Monday, June 08, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Sentence Fragments

Every author and editor should be aware of several basic compositional challenges. In addition to correct spelling and employing the active voice over the passive when possible, reviewing for sentence fragments is imperative for coherent, powerful text. A sentence fragment occurs when a sentence is missing a subject or verb - in essence, when the sentence does not express a complete thought.

Fragment: Begins June 11. What begins June 11?
By adding a subject to this phrase, the sentence is now a complete thought: Portland Pedalpalooza begins June 11.

There are several additional indicators that a sentence may contain a fragment but the most common is the subordinate conjunction. Subordinate conjunctions are words that join sentences and create dependent, or subordinate, clauses. This last characteristic contributes to the appearance of fragments because a dependent clause on its own is not a complete idea; it requires an independent, or main, clause.

Robin L. Simmons of Grammar Bytes maps out punctuation rules for fixing fragments involving a subordinate clause:
  • main clause + nothing + subordinate clause
  • subordinate clause + comma + main clause
Fragment: There is a cycling event for every whim. Whether you are into tacos, zombies or Buddhism. Whether is the subordinating conjunction and marks the fragment. The second sentence is a subordinate because it relies on the main clause for clarification.
Solution: In this case, simply deleting the punctuation between the sentences creates a complete thought. There is a cycling event for every whim whether you are into tacos, zombies or Buddhism.

Fragment: When the dance party theme is Bowie vs. Prince. Everybody wins!
Solution: Join these two sentences with a comma to express a complete (and more profound) thought: When the dance party theme is Bowie vs. Prince, everybody wins!

For a complete list of subordinate conjunctions visit

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