Sentence Fragments

Three tricks for identifying sentence fragments.

Mignon Fogarty
Episode #030

fragmentsToday's topic is sentence fragments.

I often imagine that listeners are writing long things such as articles, essays, and books; but I was recently reminded that some people make their living writing shorter things like headlines and ad copy, and that keeping things short is hard work. “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” is a famous quotation—attributed to many people including Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal—that resonates with many people who write for a living.

Unfortunately, when writers focus too much on brevity, sometimes they leave out important words and produce fragments instead of sentences. Entering stage left, we have a new podcast character. [Fanfare.] Welcome, Sir Fragalot! Sir Fragalot flounces around the countryside shouting sentence fragments at unsuspecting strangers.

Sentences Need a Subject and a Verb

Sir Fragalot

Over the next hill! A tree with wings! On DVD December 19!

Grammar Girl

Oh dear! Poor Sir Fragalot doesn't know that you can't magically make any set of words a sentence by starting with a capital letter and ending with a period (or an exclamation point). In the most basic form, a complete sentence must have a subject and a verb.

Sir Fragalot

Leaving town!

Grammar Girl

No, Sir Fragalot, you don't have a subject or a verb. It would be "I am leaving town" or "He is leaving town."

A verb is an action word that tells the reader what's happening, and a subject does the action of the verb. You can make a complete sentence with just two words:  "Squiggly hurried." "Squiggly," our beloved snail, is the subject, and "hurried" is the verb.

Sir Fragalot

Hurried onward!

Grammar Girl

No, Sir Fragalot, it would be "Squiggly hurried onward." "Squiggly" is the subject; he's the one hurrying.

Sir Fragalot


Next: Make a Legit Sentence with Just One Word


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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