Learning how to fix sentence fragments will make you a better writer.
A sentence fragment is a group of words that is not a complete sentence. There are several sentence fragments in English grammar, including missing verbs, missing subjects, and dependent clause fragments. Even though there are only these three main types of fragments, identifying them is not always easy. For example, if you do any academic writing, you must ensure that each piece you create is free from fragments.
This guide will help you find and fix fragments step-by-step through your writing. By learning how to fix sentence fragments, you will be able to create writing that is effective, clear, and grammatically correct every time you write.
- Materials needed
- Step 1: Identify Sentence Fragments
- Step 2: Complete the Thought
- Step 3: Add a Subject
- Step 4: Complete the Predicate
- Step 5: Spot Prepositional Phrases
- Step 6: Take Care of Participial Phrases
- Step 7: Watch for Infinitive Phrases
- Step 8: Look for Relative Adverbs
- Step 9: Use Caution with Coordinating Conjunctions
- Step 10: Know About Understood You
- Step 11: Avoid Creating Comma Splices
- Step 12: Read Backwards when Proofreading
- Computer with writing software
- Pen and paper
- Your writing project
- Grammar checking software
Step 1: Identify Sentence Fragments
Before you can fix sentence fragments in your piece, you must identify them. For a group of words to be a complete sentence in the English language, it must have a subject and a verb and tell a complete thought. In grammar, a complete sentence is called an independent clause. This is because it can stand alone without other words. If you have an independent clause, you do not have to fix it. If you do not, then you have a fragment or incomplete sentence.
Step 2: Complete the Thought
If the sentence fragment has a subject and a verb but does not state a complete thought, you will fix the problem by completing the thought. Here is an example:
- If she bakes the cake
In this fragment, the subject is “she,” and the verb is “bakes.” However, it does not state a complete thought because it is a dependent clause. To fix it, you will add another clause to complete the thought, like this:
- If she bakes the cake, she will donate it to the bake sale.
This grammar mistake often occurs with a phrase that starts with a subordinate conjunction or adverb. “If she bakes the cake” starts with the subordinate conjunction “if.” This makes it a subordinate clause, which is a type of dependent clause.
Step 3: Add a Subject
Sometimes, a sentence is a fragment because it has a missing subject. Without a subject, you cannot have a sentence. Here is an example:
- Was planning to buy a dress for prom.
This sentence does not tell us who will buy a prom dress. It may be obvious in the context of the rest of the piece or conversation, but it is still a fragment. You would fix it by adding a subject:
- Susan was planning to buy a dress for prom.
Adding the subject “Susan” completes the sentence.
Step 4: Complete the Predicate
If the group of words does not have a main verb, it is a fragment. You have to have a complete predicate to have a full sentence. Here is an example:
- Surprisingly simple recipes in the recipe book.
Even though it starts with the adverb “surprisingly,” this sentence has no verb. This makes it a fragment. Add a verb to complete the sentence:
- Surprisingly simple recipes are found in the recipe book.
Adding “are found” makes this a complete sentence.
Step 5: Spot Prepositional Phrases
Sometimes prepositional phrases can look like complete sentences when they are not. For example:
- Until we arrived home.
This is not a complete sentence, even though it has a subject and a verb. Because it starts with the preposition “until,” it is a prepositional phrase. You need to add additional context and an additional subject and verb to complete the sentence, like this:
- We did not stop again until we arrived home.
Step 6: Take Care of Participial Phrases
A participial phrase is a group of words with a participle, a modifier, and a pronoun or noun. Because the participle looks like a verb, and there is a noun that can look like a subject, some people think the phrase is a sentence. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid run-on sentences, they separate the participial phrase from the rest of the sentence like this:
- Sarah always puts on a bike helmet before riding. Thinking she might protect her life.
In this example, “Thinking she might protect her life” is a participial phrase. It does not complete the thought, so it should not stand alone. To correct sentence fragments like this, put the phrases back together with a comma:
- Thinking she might protect her life, Sarah always puts on a bike helmet before riding.
Step 7: Watch for Infinitive Phrases
An infinitive is another group of words that can trick you when checking for fragments. It can look like it has a subject and verb, but an infinitive phrase is not a complete sentence. Here is an example:
- Lucas jumped onto the last bus. To get to work on time.
“To get to work on time” is an infinitive phrase. Therefore, it is not a complete sentence and needs to be connected to the rest of the sentence when revising this portion of the work.
- Lucas jumped onto the last bus to get to work on time.
Step 8: Look for Relative Adverbs
Words like “who,” “which,” or “that” are relative adverbs. If a phase starts with one of these, it is a dependent clause and needs to connect to the main clause to make a complete sentence. For example:
- Which won the race.
This is a fragment. To fix it, you need to connect it to additional information, such as:
- The horse, which won the race, earned an afternoon in the pasture.
Step 9: Use Caution with Coordinating Conjunctions
Coordinating conjunctions can start sentences occasionally, as this is a stylistic concern, but often when they do, they start sentence fragments. If you have a sentence that starts with a coordinating conjunction, make sure it is necessary, and it is a complete sentence. For instance:
- And we went to the store.
This sentence fragment has a subject and a verb, but it begs for more information. You can fix this fragment by dropping the “and” or connecting it to another sentence, like this:
- We stopped at the bank, and we went to the store.
Step 10: Know About Understood You
One common mistake when searching for fragments is to assume that a sentence with no stated subject is always a fragment. English grammar gives one exception to this assumption: the understood you.
In an imperative sentence directed at the listener, it may not appear to have a subject. Here is an example:
- Put the handout on my desk, please.
In this sentence, there is a subject, and it is “you.” It just is not written in the sentence. In this case, you do not have a sentence fragment, so you have nothing to fix.
Step 11: Avoid Creating Comma Splices
When fixing fragments, make sure you don’t make another grammar mistake by creating a comma splice. A comma splice occurs when you put together two complete sentences with just a comma, like this:
- Horses are not good pets, they are working animals.
Instead, you should join these using a conjunction or a semicolon, like this:
- Horses are not good pets because they are working animals.
- Horses are not good pets, for they are working animals.
- Horses are not good pets; they are working animals.
Step 12: Read Backwards when Proofreading
One of the best ways to find fragments and fix them in your piece is to read the piece backward. Unfortunately, many types of fragments get overlooked by checkers because they make sense with the sentence before them. In addition, the context causes the editor to overlook that the phrase is a fragment. You won’t get the piece’s context if you read each sentence in backward order. This will make it easier to spot and fix sentence fragments.
When editing for grammar, we also recommend taking the time to improve the readability score of a piece of writing before publishing or submitting