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Rules

For Finding and Fixing Fragments

Recognizing FragmentsIdentifying Fragment TypesFixing Fragments
Fragment Tip 1Fragment Tip 2Fragment Tip 3


Recognize the difference between a sentence and a fragment.

A fragment resembles a sentence in a number of ways. Both are groups of words that begin with a capital letter and conclude with an end mark—usually a period [ . ] but sometimes a question mark [ ? ] or an exclamation point [ ! ].

The one important difference is that a fragment does not contain a main clause. Like an engine, the main clause powers a complete sentence, propelling the reader through the development of an idea. A fragment, missing this essential component, stalls on the page.

When you analyze a group of words looking for the main clause, you have to find three things: a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. If one of these three items is missing, a fragment results.

Here are examples of fragments:

And yawned loudly enough to make everyone in class turn around.

Subject = Ø ; verb = yawned; complete thought = Ø.

The boy sitting on the fire escape dropping water balloons on the pedestrians below.

Subject = boy; verb = Ø; complete thought = Ø.

After Gabriel ate half a box of Devil Dogs.

Subject = Gabriel; verb = ate; complete thought = Ø.

Know how to identify the type of fragment that you have found.

You can correct a fragment two ways: 1) adding the necessary main clause or 2) connecting the fragment to a main clause already in the passage. Whether you add or connect, you must use the right punctuation.

Some fragments, for example, will require a comma if you connect them at the beginning of a main clause. If you choose to connect them at the end, however, these same fragments require no punctuation at all. Other fragments will require a comma whether you connect them at beginning or the end. To make an intelligent comma decision, you first have to identify the type of fragment that you have.

A fragment will often be a subordinate clause, participle phrase, infinitive phrase, afterthought, lonely verb phrase, or appositive. Each type of fragment has a marker that identifies it.

Subordinate Clause Fragments

A subordinate clause fragment [sometimes called a dependent clause fragment] will begin with a subordinate conjunction, a relative pronoun, or a relative adverb. It will also contain a subject and a verb. Unfortunately, this combination of words will not express a complete thought by itself.

Think of the problem like this: At work, there are bosses and their employees, also known as subordinates. When the bosses aren't directly supervising, many subordinates goof off. In a sentence, the main clause is the boss. If the boss is absent, the subordinate clause goofs off, and the job doesn't get done.

Here are the words that will begin a subordinate clause fragment:

after
although
as
because
before
even if
even though
if
in order that
once
provided that
since
so [that implied]
so that
than
that
though
unless
until
when
whenever
where
whereas
wherever
whether
which
whichever
while
who
whoever
whom
whomever
whose

These words are your markers for this type of fragment. Here are some examples:

Because Chase caught the eye of the beautiful brunette in algebra.

Because = subordinate conjunction; Chase = subject; caught = verb.

What happened? Was he able to cheat on the test? Did he quickly ask her for a date? We don't know because the thought is incomplete.

Until Rachel notices the toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

Until = subordinate conjunction; Rachel = subject; notices = verb.

What will happen? Will she embarrass her date? Will people at the restaurant stare? We don't know because this is another incomplete thought.

Even though Fred stuck straws up his nose.

Even though = subordinate conjunction; Fred = subject; stuck = verb.

What happened? Could he still not pass as a walrus? Did the McDonald's manager offer him a job anyway? We don't know because this thought is incomplete too!

Participle Phrase Fragments

A participle phrase fragment will begin with a word ending in ing or ed, or the fragment will open with an irregular past participle. More words will follow to finish the phrase, but nowhere will you find a main clause to complete the thought. By itself, a participle phrase cannot be a sentence.

Your marker for this type of fragment is the present or past participle that you will find at the beginning of the fragment. Take a look at these examples:

Sunning themselves on the hot concrete until they heard human feet crashing down the sidewalk.

All the while twirling the baton with the speed and ferocity of helicopter blades.

Sucked down the pipe with a hearty slurp.

Hidden in the bureau drawer underneath a pile of mismatched socks.

Infinitive Phrase Fragments

An infinitive phrase fragment will begin with to followed by the base form of the verb, like this:

to + verb = infinitive

Although more words will follow to finish the phrase, you will not find a main clause to finish the thought. An infinitive phrase—by itself—cannot be a sentence.

Look for the to + verb as your marker for this type of fragment. Study these examples:

Only to watch in dismay as Dr. Frazier poured her chemistry experiment into the sink.

To catch butterflies for her biology project.

To break a piece of plywood with his bare hands.

Afterthought Fragments

An afterthought clarifies earlier information by providing specific details. When an afterthought does not contain a main clause, it is a fragment. These words and phrases frequently begin afterthoughts: especially, except, excluding, for example, for instance, including, like, and such as.

These words are your markers for this type of fragment [although infrequently you will have just the list of details]. Here are some examples:

For example, leaky pens, candy wrappers, dollar bills, and paperclips.

Including the dog with three legs and the cat with one eye.

Such as leaving the stove on and teasing mean dogs.

Lonely Verb Fragments

Writers will sometimes forget to include a subject in a sentence. The result is a verb pining for its partner. With the subject missing, the word group thus becomes a lonely verb fragment.

A lonely verb fragment will often begin with a coordinating conjunction [and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet]. The marker for this type of fragment will be the immediate expression of action. Just remember that a verb alone cannot be a sentence. Study these examples:

And dashed through the downpour as raindrops softened the hairspray shell holding her elaborate coif in place.

But knew that all of his effort would prove useless in the long run.

Took the thick book and, with a heavy sigh, loaded it on top of her research pile.

Appositive Fragments

An appositive is a noun phrase that renames and clarifies anther noun. Because an appositive can be long, writers sometimes mistake one as a complete sentence. By itself, however, an appositive is not a sentence.

An appositive fragment will begin with a noun and usually include one or more clarifying phrases or subordinate clauses after it. Here are some examples:

The unprepared student who was always begging for an extra pencil and a couple sheets of blank paper.

A slacker wasting his afternoon in front of the television.

A dog around whom people need to guard their fingers and food.

Know how to fix the fragment that you have found.

Every fragment can be fixed by either 1) revising the fragment so that it has a main clause or 2) connecting the fragment to a main clause that comes before or after it. When you connect, you have to know whether or not punctuation is required. Learning the nine punctuation rules that follow will help you not only fix fragments but also punctuate your sentences correctly.

Fixing Subordinate Clause Fragments

When you have a subordinate clause fragment, removing one thing—the subordinate conjunction—will give you the necessary main clause. Look at this fragment:

Because Chase caught the eye of the beautiful brunette in algebra.

Removing because makes the thought complete. Chase is the subject, caught the verb. Now you have a sentence!

Chase caught the eye of the beautiful brunette in algebra.

If, however, you need the subordinate conjunction because of the meaning it provides, then you must fix the fragment by connecting it.

If you attach the fragment after a main clause, use Punctuation Rule 1:

main clause + Ø + subordinate clause.

Here is an example:

We will continue giggling Ø until Rachel notices the toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

If you attach the fragment in front of a main clause, use Punctuation Rule 2:

subordinate clause + , + main clause.

The fix looks like this:

Even though Fred stuck straws up his nose, Melissa ate her tuna fish sandwich and continued to ignore him.

Fixing Participle Phrase Fragments

One way to fix a participle phrase fragment is to add the necessary main clause. Here is such a fragment:

Sunning themselves on the hot concrete until they heard human feet crashing down the sidewalk.

Notice that you're not sure what type of creatures are enjoying the warmth. If you add this information and complete the verb, the problem would be fixed. The correction would look like this:

The little lizards were sunning themselves on the hot concrete until they heard human feet crashing down the sidewalk.

In addition, you can attach a participle phrase fragment after a main clause. Just follow Punctuation Rule 3:

main clause + , + participle phrase .

Check out this sample:

The majorette marched at the front of the parade, all the while twirling her batons with the speed and ferocity of helicopter blades.

Or you can choose to use Punctuation Rule 4:

participle phrase + , + main clause.

The participle phrase introduces the main clause, like this:

Sucked down the pipe with a hearty slurp, the dirty bath water drained from the tub.

Fixing Infinitive Phrase Fragments

You can convert an infinitive phrase fragment into a sentence by adding a subject and conjugating the verb. Take a look at this fragment:

Only to watch in dismay as Dr. Frazier poured her chemistry experiment into the sink.

When you read this fragment, you don't know who is involved. With a couple of minor changes, however, you have the necessary main clause that every sentence requires:

Amber watched in dismay as Dr. Frazier poured her chemistry experiment into the sink.

If you don't like that option, you can attach an infinitive phrase fragment after a main clause. Just follow Punctuation Rule 5:

main clause + Ø + infinitive phrase .

Here's how it will look:

Jossie enlisted the help of several spiders Ø to catch butterflies for her biology project.

Or you can use Punctuation Rule 6:

infinitive phrase + , + main clause.

The infinitive phrase introduces the main clause, like this:

To break a piece of plywood with his bare hands, Daniel followed his karate teacher's advice and focused power.

Fixing Afterthought Fragments

You can fix an afterthought fragment one of two ways. One option is to insert the missing subject and verb so that you have a main clause. This option works best when you have for example and for instance as the transitions beginning the fragment. Take a look at this example:

For example, leaky pens, candy wrappers, dollar bills, and paperclips.

The simple addition of a subject and verb will fix the problem:

For example, the desk drawer contained leaky pens, candy wrappers, dollar bills, and paperclips.

Or you can attach the afterthought fragment to the end of a main clause. This option works best when the fragment begins with except, excluding, including, like and such as. Use Punctuation Rule 7:

main clause + , + afterthought transition + Ø + details.

The correction looks like this:

John has many unsafe habits, such as Ø leaving the stove on and teasing mean dogs.

Fixing Lonely Verb Fragments

One missing element—the subject—makes a lonely verb fragment an error. Here is such a fragment:

And dashed through the downpour as raindrops softened the hairspray shell holding her elaborate coif in place.

Who did the dashing? We don't know. The subject might be mentioned in a sentence that came previously, but this word group is a fragment because no subject exists in it. To correct the error, all you need to do is insert a subject, like this:

Betty dashed through the downpour as raindrops softened the hairspray shell holding her elaborate coif in place.

If you want to connect this type of fragment to a main clause in front, use Punctuation Rule 8:

main clause + Ø + lonely verb phrase.*

With a heavy sigh, Darryl began counting the words of his essay Ø but knew that all of his effort would prove useless in the long run.

*If the coordinating conjunction beginning the lonely verb phrase connects three or more verbs, you will need to use a comma. See Comma Tip 4.

Fixing Appositive Fragments

You have two options when fixing an appositive fragment. Since an appositive contains a noun which can conveniently become a subject, adding a verb will often fix the problem. Look at this example:

The unprepared student who was always begging for an extra pencil and a couple sheets of blank paper.

We know who we are talking about; now we need to know what this student did.

The unprepared student who was always begging for an extra pencil and a couple sheets of blank paper screamed. [or cried, sang, protested the accusations, bit his lip, crossed his fingers, flirted with Jasmine, etc.]

Another good option is to connect the appositive to a main clause. Punctuation Rule 9 says this: No matter where you attach the appositive—at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end—always use comma(s) to separate it. Here are some samples:

A slacker wasting his afternoon in front of the television, Brian opened a bag of potato chips instead of his chemistry textbook.

Brian, a slacker wasting his afternoon in front of the television, opened a bag of potato chips instead of his chemistry textbook.

On the lawn chair lay Rocket, a dog around whom people need to guard their fingers and food.

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