A sentence fragment fails to be a sentence in the sense that it cannot stand by itself. It does not contain even one independent clause. Remember that an independent clause must contain a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. A sentence fragment lacks one, two, or all of these requirements. There are several reasons why a group of words may seem to act like a sentence but not have the wherewithal to make it as a complete thought. Common indicators of sentence fragments are sentences that begin with a subordinate conjunction and sentences that begin with or include an –ing verb without an auxiliary form. Consider the examples below.
Identifying and Correcting Sentence Fragments
The following sentence accomplishes a great deal in terms of placing the reader in time and place, but there is no subject or verb:
- In Japan, during the last war and just before the armistice.
It describes something, but there is no subject-verb relationship. We should change it to:
- In Japan, during the last war and just before the armistice, many innocent civilians were killed.
The following sentence lacks a subject:
- Working far into the night in an effort to salvage her little boat.
Who was working far into the night? Remember that an -ing verb form without an auxiliary form to accompany it can never be a verb. We should change it to:
- Working far into the night, the couple made a valiant effort to salvage their little boat.
The following sentence does not include a verb or complete the thought:
- Some of the students working in Professor Espinoza’s laboratory last semester.
What about some of the students working in Professor Espinoza’s laboratory last semester? What happened to them? There is no verb in the sentence. An -ing verb form without an auxiliary form to accompany it can never be a verb. We should change it to:
- Some of the students working in Professor Espinoza’s laboratory last semester are now working on a special project.
The following sentence does not express a complete the thought:
- Because he was sick.
This fragment contains a subject and a verb, but it is incomplete without an independent clause. We should change it to:
- Tom could not make it to class today because he was sick.