The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Grammar Handbook: Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a part of a sentence punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. It is a group of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, exclamation point, or a question mark, but does not express a complete thought.

Phrases as Sentence Fragments

Clauses as Sentence Fragments

Warning: These are only guidelines for spotting a sentence fragment, not hard and fast rules.

A clue that a group of words may be a sentence fragment is that it begins with a subordinator. Often, when a group of words begins with a subordinator, it is a dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence. Some common subordinators are: when, until, after, before, however, while, because, since, though, although, if, so that, so, and where.

Another clue is that the word group begins with a relative pronoun. Some common relative pronouns are: that, who, whose, whom, which, and when.

Using Sentence Fragments

Students should understand that sentence fragments can be used in writing, but that they should be used rarely and cautiously. Pointing out these structures in literature might be a good way to identify the difference between strong use of sentence fragments and weak sentence fragments.

The last word group is a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is used here for emphasis. In this example, the meaning of the fragment is clear.

Misusing Sentence Fragments

It is very easy to misuse sentence fragments. The following piece of writing shows how this misuse can make writing unclear and disorganized.

The last word group is a sentence fragment.