Have you ever run a spell and grammar check on MSWord and seen the message Fragment (consider revising)? Have you wondered what this actually means?
What is a sentence fragment?
The first thing you need to know is how to recognise a sentence fragment. There are three things to look for.
- You have a group of words that starts with a capital letter.
- The same group of words ends with a final punctuation mark such as a full stop (.), question mark (?) or exclamation mark (!).
- There is no main clause between the capital letter and the final punctuation mark.
A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. It’s usually a piece of a sentence that, somehow or other, has become separated from the main clause. This might be my mistake, or the writer may have done it on purpose.
Here’s an example, and it’s a mistake:
- The company offers training courses in a variety of topics. Such as human resources, finance, business management and communication skills.
This example is easy to fix. You take away the full stop and replace it with a comma.
- The company offers training courses in a variety of topics, such as human resources, finance, business management, and communication skills.
Here’s another example (and another mistake).
- We have gone 10 percent over budget. Because this year we unexpectedly had to purchase new equipment.
And the revision:
- We have gone 10 percent over budget because this year we unexpectedly had to purchase new equipment.
Intentional Sentence Fragments
Technically, sentence fragments are ungrammatical, but sometimes, particularly in fiction, an author might write a piece of a sentence without a subject or main verb. Sentence fragments are most often used in dialogue and reflect spoken language. Or they may be used to answer a question. The main thing to remember is that if you are going to use them, you need to use them intentionally, and not too often. You don’t want your readers to think that you have made a lot of mistakes and don’t know how to write sentences. In Understanding Style Joe Glaser says that used infrequently, “intentional fragments can enliven your style.”
Here’s an example from Annie Dillard, who uses sentence fragments effectively in this short excerpt from An American Childhood.
“How long does it take to draw a baseball mitt? As much time as you are to give it. Not an infinite amount of time, but more time than you first imagined.”
Sentence Fragments in Business Writing
When it comes to business writing you’re unlikely to see such intentional sentence fragments in letters, but they are common in emails.
- Team meeting on Thursday at 10 am. Agenda attached.