Sentence Fragments

Factual writing generally calls for “complete” sentences, which means sentences that contain at least one independent clause. Anything less than an independent clause—a dependent clause or prepositional phrase or non-finite verb phrase—that’s punctuated as though it were a sentence is called a fragment. Fragments come just before or after the clause they should be integrated with. They are easy to spot if you read aloud for sentence rhythm:

ERROR: Ducks usually migrate in flocks of friends. Because relatives tend to screw up the formation. [The dependent “because” clause modifies migrate, the finite verb in the preceding clause. No punctuation is suitable between the two clauses:]

Ducks usually migrate in flocks of friends because relatives tend to screw up the formation.

ERROR: Elephants are terribly ticklish. As I proved by blowing in Jumbo’s ear. [The dependent “as” clause modifies the finite verb are, and so should be part of the same sentence.]

Elephants are terribly ticklish, as I proved by blowing in Jumbo’s ear. [For the comma between clauses, see Introductory Phrases and Clauses.]

ERROR: Ms. Beebs coiled Fang counterclockwise. Absent-mindedly looking out of the window. [The non-finite verb phrase beginning with absent-mindedly modifies Ms. Beebs. The proper position for the phrase is at the beginning of the sentence.]

Absent-mindedly looking out of the window, Ms. Beebs coiled Fang counterclockwise.

ERROR: They want to invite Madame Coil. The cobra voted best hisser of 1977. [The noun phrase beginning with The cobra voted best hisser is in apposition with Miss Hiss and needs to be in the same clause.]

They want to invite Madame Coil, the cobra voted best hisser of 1977.

ERROR: He coiled Fang counterclockwise. And put him in his basket upside down. [Coiled and put are coordinate finite verbs, both part of the same independent clause.]

He coiled Fang counterclockwise and put him in his basket upside down.

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