Three tricks for identifying sentence fragments.
There's even a sentence form called the imperative that lets you make one-word sentences such as "Run!" Imperative sentences are commands, and the subject is always assumed to be the person you are talking to. If Squiggly looks at the aardvark and says, “Run!,” Aardvark knows that he's the one who should be running. It's such a strong command that he knows it is imperative for him to run.
Dependent Clause Fragments
So you can make imperative sentences such as "Run!" with one verb, and you can make simple complete sentences such as "Squiggly hurried," with a subject and a verb, but there is also a case where you have a subject and a verb, but you still don't have a complete sentence. Ack! This happens when your fragment is a dependent clause, meaning that it depends on the other part of the sentence: the main clause.
If you're dependent on your parents, then you need them. It's the same with dependent clauses; they need their main clauses.
Dependent clause fragments usually start with a subordinating conjunction such as because, although, or if. I'm going to need more examples to explain this one. It makes a lot more sense when you hear examples.
Let's go back to our simple sentence: "Squiggly hurried." I'm sure you all get that this is a complete sentence because it has a subject and a verb, but look at what happens if you put a subordinating conjunction in front of it: "Because Squiggly hurried." By adding that "because," I've completely messed up the sentence; now I need the part that explains the "because." The "because" makes the whole thing a dependent clause that can't exist on its own. (Well, it can exist, but it's a fragment and that's bad.) The dependent clause now only makes sense if it has a main clause; for example, "Aardvark was relieved because Squiggly hurried."
Here’s another example. The word “that” can be a subordinating conjunction, so in some cases, if you put it at the beginning of a sentence, it can turn the sentence into a fragment. [Note: This sentence can be read at least two ways. If "that" is an adjective, it is a complete sentence. If "that" is a subordinate conjunction, it is a dependent clause.]
That Squiggly hurried.
Yeah, um, that doesn't make any sense, because it's a fragment; but you can tack it onto the same main clause we used before, turning it into the dependent clause it was meant to be, and it makes sense again. "Aardvark was relieved that Squiggly hurried."
To sum up, there are some easy tests to see if you have a fragment. The easiest test is to ask yourself if there is a verb. If there's no verb, then it's a fragment. Then, if there is a verb and no subject, ask yourself if the sentence is a command. If it's a command, then it's an imperative sentence, and if it's not a command, then it's a fragment. [Exception alert*] Finally, ask yourself if it is really a subordinate clause to the previous sentence. If it is, then it is a fragment. That last one is a little trickier, but I'm sure you can do it!
Thanks to "Miss Peter" from the Music Nerve podcast for playing the part of Sir Fragalot.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of seven books, including Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
Famous Quotes and Quotations
* I didn't have time to talk about it in the show, but there is another type of one-word sentence, called an exclamation, that doesn't have a verb or a subject. Exclamations usually express an emotion and end with an exclamation point. Here are some examples: "Ouch!" "Wow!" "Eureka!"