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Writing Lesson: Fragments

Have you ever had your writing edited and a sentence marked “fragment”? What does that mean? How do I fix it?
 
To start, a sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate (sometimes called a verb phrase).
  • Subject: the agent in the sentence. This is the word or phrase that is doing the action.
  • Predicate: the verb phrase in the sentence. Sometimes this is just one word and sometimes it is a long phrase because it has a direct or indirect object, prepositional phrase, or other pieces of information.
For example, take the sentence “Billy rides his bike.” “Billy” is the subject because he is doing the action. The phrase “rides his bike” is the predicate because it contains the verb and the direct object.
 
When you have a fragment there are 3 possibilities for why it is wrong:
 
  1. The sentence is missing a subject.

This type of fragment has a verb but does not state the subject. Often times students might forget to add the subject if it was already repeated in a nearby sentence. For example, take this passage:
 
 
“Tea is my favorite drink. I drink it every morning. Drink every afternoon as well.”
 
The third sentence is missing a subject. Who is drinking? We can assume it is “I” because of the sentence before, but it still needs to be stated.
 
There are two ways of fixing this fragment. We can
 
 
1) add it to the previous sentence. “I drink it every morning and afternoon.”
2) add a subject. “I drink it every morning. I drink it every afternoon as well.”
 
 
The first solution sounds a little cleaner because you are not repeating a similar sentence twice. Also, you can delete “as well” because the “and” conjunction tells you the same thing.
 
2. The sentence is missing a predicate.
 
This type of fragment has a subject but does not have a predicate. A lot of times this simply needs to be combined with a sentence before or after it. For example, take this passage:
 
“The dark breakfast tea that is at that coffee shop. It is very good as long as it does not steep too long.”
 
The first sentence does not have a predicate. It is tricky because it looks like “is” functions as the verb. But, the word “that” indicates the phrase “is at that coffee shop” is only describing which breakfast tea I am talking about. The whole phrase “The dark breakfast tea that is at that coffee shop” is one long subject.
 
To fix this we need only to combine it with the following sentence. This will make “The dark breakfast tea that is at that coffee shop is very good as long as it does not steep too long.” Here we can omit the “it” at the beginning of the second sentence because it referred to the subject in the previous sentence. “It” is a pronoun which is replacing the longer subject in the sentence before.
 
3. The sentence is a dependent clause.
 
This type of fragment is very common. To understand this we need to know the difference between a dependent and independent clause.
 
Independent clauses can stand on their own as sentences. For example, “I like drinking tea.” and “Soccer is my favorite sport.” are both independent clauses because they are complete sentences.
 
Dependent clauses cannot function as a sentence by themselves. These clauses need to be attached to an independent clause and are often marked by some special words at the beginning. Some examples include “When I study in the afternoon.” or “Because people play it all around the world.” These clauses have a subject and a predicate, but begin with words like:
 
after, although, as, because, before, even though, if, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, or while
 
Because of these words (called subordinating conjunctions), the clause is called “dependent” because these subordinating conjunctions refer to something else. (Ask yourself, “After what? or Because of what?” The sentence should answer this question.).
 
So, here’s an example: “I like drinking tea. When I study in the afternoon”
 
It is confusing because if we only looked at the second sentence we would be wondering, “What do I do when I study in the afternoon?” To solve this we only need to join the two together to make “I like drinking tea when I study in the afternoon.”