Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Light in the Darkness IX

Today's grammar blog concerns fragments. Yes, fragments. Those most famous, or infamous, examples of “breaking the rules for effect”. Fragments can, indeed, be used to great effect, but they must be used carefully. Don't break a rule unless you fully grasp it.

Stolen images. Cooler.

A sentence requires both a subject and a predicate. The lack of one or the other will turn what would otherwise have been a sentence into a fragment. Some sorts of fragments are easy to spot. Take the following examples, for instance.

“The vampire always drank blood. Fresh blood.”

The “fresh blood” is an obvious fragment. It has only an adjectival phrase and nothing else. These sorts of fragments are rarely done unintentionally. The writer does not usually mistake such fragments for sentences. But the following are also fragments, and they are not always noticed.

“Dangling his paws in the water.”

“Because of the thorns in his paws.”

“When the werewolf passed through the forest.”

“The blood-spattered axe hurtling through the air.”

Touching what doesn't belong to you.

The first two examples would likely be caught, but the third and fourth ones are harder to notice. In the first example you can see that there is a lack of subject. Who is dangling his paws? In the second sentence, there is neither subject nor predicate. We have only a phrase introduced by a subordinating conjunction. We don't know who, nor do we know what that mysterious who is doing. But the third example seems a bit more like a sentence. We have someone – a werewolf – doing something – passing through a forest. But the word “when” keeps it from being a sentence. “When” could be an adverb or a subordinating conjunction, just like “because”. The fourth fragment is probably the most difficult to notice. We have something – an axe – doing something – hurtling. We don't have any sort of subordinating conjunction or anything. Why is it not a sentence? It has to do with the verb. “Hurtling” is in the gerund form (the -ing form). In English, the gerund form, when used as the predicate, needs a “helping verb”, something like “was” or “is” “had been”. Without this help, what could have been a sentence deflates into nothing but a participle phrase.

My bad. Didn't mean to bore ya there.

Each of these fragment types has its place, but fragments should be used sparingly. Overuse not only makes the manuscript choppy, it also gives an appearance of sloppiness to your work. Make certain that the fragment is absolutely necessary before using, and never, never use one accidentally.

Until next week, keep those grammar candles burning.  


  1. Great post! If you were ever my editor, you would probably have to make me memorize this post. I'm really bad with fragments, especially if I'm writing an action scene.

  2. Thanks! Hey, fragments are great in small doses, and since action scenes are fast, fragments would help keep the pace brisk.

  3. Excellent post, grammar nazi. :)

  4. *goosesteps and salutes repeatedly*

  5. Thanks, Carolyn! Mrs. A writes the blog, and I find and caption the images. :)


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