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Sentence Fragments

Formula for sentence composition: Subject + Verb = Sentence (complete thought).

Question: Which word group is a fragment?

Dave believed that Louise was right to go.
Because she did not know what Sam meant.

Answer: The second word group (everything from "because" to "meant") is a fragment.

Why? Let's analyze the first word group, which is a sentence.

Dave believed that Louise was right to go.

The subject is underlined once, and the verb is bolded and underlined. The thought begins with "Dave believed.” What did Dave believe? Something about Louise. What about Louise? That she was right to leave. All questions raised within the sentence are answered.

The second word group, on the other hand, raises questions.

Because she did not know what Sam meant.

This word group has a subject (she) and a verb (did know). It is, nonetheless, a fragment, because it does not express a complete thought. The first word of the sentence is "because,” so we know that something happened "because she did not know…” We are never told what happened, however, so the thought is incomplete, and the word group is a fragment.

This particular fragment is called a dependent-word fragment. "Because" refers to something stated either in an imaginary previous sentence or an imaginary following sentence. The easiest way to correct a fragment like this is to make it part of the sentence to which it belongs.

David believed that Louise was right to go because she did not know what Sam meant.
Because she did not know what Sam meant, she was confused.

Word groups that begin with words such as because, unless, while, etc. are often fragments because they usually refer to information not contained within the word groups themselves.

Other common kinds of fragments are added-detail fragments and missing-subject fragments.

Added-detail fragments lack a subject and a verb.

The class often starts late. For example, yesterday at quarter after nine instead of at nine sharp. Today the class started at five after nine.

Missing-subject fragments, appropriately enough, lack a subject.

The truck skidded on the rain-slick highway. But missed a telephone pole on the side of the road.

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