Curing Your Writing of Sentence Fragments


A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence.

A sentence expresses a complete idea. Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences because they do not express a complete idea. Sentence fragments make your writing unclear.


The biggest cause of sentence fragments is using a participle phrase as though it were a complete sentence. A participle is a form of the verb that is used when helping (auxiliary) verbs are used with a man verb. The main verb is formed as a participle by the use of a suffix such as ing, en, and ed. 


For instance, the verb dance is formed as a participle with auxiliary verbs like this:

I dance.

I had danced.

I was dancing

For another example of how verbs in participle form may end in ing and en  is the verb beat

The chef beat the eggs. 

The eggs were beaten by the chef.

The chef was beating the eggs.


Here are some examples of complete sentences that have main verbs expressed as participles:

*Jack was walking. Was is the helping verb and walking is the main verb expressed as a participle.

*Martha and Carolina were shopping. Were is the helping verb and shopping is the main verb expressed as a participle.

* The children were jumping rope.  Were is the helping verb and jumping is the main verb expressed as a participle.


Verb participles ending in ing are often used as nouns and as the subjects of sentences.

For instance, the very same words that were the main verbs in the examples above can be used as the subjects of sentences.

*Walking is Jack's favorite exercise.  

*Shopping is an activity that tires out Martha.

*Jumping helps build children's bones.  


Notice that when the participles are used as nouns that they have to have a verb for a complete sentence to be created.

*Walking is Jack's favorite exercise.  Is, a linking verb, is the verb.

*Shopping is an activity that tires out Martha. Is, a linking verb, is the verb.

*Jumping helps to build children's bones.  Helps, an action verb, is the verb.


Now let's take a look at some typical sentence fragments.

*Walking into the city.

*Jumping quickly with the rope.

*Shopping late into the night.

Here the very same participles are used in correctly. They are incorrectly used because no complete idea is expressed. If they are supposed to be the main verb, they are missing their helping verbs. If they are supposed to be nouns used as subjects of sentences they are missing their verbs entirely. These typical sentence fragments are used in properly written sentences as participle phrases. A participle phrase is a verb in its participle form with adverbs and adverbial prepositional phrases describing it.

This is break down the parts of these participle phrase:

*Walking into the city. Walking is the participle. Into the city is an adverbial preposition phrase telling where the walking went.

*Jumping quickly with the rope. Jumping is the participle. Quickly is an adverb telling how the jumping was done, and with the rope is the prepositional phrase telling how the jumping was done.

*Shopping late into the night. Shopping is the participle. Late is an adverb telling when the shopping was done, and into the night is a reasons phrase telling more about when the shopping was done.

So to create a complete sentence out of the sentence fragments, a complete sentence is often added to the fragment so that the fragment become a participle phrase.

Jumping quickly with the rope, the children won the jump rope competition.


Some sentence fragments simply need a subject and a helping verb to make them proper sentences.

Martha and Carolina were shopping late into the night.

Other times the sentence fragment can be used to create the complete subject.

Walking into the city is one of Jack's favorite ways to get exercise.


Now try some exercises designed to help you spot sentence fragments in your writing.

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