Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (17 Sentence Fragments)


Sentence Fragments

Good morning editing students! Today we’re going to tackle sentence fragments, which is something copy editors frequently tag as being a knotty issue in writing. The problem is, they’re only problematic half of the time.

Which half? The narrative half. <— Aha! A sentence fragment. <— Another one! Ni! I said it again! Ni! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIV4poUZAQo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_who_say_Ni)

Ahem. And now for something completely different.

So, what is a sentence fragment and when shouldn’t you use it? A sentence fragment is a group of words used as a sentence but missing some of the parts of a sentence. Way back in school, you may remember learning that a sentence needs three parts: a noun, a verb, and a subject. “The ape ate bananas.” A sentence can have more parts than that—“The chubby ape ate many bananas yesterday.”—but those three parts are the basics. As you can see in the examples above, the groups of words “a sentence fragment” or “the narrative half” have no verb. Generally, the key to realizing something is a fragment is a missing verb.

The reason sentence fragments are used so commonly is because people tend to speak in fragments. Listen to yourself speaking to others, and to their responses, and you’ll notice speech is filled with fragments. And that is exactly when it is ok to use them.

Hey, Mike! What’s up?”

Nothing. Same as yesterday.” (fragments)

Never anything different, eh?” (fragment)

“Get together next week?” (fragment)

I guess. Let me see what Cheryl says.” (first is fragment)

Fragments in dialogue are all right. Non-dialogue speech is called narrative—the descriptive or storytelling parts of writing. In narrative, writing should be grammatically correct. That means no fragments. Example:

Shyla walked to the store in the evening. No lights. No cars. Not even the usual patrol car. She glanced back over her shoulder. Nobody.

Aaack! This is a test of the Emergency Editorial System. This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, your editor would have fainted. Let’s try it this way.

Shyla walked to the store in the evening. There weren’t any lights or cars—not even the usual patrol car. She glanced back over her shoulder. Nobody was visible.

Do you see? These are whole sentences, including verbs. The one fragment, “not even the usual patrol car,” is now connected to the sentence with an em dash. Since it’s not standing alone, it’s ok.

Microsoft Word’s spell check system can alert you to the use of fragments. When you run a spell check, it will highlight fragments. The problem is, many times there are so many of them in dialogue that writers get used to saying, “Ignore this,” and ignore it in narrative, too. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell Word to only highlight narrative fragments.

Some authors deliberately write in fragments, even when in narrative sections. It isn’t correct, however. Have you noticed the “sentence fragment” tag when spell checking your work? What did you do about it?

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing




48 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (17 Sentence Fragments)

  1. Shyla walked to the story in the evening. There weren’t any lights or cars—not even the usual patrol car. She glanced back over her shoulder. Nobody was visible. She hadn’t really expected anyone to be visible. That’s just the way it is when you walk to stories.


    Liked by 1 person

        • No, no–say you did it on purpose to a) see if we are awake, and b) make us feel better (or convince us that everyone needs an editor) by showing that things can always slip past us!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Susan and some of you have heard this before, but it’s my favorite, so I’ll repeat it. :> It shows the REAL value of an good editor!

            A major medical journal published a major research article on secondhand smoke and heart disease. It was written by some of the biggest heavy-hitting luminaries in the field, was fully peer-reviewed, and was even put online for many many people to read and give input on before finally being fully published.

            In THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE of the fully published paper, right at the top of the opening formal Abstract, the authors headlined the need to address the problem of “workplace and pubic smoking.”

            I’ve had SOOOO much fun poking at that typo over the past couple of years. Yeah, it’s a “cheap shot,” but since I’m “the opposition” to the guys who wrote it and they get well over a hundred times my level of income for their efforts (and then have the gall to deride me for getting ANY income from mine at all!), I can’t say I feel too guilty.

            I’ll probably be telling that story while sitting next to the fireplace when I’m 99 years old! (If I’m lucky! LOL!)



  2. Your posts have been helping me in my work, as I have a checklist to rate the books I read and leave comments for authors when necessary. Sentence fragments was one of those I recently did. I appreciate these useful articles.



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