Video: Sentence Fragments, with Shaun Macleod from Smrt English (new tab). (Watching time: 2m:20secs)
What is a complete sentence anyway?
They are called independent (or dominant) clauses, and they have a subject and a main verb.
An independent clause is a string of meaningful words which has (at the very least) a subject (a person or thing or a concept) and a verb. It expresses a complete idea and can stand alone as a sentence.
All sentences must have at least one independent clause.
Here are two examples of good simple sentence.
Christina is writing her thesis.
I still don't understand the topic.
A sentence fragment is pretending to be a sentence, but it does not have all the necessary grammatical features to qualify as a sentence by itself. Sometimes the subject of the sentence might be missing, or (more usually) it is missing a main verb.
It is not acceptable in academic writing.
Read the sentence fragment below aloud. (You will find it difficult to read - think about why).
* The educational challenges with teaching Asian languages (such as Chinese) in an environment like Australia, with large classes, limited meaningful input and communication, and no immersion. * (NB: Red asterisks signal a problem with the sentence)
The accordions below explain what can go wrong.
Dependent or subordinate clauses
A seemingly logical string of words which fail to make a complete sentence.
A dependent clause (or subordinate clauses) is a string of words (that might look like a sentence) but which fail to express a complete idea; it leaves us wanting more information in order to get the idea that is intended, and is dependent on another clause within the sentence. Often the reason that these clauses are dependent is because the writer has added words called dependent markers to an ordinary complete clause (like has been done in the first of the examples below).
* Although Christina is writing her thesis ... * (NB: Asterisks signal a problem with the sentence)
I still don't understand the topic.*In spite of having read four articles on it.*
In order to fix this problem we need to add another (independent) clause. Look at how we've done this below.
Although Christina is writing her thesis, she took time out at Christmas to visit her family.
I still don't understand the topic, in spite of having read four articles on it.
It doesn't usually matter which order you place them in, as long as you don't expect a dependent clause to exist without its independent one.
Ways that the verb might be missing
Sometimes words that look like verbs cannot act as main verbs. These are ~ing (gerunds), to~[verb]s and past participles.
Other types of sentence fragment: There are other ways that dependent clauses can be formed (whether accidentally or intentionally). Note how the following leave us wanting more information in order to get the idea that is intended. These are not sentences on their own.
* Having just written her thesis ... *
* Most modern televisions producing heat. *
Here is another common student error:
* For example , socio-cultural theory in combination with humanist theory leading to an eclectic approach to classroom management *
What the student has done here is assume that the verb from the previous sentence can do the work for this clause too—they try to borrow against the verb of the previous sentence, or they expect the reader to infer the verb from context. We sometimes do this when speaking, but we must not leave our subject and verb out of our sentences in writing.
Look at the following examples:
Janet left her revision quite late. * Two days before the exam. *
* Rubbish thrown everywhere. *
Complete the quiz items below to see if you have understood this lesson. Then click the blue arrow at the bottom of the page to check your answers.
Instructions: Hover or tap the questions below to see the reason for the answers given in the quiz.
1. Identify the only incomplete sentence below.
❍ While you are the last person I was expecting to see, I'm glad you are here.
❍ I can see the point of it all, even if I don't agree.
❍ I want to see how much you will subjugate yourself for the sake of fame.
❍ While I am able to see your perspective.
While I am able to see your perspective ✔
Why: The sentence leaves the reader wondering "While I am able to see your perspective...[what?] " The word "while" marks this clause as dependent, so it needs an independent clause, but there isn't one there, so it is a sentence fragment (or incomplete sentence).
2. Below is a sentence fragment. Choose the word or phrase from the list which can be used to complete it.
... because it is how she plays on her own that matters.
❍ Getting on with others is not important,...
❍ However, ...
❍ Being alone, ...
❍ When she's alone ...
Getting on with others is not important, ... ✔
Why: The clause in the task is dependent (we can see that because it starts with "because"), and so it needs an independent clause to make it complete. There is only one independent clause in this list. It is the one with the main verb → is.
3. Identify which of the following are dependent clause markers.
therefore Dependent clause marker: Yes ❍ No ❍
until Yes ❍ No ❍
as Yes ❍ No ❍
because Yes ❍ No ❍
if Yes ❍ No ❍
No: therefore ✔
Yes: until | as | because | if ✔
Why: If you begin a sentence with any of the words on the list (except therefore) the reader is left dangling unless you add an independent clause. For example: * Because I don't like cake...[what?] * | * If you come ...[what?] * | * As a student...[what?] * | * Until next time...[what?] * But with therefore there is not problem: Therefore, I'll say nothing.
4. True or false.
A sentence can have more than one independent clause.
Why: A sentence can have more than one independent clause, but usually such clauses would be joined in some way (for example, with a conjunction and/or appropriate punctuation).