Sentence Fragments are one of those things that your English teacher drilled into you as a kid. According to the rules, fragments are big no-nos, but I hope to change your mind by the time we are through.
A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a sentence that does not have the necessary subject and verb or is a dependent clause. Confusing? Let’s clear that up somewhat.
- Whenever we went to the farm.
- If you go to the store.
- After the movie.
Each of those examples leaves you hanging for more information, right? That’s a fragment, and when they leave you hanging for information, they are incorrect. However, there are cases when they are entirely appropriate and even preferred.
Sentence fragments are extremely useful as a means of emphasizing something. Very useful. The trick is to make sure that the reader understands what you are referring to. In the previous example (Very useful), the fragment emphasizes the fact that fragments are useful. In this case, the reader instantly understands what I am referring to. You can use fragments, you just need to make sure they are understood. Always.
Fragments are also commonly used as answers to questions.
- Where did you go? To the store.
Again, everyone knows what is being discussed and the answer, therefore, makes sense. If you’ll remember back to elementary school, your teacher made you answer questions on tests using complete sentences. Your teacher was trying to cure you of the “evils” of fragments. However, because your teacher knew the question, the fragment was entirely grammatically functional and, therefore, correct in at least some context.
Fragments gained their bad reputation just like most grammar rules in English did. Someone somewhere decided that you shouldn’t, and the rule stuck. Sometimes those rules were borrowed from other languages, particularly Latin and French, but sometimes they just happened because in certain situations they were incorrect. This is what happened with the sentence fragment. The reasoning went that often the fragment is incorrect, and therefore it is incorrect all the time. How sad. In reality, the fragment is only incorrect when used inappropriately. Just like every other rule of grammar.
Anyway, use them. Love them. Enjoy them. Notice that I have effectively peppered this English Usage of the Day with fragments and used them correctly each time (even if there are way too many for comfort).
And if you still need convincing that they are correct, just go read something by your favorite author. I guarantee they will use a sentence fragment and that they’ll use it well. Guaranteed.