A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence used in place of a complete sentence. Usually, a sentence fragment lacks either the subject or predicate necessary to make it an independent clause. They can be fixed by adding the missing part to make it whole.
Sentence fragments are common in casual conversations, and you can even find them in literature. However, when it comes to formal writing like school papers or business reports, it’s best to avoid them. Below, we explain what makes a sentence complete and provide a lot of sentence fragment examples to show you how they work (or don’t work).
What is a sentence fragment?
A sentence fragment is simply an incomplete sentence; it’s missing some of what makes a sentence whole. For example:
Bacon and eggs.
This group of words has a period at the end and the first letter capitalized, but it’s not a complete sentence. It seems like the rest of the sentence has broken off, which is another way to say “fragmented.” To make it complete, you need to add the parts that are missing.
I’d like a serving of bacon and eggs.
To fully answer the question, “What is a sentence fragment?” we first have to answer “What’s a complete sentence?” When you know the necessary parts of a complete sentence, you can identify sentence fragments more easily by recognizing what they’re missing.
What is a complete sentence?
If you ask most people for a definition of a complete sentence, they’ll say that a sentence represents a complete thought. That’s true, but there are also technical requirements. A sentence requires two parts to make it complete:
- Predicate: an action; predicates always have at least one verb.
- Subject: the person or thing that does the action of the predicate.
These are the minimum requirements for all four types of sentences. Consider this simple sentence:
This sentence may be short, but it’s still complete. It has a predicate, the verb wait, and a subject, they, who does the waiting. A complete sentence is not about length; it’s about meeting these two basic requirements.
Imperative sentences, or commands, also follow this rule but have one big difference. In imperative sentences, the subject is not mentioned because it is assumed. For example, look at this imperative sentence:
You can see the predicate, the verb stop, but not the subject. That’s because the subject is assumed to be whomever the speaker is talking to. It does not need to be written because it’s assumed, but it’s still there in essence.
Assumed subjects apply only to commands. All other sentences require you to mention the subject.
Sentence fragments with subjects and predicates
Sometimes, a group of words can have both a subject and a predicate but still be a sentence fragment. Having these parts is the minimum requirement, but it’s not the only requirement.
Here are two occasions when a sentence fragment can include a subject and a predicate without being complete:
- Transitive verbs without a direct object
- Subordinate clauses without an independent clause
Transitive verbs without a direct object
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun that receives the action. For example, in the sentence . . .
She sent the package.
. . . the verb sent is transitive and the package is the direct object. If you ask, “What is sent?” the answer is “the package”—the package receives the action of sending, so it’s the direct object.
If you take away the direct object from a transitive verb, the sentence becomes a sentence fragment.
Therefore, using a transitive verb without a direct object creates a sentence fragment, even if it still has a subject and predicate.
Subordinate clauses without an independent clause
A clause is any group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. There are two types: the subordinate clause (also known as the dependent clause) and the independent clause.
Independent clauses can stand alone as complete sentences. In fact, simple sentences are just independent clauses with no extra words added.
Subordinate clauses are different. In a complex sentence, a subordinate clause needs to be combined with an independent clause to be complete. Let’s look at an example of a complex sentence:
I will find that unicorn, wherever it is.
In the sentence above, the independent clause is I will find that unicorn. This alone is a complete sentence.
The subordinate clause is wherever it is. There’s a subject (it) and a predicate (is), but this alone is not a complete sentence because it only makes sense with the independent clause. In other words, subordinate clauses used alone are sentence fragments.
You can identify subordinate clauses because they always begin with a special type of word or phrase called subordinate conjunctions, such as because, as long as, even though, or, like our example, wherever and whenever.
When should you avoid using sentence fragments?
In general, it’s important to avoid sentence fragments in formal writing like business correspondence, academic papers, and other documents where grammar is a top priority.
However, in more casual conversations and writing, sentence fragments are more acceptable. One of the most common examples is in answering questions.
“What do you want for breakfast?”
“Bacon and eggs, please.”
Moreover, creative writing can use sentence fragments for dramatic effect. These are known as rhetorical fragments, and they’re used by some of the most celebrated English-language writers in history.
“Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own.”
— Toni Morrison, Beloved
Not every writer can pull off sentence fragments. If you’re not careful, they can look like unintentional mistakes rather than dramatic devices. However, when used sparingly and in the right context, they can make certain passages stand out and break up the monotony of too many similarly structured sentences in a row.
Sentence fragment examples: Common mistakes
Essentially, there are three types of sentence fragments:
- Missing a subject or predicate (or both)
- Transitive verb without a direct object
- Subordinate clause without an independent clause
Let’s look at them individually, with some sentence fragment examples.
Missing a subject or predicate or both
With the exception of imperative sentences (commands), if a sentence is missing a subject then it is a fragment.
Does not play well with others.
Thought about it.
Likewise, if a sentence has a subject but no action—no verb, no predicate—then it is also a fragment.
The best candidate for mayor.
Everyone in the world.
A time of great uncertainty.
It’s even possible for a sentence fragment to have neither subject nor predicate. In this case, the sentence fragment is just a random phrase without the information to make it a complete thought. These include generic exclamations and prepositional phrases without context.
For all time.
Oh, my goodness.
Transitive verb without a direct object
As mentioned above, transitive verbs always need a direct object. Some words, such as cook, have both transitive and intransitive meanings (known as ambitransitive), but if you’re using them in the transitive sense, they require that direct object.
Subordinate clause without an independent clause
Subordinate clauses are easy to identify because they all start with a subordinating conjunction, such as “when sentences” or “when clauses” that start with the subordinating conjunction when. If you can remember all the subordinating conjunctions, you can recognize sentence fragments by the subordinating clause being alone without an independent clause.
When I was young.
As much as I like pizza.
Before we begin.
How to fix a sentence fragment
1 Add what’s missing
The easiest way to fix a sentence fragment is to add what’s missing, whether a subject, predicate, direct object, independent clause, or any combination of those. After you identify what kind of sentence fragment you have from the list above, you can then add the necessary part.
2 Recast the sentence
Sometimes it’s better to rethink the sentence so that it’s naturally more complete. This could mean scrapping the entire fragment and starting over from scratch, or it could involve something minor such as adding a punctuation mark.
3 Use a grammar tool
Some sentence fragments are easy to identify . . . but not all of them. If you’re confused about whether you have a sentence fragment or a complete sentence, try using Grammarly’s grammar checker, which will identify mistakes and suggest corrections.
Sentence fragment FAQs
What is a sentence fragment?
A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence used in place of a complete sentence. Sentence fragments are common in casual speech conversations or informal writing like text conversations, but they’re a big no-no in formal writing like school papers or business reports.
How do you fix a sentence fragment?
The easiest way to fix a sentence fragment is to add the missing part. This could be the sentence’s subject, verb, direct object, or an entire independent clause—or sometimes a combination of these.
What are some common sentence fragment errors?
Every complete sentence needs both a subject and a verb, so make sure your sentences have both. Other common mistakes include using a subordinate clause without an independent clause and using a transitive verb without a direct object.
When should you avoid using sentence fragments?
Sentence fragments are common in informal conversations or writing, but when it comes to formal communication, it’s best to write in whole, complete sentences.