What are sentence fragments? To put it simply, sentence fragments are incomplete thoughts. When writing research papers in English, it is common for your incomplete thoughts to be translated into sentence fragments. Although these fragments look like sentences – they start with a capital letter and end with a period – sentence fragments are grammatically incorrect, and if left in academic papers, they decrease the quality of writing and thus readers’ trust in the research.
Types of sentence fragments
Complete sentences and independent clauses include a subject and a predicate. The subject is a noun that represents the person, place, or thing doing the action. The meaning of “predicate” might be a little more nebulous for many writers. According to Merriam-Webster, the predicate is “the part of a sentence or clause that expresses what is said of the subject and that usually consists of a verb with or without objects, complements, or adverbial modifiers1.”
Sentence fragments in academic writing are generally caused by three types of errors, which are described below with examples of fragmented sentences.
- Missing subject – the incomplete thoughts here have no subject, only an action.
bought the supplies
waiting too long can miss the deadline
- Missing or incomplete predicate – this type of sentence fragment does not include an action or the verb used is not enough by itself.
the weather that caused the flooding
the only place to get this deal
Sometimes a thought that contains a verb is still a sentence fragment because that verb requires a direct object to be complete. Such verbs are called transitive verbs. Again, from Merriam-Webster, “A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence’s meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb1.”
the talking decorations annoyed
- Subordinate clause unconnected to an independent clause – these types of clauses can be easily identified because they begin with words known as subordinate conjunctions, such as when, because, as long as, and whenever.
before the study was completed
when the accident happened
with the new change in the process
You may notice that all these types of sentence fragments are used quite often in every-day speech and in magazines32. You will even find many examples of sentence fragments used for stylistic purposes in literature. However, you will need to correct and eliminate them from you academic writing to deliver polished manuscripts.
How to fix a fragmented sentence
The first step in fixing the fragmented sentences in your manuscript is to identify them. Most can be found by merely reading each individual sentence carefully. Reading them out loud can also be very useful in identifying fragmented sentences. Try to imagine reading the sentence to a person you don’t know. Will that person understand clearly what you’re trying to say? Can you identify a subject and predicate or verb in each sentence? Are all subordinate clauses attached to an independent clause?
Once you identify a sentence fragment, you can eliminate it in several ways, depending on the type of fragmented sentence. Here are a few methods you can use to fix the types of sentence fragments described above.
- Missing subject – this type of sentence fragment can be fixed either by simply adding a subject or rewriting the sentence.
The researcher bought the supplies.
Waiting too long can make him miss the deadline.
- Missing or incomplete predicate – you can fix this type of fragmented sentence by adding or completing the predicate or rewriting the sentence.
The weather that caused the flooding occurred last week.
The only place to get this deal is here.
She sent the package.
The talking decorations annoyed me.
- Subordinate clause unconnected to an independent clause – Fix these types of sentence fragments by attaching the subordinate clause to an independent clause.
Before the study was completed, he began writing the report.
I was not at home when the accident happened.
With the new change in the process, more articles will be published.
By identifying and correcting fragmented sentences, you can greatly increase the quality of your writing and present a more polished manuscript. Better quality writing leads to more trust in your paper and in your research.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com. [Accessed October 31, 2022]
- Purdue Online Writing Lab. Sentence fragments. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/mechanics/sentence_fragments.html [Accessed October 31, 2022]