Avoiding [Complex] Sentence Fragments

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever received a graded paper with the comment “frag” or “sent frag” in the margin? If so, did you know what it meant? Or perhaps you noticed a green underscore in your MSWord document, but you didn’t bother to click to the explanation. Sure, your paper’s error may have cost you points, but not many, so you didn’t make much of it. Also, your busy schedule placed on you other demands, and so you figured you had no time to figure out the issue. If your grader didn’t explain and you didn’t right-click, perhaps you simply moved on without understanding the problem.

Occasionally at the Writing Center, we encounter students who use incomplete sentences. We may note this in our reviews with the aforementioned abbreviations or similar marks or symbols. Such sentences are usually called “sentence fragments,” and you’ll want to avoid them. Though some fragments are easier to spot than others, consider one complex example and some possible solutions. In doing so, you may get a better grasp on how to improve your writing skills.


A SENTENCE FRAGMENT EXAMPLE

“Although Hitchens clearly accomplishes his purpose, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything remains subject to a few criticisms. The greatest critique being that at times Hitchens presents readers with subjective claims that are not sufficiently proven.”

The first sentence demonstrates a complete sentence and is placed here for contextual purposes. The second sentence in bold, however, represents a type of sentence fragment where the sentence lacks something and therefore is not a complete sentence. In this case, the subject (critique) lacks a real verb/predicate. The writer has mistaken apparently either the word “being,” or perhaps even “presents,” as the main verb. Yet, neither verbal form constitutes a main verb. What is going on grammatically here?

  • First of all, “presents” cannot be a main verb because it occurs in a “that-clause.” Such explanatory clauses are subordinate clauses and therefore can never contain a main verb for the complete sentence. In fact, “that-clauses” function often as a nominal clause/idea, the equivalent of another noun. Nevertheless, replacing such a clause with “it” (a pronoun) still does not remedy the problem.

  • In addition to the subordinate clause issue, moreover, the larger portion—“being . . .”—presents a complicated set of errors. In short, the fragment has apparently fallen prey to appositional and participial elements. Let’s examine these briefly.

  1. Appositive. The “being . . .” part of this fragment functions as a sort of nominal phrase in apposition, where “critique” and “being” are both acting as nominal/noun ideas. *Remember, gerund phrases function as nouns. In essence, this would be like saying, “The loud dog, Fido.”—such is not a complete sentence/thought. Neither is “The loud dog, being.” Still, one could also view this sentence another way.

  2. Participle. By this analysis, “being . . .” is functioning as a participial phrase. Therefore, in this regard, it acts as an adjective rather than as a noun (gerund). In essence, this would be like saying, “The loud dog, [the] barking [one].” At any rate, the main verb is still missing, and the sentence requires more to complete the thought.

  • *By both appositional and participial elements, this example “sentence” does not comprise a complete thought. So, it is not a complete sentence, i.e., it is a sentence fragment. Always use complete sentences; avoid sentence fragments and run-on sentences. In short, this fragment needs a main verb. In long, it needs a complete subject as well as a complete predicate. In this instance, one must correct the predicate to form a complete sentence.


SOME POSSIBLE COMPLETE SENTENCES

One could correct the fragment with a couple complete sentences:

  1. “Be verbs” – One could simply correct the fragment by the following:

    “Although Hitchens clearly accomplishes his purpose, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything remains subject to a few criticisms. The greatest critique is that at times Hitchens presents readers with subjective claims that are not sufficiently proven.

    *In this manner, the suggested sentence not only preserves your “greatest critique” idea, but an actual main verb is used; in this case, a “be verb” (is). Such achieves very simply a complete sentence. Nevertheless, this remedy remains weak and wordy; a better alternative exists.

  2. Strong verbs – On the other hand, one could avoid a “be verb” because it is a weak construction. Therefore, here, one could say the following:

“Although Hitchens clearly accomplishes his purpose, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything remains subject to a few criticisms. Most problematically, Hitchens fails to prove his claims at times.

  • *In this manner, several great things happen. The suggested sentence not only preserves your “greatest critique” idea with an initial adverbial clause, but it uses a strong verbal idea (“fails to prove”) instead. Furthermore, it omits needless words, reading more concisely while becoming a complete sentence. Notice, too, that it omits the more complicated “that-clause” (see what I did there?), simplifying the ideas.

  • *At any rate, both examples do what is needed: add a main verb and create a complete predicate. Nonetheless, the second sentence reads better.


CONCLUSION

Often, sentence fragments just need a complete predicate in order become a complete sentence. In some cases, you simply need to add a main verb to relieve your fragmentary woes. For example, be sure that you’re not misusing an appositive or participle phrase.

Of course, sometimes writers commit other types of fragments. In any case, opt for a complete thought in the form of a complete sentence. You may have to sort through something rather complicated, kind of complex. Check to see if you have a complete predicate. And as always, check throughout your paper for other instances!

Whether simple or complex, fragments pose problems. Complete your thoughts and your writing will improve. If you made it this far, congratulations! You have completed reading this post, and you may go to sleep now (if you haven’t already). This completes this post (see there?—a complete thought complete with a complete predicate!).