Do you remember the old TV show Fraggle Rock? I do, with longing and regret. All of my friends were talking about how great that show was and how if you were anyone of importance you were watching it as well. Alas, I lived in the country in the early 80s. I had three channels on my TV.
In order to get the extremely desired and elusive fourth channel that Fraggle Rock was aired on, I had to stand and wiggle the dial, and my little sister had to stand in front of the TV and shake about as if in a frantic seizure. It was work, but it was worth it because once in awhile we would get little glimmers of Fraggle Rock.
Glimmers enough to know that something cool was going on, but sadly not enough to be able to talk about it at school and appear as one of the “cool” people. You see what we heard were little things like this, “Because the cat” or “After the party." What? We were struck with fragmented Fraggles, and it was a damn shame.
I couldn’t help but think of my sister and I and our frantic fraggle viewing this week when I met with a student who was really struggling with sentence fragments. The simple definition of the sentence fragment is that it’s just an incomplete sentence. The big fancy grammar definition is that a sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence that has become separated from the main clause. I went with the easy definition and then gave her some examples like:
If he runs.
When it rains.
Jump all around.
After the movie begins.
She was super smart and caught on pretty fast. We worked through some sentences that she had written and revised the heck out of those fragments, and here is an example of our before and after:
Original – I like Hot Tamales. Because they are intense!
Corrected – I like Hot Tamales because they are intense!
It was then that she hit me with a question that made me nervous, “Is it ever ok to use sentence fragments?” I looked at her and said, “Yes, but don’t tell anyone I said that. This conversation doesn’t leave the Writing Center.”
Sentence Fragments are loved or hated; it doesn’t seem as if there is much of a middle ground with them. People who like them use them all of the time. I have already used several in this post!
I find that I write sentence fragments quite frequently but not in the “If he runs” style of fragmenting. In my writing I use fragments to prove a point, be funny, or just emphasize the fact that my mind is in fact in its own fragmented state of thought.
In the article “About Those Sentence Fragments” by C.T. Shades, sentence fragments are joyfully uplifted and defended. Shades says that fragments are ok because, “our thinking almost all occurs by way of the sentence fragment route, and almost never, if ever, by route of a complete sentence” (1223). Shades also writes that “effective writing often contains many sentence fragments…” (1233). So how do you know when to use one? When is it ok? I think the answers to these questions greatly depend on the intended audience and topic of your paper.
I use them when I feel that my point needs a bit of emphasis. Now some scholars will argue that a sentence fragment is a sentence that needs to be developed, and you know that is a point that is hard to argue. However, sometimes three little words is all you need to prove a point. You just have to make sure they are the right ones, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.
Does this mean that you should be out there writing papers with all sorts of incomplete sentences and weird three word phrases? No. That would be sad. So, instead wait until you have mastered writing the “cool” version of a fragment and try to steer clear of them or perhaps instead ease into them.
Still having problems? Here are some ways you can help yourself to catch those sentence fragments:
Read your paper out loud one sentence at a time. After each sentence ask
yourself if the sentence has a subject, verb, and shows a complete thought.
Try starting at the end of the paper and read each sentence in reverse
order. Although this sounds strange, it is a method that really works! This
will help you to focus on each sentence individually and make it easier to
notice if it is missing anything important.
You can also mosey on down to the writing center and ask for some help. We have a handy dandy brown handout that includes some of the information I have listed, and it also goes into greater detail about the sentence fragment.
Don’t be like my sister and me! Don’t leave your professor feeling as if he’s not one of the cool kids when he just can't "get" your incomplete sentences. Save those fragments for perfect moments.
Like this one.