Fragmented Thoughts – Dellani Oakes

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerMost people don’t know a sentence fragment if it comes up and bites them in the face. What makes a fragment? To explain that, I need to explain what a sentence is.

A sentence is a complete thought expressed with a Subject (someone who does something) and a Verb (the action the subject takes)

I sit.
You run.
He eats.

Though short, these are complete thoughts. They are sentences. Fragments are hard to spot. They may seem to express a full thought, but some element is missing. Fragments aren’t necessarily short. What classifies them as a fragment is that they are missing one of the key elements – subject or verb.

I see these posts on Facebook a lot— “That moment when I realize I’ve just written a fragment.”

On the surface, this looks like a sentence, but it’s not.
This is my sentence:  I realize I’ve just written a fragment.

This is what makes it a fragment:  That moment when

This is a dependent clause. They’re sneaky buggers that attach themselves to sentences and make them look like they are legitimate compound sentences (where you take 2 sentences & combine them) Dependent clauses have to be correctly attached in order to make a proper sentence.

That moment when isn’t a complete thought. It could go anywhere. There are too many variables here. That’s what a fragment is – an incomplete thought, a dependent clause with too many variables. It needs a subject and verb.

“But wait!” you say. “I see a subject and verb right there I realize I’ve just written a fragment. That’s all kinds of verbs and I is obviously the subject. Why is it wrong?”

It’s wrong because That moment when can’t make sense on its own. Rather than adding to the sentence like a compound would, it attaches itself and makes a fragment of the whole business.

To correct a fragment, you need to add a subject or verb to the broken half. In the case of our sample fragment, the cure is simple.

It is that moment when I realize I’ve just written a fragment.
Or This is that moment when I realize I’ve just written a fragment.

Now, we have a properly crafted sentence. It is that moment is a complete thought. True, it’s not a very expressive sentence on its own, which is why we add it to the second have using when to connect them.

This is that moment when I realize I’ve just written a correct sentence.

Fragments aren’t always easy to spot. If you’re not sure about whether something is a fragment or not, do this simple test. Divide the sentence at the joining word (conjunction). If the two halves can stand on their own, present a complete thought and have a subject and verb, you have a sentence. If they can’t stand alone, you have a fragment. Look for alternative ways to word the sentence so it’s no longer a fragment. Often, the solution is a simple one.

For a list of common conjunctions

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