Sentence Fragments and Independent Clauses

All sentences should be able to stand by themselves. A complete sentence has a subject and a verb, and optionally an object. Sentence fragments fail in this sense in that they lack one or the other. Fragments are a grammatical error.

Usually fragments are those thoughts, which got disconnected from the main sentence, and stands out all by themselves. But it is correct only in cases when the fragments are powerful enough to stand alone and convey a logical meaning. Usually such fragments are encountered in fiction writing.

She felt she never encountered such drastic situation. Never.

In this sentence, ‘Never’ stands out as a sentence. It’s a fragment. It is however correct to put such fragments when they are very small and can mostly convey a logical meaning. But in cases where the fragments are larger, with more than two words, it is apt to rewrite them. For instance:

Anoop has three brothers. Ajay, Vijay, and Vimal. All of them are doctors now. Well settled in the US with their families.

In this sentence, there are two fragments: “Ajay, Vijay, and Vimal” and “Well settled in the US with their families.” So, it is most appropriate to rewrite this sentence in the following form:

Anoop has three brothers, Ajay, Vijay, and Vimal, and all of them are doctors. They are well settled in the US with their families.

Sentences should convey complete thoughts. Fragments are incomplete thoughts. For instance, “Ajay, Vijay, and Vimal” is an incomplete thought; so is “well settled in the US with families.” Using sentence fragments is a grammatical error as well as a stylistic mistake. Good writers should avoid using fragments and use independent clauses instead.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is part of a sentence, which can itself stand as a standalone sentence, unlike a sentence fragment. For instance:

John is a doctor, and he cured Eric’s disease.

Here, “John is a doctor” is the independent clause (which means it can be written as a separate sentence and would convey a complete thought). So is “he cured Eric’s disease, but not “and he cured Eric’s disease.” Without ‘and’ there in between, the whole sentence is a comma splice (or a run-on sentence, if without comma too), which is a grammatical mistake. We cannot have two independent clauses in a single sentence, so we make one of the clauses dependent on the other (using a conjunction). So, “and he cured Eric’s disease” is a dependent clause.

The trick is to write a clause as a separate sentence and see if it completes a thought or not. If it doesn’t it is a fragment or a dependent clause.

John is a doctor. (Complete thought)

He cured Eric’s disease. (Complete thought)

And he cured Eric’s disease. (Incomplete thought or sentence fragment)

Addition of ‘and’ makes the second sentence dependent on the first. Such dependent clauses are also called subordinate clauses.

Writing subordinate clauses as independent sentences is not a mistake at all. It’s only regarded as a bad style of writing. But Ernest Hemingway is known to begin his sentences with ‘and’. That doesn’t mean that he is a bad writer. We can only conclude that each writer has his/her own style, which is unique.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

5 Opinions:

  1. DoshDosh's first comment is this. Thank you a lot for your views. Thanks also, John.

  2. Wow, I believe your greatest merit is your simplicity. This is best if you post simple humble posts with full good help for writers like this. Most I guess are very poor in grammar. That makes your blog big.

  3. In order to fight fragments, most word processors like MS word for instance have built in code. It alerts u of the fragments, good post!

  4. Sentence fragments as they are applicable to various contexts should be well debated. I guess as you said, they are no mistakes. But it is up to the writer to make his writing clutter-free by editing out all the fragments


  5. Very informative and interesting, was looking for such a blog


Comments are moderated very strictly