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Sentence Fragments

Three tricks for identifying sentence fragments.

By
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

Humph.

Next: Make a Legit Sentence with Just One Word

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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