Sentence Fragments


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Essay WritingWriting Elements and Process
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Transcript

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in sentence fragments. When Mary asks Bill the bus driver what he

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wants for lunch and he says, "Reuben sandwich"...

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...his response is a sentence fragment.

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When Mrs. Crabtree the retiree shakes her glass at Mary from across the room and yells,

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"Tea!"...

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...the old bat is speaking in sentence fragments.

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Really, with all the sentence fragments Mary hears every day, it's a miracle she hasn't

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gone at anyone with a steak knife. Grammatically correct sentences, as a rule,

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have at least one subject and one verb.

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For example, in the two-word sentence, "Mary cleaned"...

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...we have the subject of the sentence, Mary...

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...performing the action verb "cleaned".

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Sentence fragments, however, tend to lack verbs, which is why they aren't real sentences.

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Now, sometimes we encounter one-word sentences that look like sentence fragments, but are

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actually full-on, pure-blooded sentences.

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For example, there's the imperative sentence form, which consists of a one-word command.

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When a customer spills his drink on the floor and Mary's boss says, "Mop!"...

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...the word "mop" is the command...

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...and Mary is the implied subject.

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When a customer tries to sneak out of the restaurant without paying her bill, and Mary

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shrieks, "Pay!"...

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...the word "pay" is the command...

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...and the thieving customer is the implied subject.

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It's also possible to make one-word sentences out of exclamations.

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When Mary drops a plate on the floor and screams "CENSORED!"...

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...the exclamation "CENSORED!" is a sentence.

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When Mary gets lemon juice in a paper cut on her finger and yells "Ouch!"...

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...the exclamation "Ouch!" is a sentence. But...still not as much fun to yell as "CENSORED!"

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Now, here comes the tricky part. It just so happens that, sometimes, we can have both

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a subject and a verb...

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...but no sentence. This type of sentence fragment occurs when the subject and the verb

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are part of a dependent clause.

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Dependent clauses have two characteristics: they start with a subordinating conjunction

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like "because", "although", or "if"...

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...and they depend on the existence of a main clause.

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Say we have the sentence, "Although Mr. Johnson had a forty-dollar ticket, he only

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tipped Mary two bucks."

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If the dependent clause "Although Mr. Johnson had a forty-dollar ticket" stood on its

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own, it wouldn't make any sense. It's a sentence fragment, and we need the rest

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of the sentence...

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...the main clause, "He only tipped Mary two bucks"...

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...to explain what the dependent clause means...

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...and what the dependent clause means is that Mr. Johnson... is a jerk.

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Let's try another. Say we have the sentence, "Because the parents were too lazy to go

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into the bathroom, they changed their baby's diaper at their table in the middle of the

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restaurant."

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If the dependent clause "Because the parents were too lazy to go into the bathroom" stood

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on its own, we'd be lost. And quite intrigued.

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This sentence fragment needs its main clause, "They changed their baby's diaper at their

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table in the middle of the restaurant"...

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...to provide context...

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...and the context provided is that some people... are nasty.

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There are some easy ways to check whether or not a sentence is actually a sentence fragment.

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If there's a verb, then it's probably a sentence.

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If there's only one word...

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...and that word is an exclamation or a command...

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...then it's a sentence.

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If it's a dependent clause with no main clause to tag along with, it's a sentence

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fragment. And now we must excuse Mary. She's going

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to pay Mr. Johnson back for his lousy tip by slipping some hand soap into his salad.