to show that all your ideas are completely thought out. Sentence fragments in this setting can make writing difficult to read, and can sometimes make your ideas sound incomplete.
In creative writing, however, there’s a bit more freedom to use fragments to emphasize a particular point or feeling. Take, for example, this excerpt from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which makes good use of sentence fragments in order to convey a particular mood: “IT was a brain. A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. No wonder the brain was called IT.”
Sentence fragments are, in short, incomplete sentences that lack a subject, verb, or both. To fix them, you can add them to the beginning or end of the closest complete sentences, or try adding the necessary elements in order to make them stand on their own. While people frequently use fragments in everyday conversation, they’re best avoided in academic or business writing.