Fragments are, simply put, incomplete sentences. They can, at times, appear to express
complex, even nearly complete thoughts, but they usually fall short of that distinction by
minor things, often by one word. In the following discussion we will examine the most common
causes of fragments, how to identify them, and how to fix them. Notice in the examples that we
give the error first, written in italics, then follow with one or two remedies. The bold print
is the changed part of the sentence -- the part that used to be a fragment or that was added to
the fragment to make it a complete sentence (independent clause).
- The first kind of fragment is the easiest to identify. It occurs when the verb
is missing entirely from the sentence. These are actually noun phrases, and need a verb to make
- ex 1. The world today.
remedy: The world today is a dangerous, yet wonderful place.
- ex 2. The angry man.
remedy: The man is angry.
- The next fragment type is similar to (A), but has what looks like a verb in the
sentence. It is a word that ends in "-ing" as progressive (or continuous) verbs do,
but is missing an important aspect of progressive verbs - the "be" word. These are,
therefore, Gerunds, and gerunds act as nouns, not verbs. To remedy these errors, we must
change the gerund to a verb, or add a verb phrase following the gerund phrase.
- ex 1. David being my best friend.
remedy: David is my best friend.
David, being my best friend, knows more about me than anyone else.
- ex 2. I know how you feel. Having had the measles myself.
remedy: Having had the measles myself, I know how you feel.
I know how you feel, having had the measles myself.
- Like gerunds, infinitives can also cause fragments. These are not active
verbs either, and cannot carry the action in a sentence. There must be a "real" verb
as well as (or instead of) the infinitive.
- ex 1. I wrote you a letter. To let you know how I feel.
remedy: I wrote you a letter to let you know how I feel.
To let you know how I feel, I wrote you a letter.
- ex 2. After a long argument with my parents, I was allowed to go to Europe.
To see France and enjoy the freedom of exploring the world on my own.
remedy: After a long argument with my parents, I was allowed to go to Europe
to see France and enjoy the freedom of exploring the world on my own.
- Adjective Clauses can cause fragments. Adjective clauses are those
clauses that describe a noun - very often the subject of the sentence. These can be fixed by
either omitting the "who", "where", "which" or "that",
or adding a verb phrase to the end of the clause to create a complete sentence.
- ex 1. The government which restricts drug trafficking by its citizens.
remedy: The government restricts drug trafficking by its citizens.
The government, which restricts drug trafficking by its citizens, has also been accused
of importing drugs.
- ex 2. I live in Los Angeles. Where the beautiful people live.
remedy: I live in Los Angeles, where the beautiful people live.
I live where the beautiful people live - in Los Angeles.
- Adverbial Phrases and Clauses can cause fragments. Usually these phrases
and clauses begin with the adverb itself, a sure signal that a fragment may be imminent. There
are several kinds.
- Time phrases - while, during, after, before, etc. can cause fragments. These phrases
are often placed after a complete sentence as an afterthought to that sentence. These adverbials
need to be attached to the sentence that they modify, either preceding or following the main
- ex 1.There was a great deal of immigration into California. After the gold rush.
remedy: There was a great deal of immigration into California after the gold rush.
After the gold rush, there was a great deal of immigration into California.
- Others -- for, so, in order to, if, etc. can also cause fragments. Like other adverb -
based connectors, these words create dependent clauses and must be attached to independent
- ex 1. I called you last night. So we could talk about the test next week.
remedy: I called you last night so we could talk about the test next week.
- ex 2. We can go now. If you want.
remedy: We can go now if you want.
- Because. This one is by itself because it seems to be the most common fragment
error. Simply put, "because" creates a dependent clause, and that clause must be
attached to an independent clause (complete sentence). It can either go first or last, but
it must have that independent clause attached to it.
- ex 1. Because the store was closed. I couldn't buy any beer.
remedy: Because the store was closed, I couldn't buy any beer.
I couldn't buy any beer because the store was closed.
- ex 2. We knew who she was. Because we had seen her before at school.
remedy: We knew who she was because we had seen her before at school.
Because we had seen her before at school, we knew who she was.
- Conjunctions can cause fragments. This occurs usually when one tries to
begin a sentence with a conjunction, which is primarily used to link ideas within a sentence.
This usually replicates a speech pattern in which the speaker adds another bit of information
to a statement that has just been made. The solution is to attach the conjunction phrase to
the clause or phrase to which it should be linked.
- ex 1. I'll get you, Dorothy! And your little dog, too!
remedy: I'll get you, Dorothy...and your little dog, too!
- ex 2. Is this stupid? Or What?
remedy: Is this stupid or what?
- Contrasting transitional phrases can cause fragments. These are Adverbials
that include "even though", "although", and "though". These
require both a subject and a verb, plus another independent clause. Fix by attaching to the
- ex 1. Even though I was in front of everyone else. I lost the race because I started
remedy: Even though I was in front of everyone else, I lost the race because I
started too early.
I lost the race because I started too early, even though I was in front of everyone else.
- ex 2. Actually, our air is getting cleaner. Though some don't think so.
remedy: Actually, our air is getting cleaner, though some don't think so.
- Appositives, which are noun phrases that describe another noun (very often a
list) can also be fragments. Attach it to the sentence to which the phrase refers.
- ex 1. I could tell she was a policeman. Blue suit, the big gun in a holster, and the
silver badge on her chest.
remedy: I could tell she was a policeman -- blue suit, the big gun in a holster, and
the silver badge on her chest.
Because of the blue suit, the big gun in a holster, and the silver badge on her chest,
I could tell she was a policeman.
- A prepositional phrase can also cause fragments. A prepositional phrase
modifies another word in a sentence, and therefore must be attached to the sentence that
contains the word it modifies.
- ex 1. She saw me walking through town. With her best friend.
remedy: She saw me walking through town with her best friend.
- ex 2. Through the history of time. Humans have sought the meaning of life.
remedy: Through the history of time, humans have sought the meaning of life.
Humans have sought the meaning of life through the history of time.
The important thing to remember is that speaking and writing are two different forms of
communication. Fragments are acceptable in spoken language and in fiction; in formal written
English, they generally are not. Be aware of the common pitfalls and you will find identifying
and fixing fragments to be a simpler task.
- In the following paragraph, identify and fix the fragments. Be prepared to justify your answer.
When I was young. I had a small toy. It was made by my grandfather. Who was a genius. He had
created this toy. Out of things he found around the house. It was made mostly of wood. A light
brown wood that was extremely hard. The toy had three wheels on it. That would roll automatically
when placed on any flat surface. However. There didn't seem to be any motor. Which is what
most self-propelled toys have. Like my fire truck. This toy. It was very heavy. For its size,
but it didn't have any metal in it. Or so it seemed. The great thing about it. It would follow
me as long as I talked to it. Like it was following my voice. So I would walk around the house.
The toy following me. As if it heard me calling it. I loved that toy. The envy of my friends.
But I lost the toy. When we moved. And my grandfather. He died. So I wonder. Has anybody seen
it? My toy.
art by jennifer mcclanahan
Updated August 10, 1999
© Mr. Thomas T. Eiland