4 Tips to Avoid Fragmented Sentences

4 Tips to Avoid Fragmented Sentences

Hello everyone! I’m Mr Ng Guo Liang, an English Language Curriculum Specialist and Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty.

In this blog post, I’m going to address something English language teachers quite certainly hate dealing with: sentence fragments. I want you to imagine holding a shard of glass or a broken fragment of glass. If you look at the fragment of glass, you know what it is: a piece of glass, but you also know that that piece is incomplete on its own and that more of such pieces of glass are needed for there to be something ‘complete’. That’s what it’s like for teachers when we read fragmented sentences — we sense what you mean to say, but it reads awkwardly because it is not ‘complete’.


What are fragmented sentences?

Sentence fragments — or fragmented sentences — can be more simply understood as incomplete sentences. In the same way you would know that a glass fragment is something incomplete or broken off from something ‘complete’, fragmented sentences are sentences in which you can sense that some information is missing for the sentence to be complete. This is a very common problem we teachers come across in students’ writing, and we often take a very long time to either address the problem, or to teach students how to avoid them. Which is why I thought I should write about it in this blog post.

And there it is, my dear readers, a perfect example of a fragmented sentence: “Which is why I thought I should write about it in this blog post.”

The word ‘which’ is a relative pronoun; in simpler terms, it is a word used in the middle of a clause or sentence to refer to something previously mentioned in that same sentence. For example, in the sentence ‘The blog post which you are reading now is about sentence fragments.’, it is very clear to us all that the word ‘which’ refers to ‘The blog post’, and it is clear because ‘The blog post’ is literally present in the sentence immediately before the word ‘which’.

However, what does the word ‘which’ in the sentence “Which is why I thought I should write about it in this blog post.” refer to? We don’t know because nothing came before it in the sentence! Hence, we say that the sentence is fragmented; the missing information renders the sentence incomplete.


How do I avoid writing fragmented sentences?

Wondering how you can avoid making such a mistake in your writing? Read on and find out how you can avoid sentence fragments by following these 4 simple suggestions:

1. Avoid using ‘which, who, like, such as’ to start your sentences

The first tip I have is to avoid starting sentences with words or phrases that are used to refer to something else. Some very common ones are ‘which’, ‘who’, ‘like’, and ‘such as’. All of these words are used to refer to things mentioned earlier on in a sentence. Some examples are:

  • The dinner I had today was good because I ate my favourite dish. Which was very tasty.
  • It had many of my favourite dishes. Like the dinner I had yesterday.
  • My favourite teacher was Mrs Loh. Who made maths easier for me.
  • I do not like subjects which I find difficult. Such as English and mathematics.

2. Avoid starting sentences with continuous (-ing) verbs

Starting a sentence with a continuous verb is fine if you know what you’re doing. (I just did!) However, for my readers who are less confident, my advice is to avoid doing so in your writing because there is a risk that you might end up with a fragmented sentence if you are careless. An example would be:

Jumping up and down with joy when I found out that there were no fragmented sentences in my writing.

Here, the reader knows that the person is happy because he or she made no grammar mistakes in his writing. However, the sentence reads awkwardly because it almost seems as if more needs to be said and that a comma should be inserted at the end instead of a full stop. There is just a sense that something is missing! This is because the continuous verb ‘jumping’ was used at the start of the sentence and this implies that there is a second action that should follow it, for instance:

Jumping up and down with joy when I found out that there were no fragmented sentences in my writing, I let out a whoop of delight. (second action)

To prevent this problem from happening, you should avoid using a continuous verb to start a sentence and use a subject instead:

I jumped up and down with joy when I found out that there were no fragmented sentences in my writing. (Complete sentence with the subject ‘I’)

The technique I used to correct the fragmented sentence above also happens to be my next tip!


3. Start sentences with a person, place, or thing

Notice how the fragmented sentence that started with the continuous verb ‘Jumping’ became complete once I amended it to start with a person: the pronoun ‘I’. Why is that so? This has to do with the way our language works. Without going into the complicated technicalities of the grammar, the simplest explanation I can provide is that the English language naturally follows a ‘subject—verb’ order. In English, when both the subject (‘I’) and its verb (‘jumped’) are present, it is much easier to form a complete sentence thereafter — and the most common subjects in English are people, places, and things.

I am not suggesting however, that all of your sentences be formed using the subject- verb structure. I would also discourage you from doing so because your writing would end up being predictable and bland. Using a variety of sentence structures is absolutely crucial in writing and also important for the development of one’s language competency. What I am saying, is that when you do spot a fragmented sentence in your writing, amending it using the subject-verb structure is one simple but effective way to go. It should not change the fact that your writing should consist of a variety of sentence structures!

That being said, how does one check for fragmented sentences?


4. Checking for sentence fragments: sentence isolation

As the heading would suggest, one simple way to check for sentence fragments is to isolate a sentence from all the others, and to see if it makes any sense on its own. I’ll use some of the examples I used above to illustrate this:

  • The dinner I had today was good because I ate my favourite dish. Which was very tasty.
  • It had many of my favourite dishes. Like the dinner I had yesterday.
  • My favourite teacher was Mrs Loh. Who made maths easier for me.
  • I do not like subjects which I find difficult. Such as English and mathematics.

In each of the above examples, the underlined sentences are fragmented. They may have been written beside and in between other sentences. The trick is to first block out all the other sentences from your mind, to isolate and read each sentence on its own like so:

  • Which was very tasty.
  • Like the dinner I had yesterday.
  • Who made maths easier for me.
  • Such as English and mathematics.

The next step is to read each sentence and ask yourself if it makes sense on its own. Ask yourself if there is information missing in the sentence:

  • Which was very tasty.
    Question: What does ‘which’ refer to? Was it mentioned in this same sentence?
  • Like the dinner I had yesterday.
    Question: What exactly is like the dinner you had yesterday? Was it mentioned in this same sentence?
  • Who made maths easier for me.
    Question: Who exactly made maths easier for you? Was it mentioned in this same sentence?
  • Such as English and mathematics.
    Question: ‘Such as’ is usually used to introduce examples in a sentence. English and mathematics are examples of what exactly? Was it mentioned in this same sentence?

 

Notice that when you isolate a sentence from other sentences, and read it on its own, it becomes much easier for the eyes and mind to check if it makes sense. If a sentence does not make sense in isolation, it is very likely that is so because some information is missing from that sentence, hence signalling that it is indeed a fragmented sentence and should be amended.

As I come to the end of the post, here’s a quick summary of the things you can practise to avoid writing fragmented sentences:

  1. Avoid using ‘which, who, like, such as’ to start your sentences
  2. Avoid starting sentences with continuous (-ing) verbs
  3. Start sentences with a person, place, or thing
  4. When checking, isolate a sentence and read it to see if it makes sense on its own

 

There are, of course, many other ways in which one can go about avoiding fragmented sentences. However, I wanted to share the ones I found to be most useful myself and the ones that, in my opinion, are simple enough for anyone to practise regardless of his or her command of the English language. I hope that you’ll be able to put some of the suggestions I’ve mentioned above to good use and that it’ll be helpful in helping you to avoid writing fragmented sentences. Do put these tips to good use in the future!

On behalf of the Lil’ but Mighty family, stay happy, stay safe, and stay healthy!


Lil' but Mighty Secondary School Schedule

Mr. Ng

Mr Ng firmly believes that there is a strong correlation between effort and eventual success, and that finding success in English is something that is attainable by all of his students regardless of their background and starting point. He has a strong love and passion for the language and hopes to inspire that same passion in his students through his lessons. That being said, he looks forward to bringing out the best in his students and guiding them to fulfil the potential they all have.

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