Writers are constantly reminded to be concise, to cull the unnecessary word. While this is generally a good advice, writers can leave out essential elements of a sentence in the process and cull necessary words instead.
Fragments are incomplete sentences
Incomplete sentence disrupt the flow and confuse readers. Usually, fragments are pieces of sentences that have become disconnected from the main clause. The fragment fails to be a sentence in the sense that it cannot stand by itself. This mere group of words may seem to act like a sentence but do not have the wherewithal to make it as a complete thought.
The problem with sentence fragments is that they aren’t always easy to spot. Many think you can judge whether a sentence is complete or not by simply checking if it has a subject and a verb. It’s not that straightforward. While these two elements of a complete sentence are a necessary conditio sine qua non, a full sentence must also give birth to a complete thought.
How can we determine if a sentence is complete? Try asking the following:
- Does the sentence have a subject?
- Does the sentence contain a verb?
- Does the sentence form a complete thought that can stand on its own?
If you score one NO, you’ve identified a sentence fragment, and fixing it is generally easy.
If it’s missing, add the missing element (subject, verb, complete thought) to the fragment
- Incorrect: Waited for the writers’ conference to start.
- Correct: She waited for the writers’ conference to start.
- Incorrect: Reto spent the night implementing a new feature in BookGarage. Also fixed a bug.
- Correct: Reto spent the night implementing a new feature in BookGarage. He also fixed a bug.
Attach the sentence fragment to another sentence
Fragments often are dependent clauses or phrases (that is, which cannot stand on their own). By adding the fragment to an independent clause (that is, one which can stand on its own), you can form a full sentence and a complete thought. This is also the place where you may need to add a comma, too.
- Incorrect: Until I finish another chapter tonight.
- Correct: Until I finish another chapter tonight, I’m not going to bed.
- Correct: I’m not going to bed tonight until I finish another chapter.
Remove the word that makes it a fragment
We said fragments show up when they are missing one crucial element, but some linger there until the writer culls an unnecessary word. Most of these fragments start with prepositions or conjunctions. By removing these words, you can usually make a complete sentence.
- Incorrect: Because we’re out of funds.
- Correct: We’re out of funds.
- Incorrect: When the spaceship back from Jupiter lands this January.
- Correct: The spaceship back from Jupiter lands this January.