Fragmented Sentences – Are They Really Bad?

Every writer who has used Word will be familiar with the phrase ‘fragmented sentence’.  It’s usually flagged up because it thinks the sentence is incomplete and therefore not grammatically correct, for example:

A lot of rain.

The children outside.

A fragmented sentence is a clause that is missing a subject and a verb, so it appears as though it’s an incomplete thought. The subject is the who or what of a sentence and it gives the reader extra information within the sentence. And without a subject, there is nothing and no one to complete the action, which means the sentence is expressing an incomplete thought – it appears fragmented, for example:

A lot of time and effort.

As it stands, this sentence doesn’t form a complete thought – it’s doesn’t have a subject or a verb. The verb tells the reader what the subject is doing, so if there is no verb, readers won’t have a complete picture. The inclusion of a verb provides the action in the sentence, for example:

A lot of time and effort would bring him results.

In this revised sentence, a subject (results) is now included, as well as a verb (bring), which turns the sentence into a dependent clause. The sentence is now grammatically correct and shows the reader a complete thought.

Some fragmented sentences are easy to spot when you read back through your work, while others are not as easy. Word will point out all of fragments, but some will be correct sentence fragments and others will be incorrectly flagged as a fragment. This is where it becomes less black or white, because not all sentence fragments are bad or necessarily grammatically incorrect.

There are occasions where writers use deliberately use sentence fragments to their advantage to create context or dramatic effect, for example:

He remained cold, somewhat detached from his swollen anger. He was glad of John’s demise. Drowned in a pool of his own blood.

Here the effect is dramatic and blunt. The deliberately fragmented sentence adds to the tone, so ‘drowned in his own blood’ is a bold statement to the reader. But while it may not be entirely grammatically correct, and it’s not a complete thought, the preceding sentences have a relationship with the fragment, so when read as a whole, it all makes sense because it’s telling us that the character is glad of John’s demise, and then tells us how it happened. If the sentence were placed on its own, then it wouldn’t make a lot of sense, because it has no tangible relationship to any other sentences.

Fragmented sentences can also be one word, for example.

Voices. He was sure they were there. In the shadows.

In this example, ‘Voices’ is a fragment because it doesn’t have a verb or a subject to complete a thought. Also, ‘In the shadows’ is also a fragment. But to create the right dramatic effect, the writer has deliberately fragmented them to show the reader the mood and tone.

Context is everything. It’s up to the writer to decide if they want to use a fragmented sentence to create a specific effect for the reader, or whether to correct the fragment. Writers who use them correctly show an awareness of how to create tone, and can command the reader’s attention, but used incorrectly, they could have the opposite effect.

Fragmented sentences are not all bad. They can enhance the writing. Just know how to use them to your advantage, and when not to use them.

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