Last modified on 27 October 2009, at 21:14

Rhetoric and Composition/Sentence fragment

Sentence fragments. Might sound good at first! More trustworthy. Because they're simple. Not trying to complicate things. Like when a sentenc goes on and on. Making you lose track of the ideas. Not like straight talk.

We use fragments constantly when talking, emailing, IMing: They save time and space and sound "natural." Advertisements frequently use them to draw attention to key concepts. In academic writing, however, all but the most occasional use of fragments is considered inappropriate: too folksy, too speech-like and colloquial.

There are a number of grammar-technical ways to recognize fragments, but the best way to find them in your writing is to read your work out loud. Listen for any sentences that may end in a period or other end punctuation but seem to leave you hanging, as if you want to say, "Well ... ? Now what? Go on, finish it up!" The end punctuation may tell you to express "ending" (our voice usually falls when we're reading out loud and get to a period), but the thought won't be finished.

Try reading the following paragraph out loud and seeing if you can pick out the fragments -- that is, the sentences that seem to leave you hanging.

Getting published is simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and taxing goals writers writers can set for themselves. Calling for equal parts patience and persistence. It is often a team effort among several players. Such as, the writer, perhaps an agent, friends and peers who will edit and respond to the work, and previously published writers who can provide advice. Another tension writers must negotiate when pursuing publication is audience appeal and personal integrity to one's work. What is often called "being true to oneself." Because getting published calls on writers to be flexible yet unique at the same time.


As you can see in the revised version below, fixing fragments is usually a matter of

  • hooking up the fragment to the sentence before or after it (whichever one it seems to relate to), often using a comma, colon, or em dash;
  • adding the missing actor (noun) or action (verb); or
  • fleshing out the thought to express what was previously not "spelled out."
Getting published is simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and taxing goals writers writers can set for themselves, calling for equal parts patience and persistence. It is often a team effort among several players, such as the writer, perhaps an agent, friends and peers who will edit and respond to the work, and previously published writers who can provide advice. Another tension writers must negotiate when pursuing publication is audience appeal and personal integrity to one's work: what is often called "being true to oneself." Because getting published calls on writers to be flexible yet unique at the same time, it can be the most challenging yet most rewarding experience writers undertake.