I have written about sentence fragments before in posts about common grammatical mistakes, but I think it’s time now for a full explanation. In this post, I will explain what a sentence fragment is, why it is such a big problem, and how to avoid them.
What are sentence fragments?
To put it simply, a sentence fragment is a group of words that is used as a sentence, but which is not actually a proper sentence. For example:
Because she was hungry.
This is a sentence fragment because it is not a grammatically complete sentence. It begins with an idea that is not completed.
To explain further, all sentences in English should have the following three things:
- A subject
- A verb
- A complete thought
The above sentence had a subject (“she”) and a verb (“was”) but it lacked a complete thought. That is actually a very common occurrence in IELTS essays.
What do I mean by a “complete thought”?
The most common way that a sentence lacks a complete thought is by being only a dependent clause. That means a clause that includes a subordinating conjunction (such as “because,” “although,” “while,” “if,” etc). These need to be attached to an independent clause because they introduce an idea that is only completed in the independent clause.
Take the above example again:
Because she was hungry.
This has no meaning on its own because it needs to be attached to an independent clause, such as:
She ate five cookies.
This sentence is perfect because it has a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. Thus, to fix the sentence fragment, we can append it to the independent clause:
- She ate five cookies because she was hungry.
- Because she was hungry, she ate five cookies.
Why are sentence fragments such a big problem?
If your IELTS essay includes a sentence fragment, you will probably get a very low score. That is because a sentence fragment is considered an extremely basic mistake. Thus, you should strive to avoid them.
English grammar is difficult, but there are various degrees of error. Making a small comma error would not affect your score much, and misusing a difficult tense would also have a minimal impact. However, a sentence fragment would be considered a very serious mistake and could limit you to just a band 5 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy (GRA).
For this reason, you really must learn to:
- avoid making this sort of error.
- spot this error when proofreading your essay.
- fix this error when you find it.
Fortunately, we’ll see that fixing a sentence fragment is actually quite easy.
How to fix a sentence fragment
Even though sentence fragments are really serious mistakes, they are actually quite easy to correct. You just have to have a good understanding of clauses. You can read about independent and dependent clauses here.
As I said above, all sentences in English need a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. Thus, if you find a sentence that lacks this, you simply need to add the missing part.
The most common mistake, as I mentioned above, is using a dependent clause as a full sentence. Here are some examples:
- Although it is raining outside.
- Because he was too confident.
- If you are thirsty.
We can fix these simply by adding independent clauses:
- Although it is raining outside, we will go for a walk.
- Because he was too confident, he made a silly mistake.
- If you are thirsty, you can grab a drink.
(Remember that you also invert the order to put the independent clause first. Just omit the comma when you do that.)
Sentence fragments may also occur because of a missing subject:
- Became sick after walking in the cold rain.
- Ate too much and got a stomachache.
- Forgot the password for his e-mail address.
To fix this, we just add a subject:
- She became sick after walking in the cold rain.
- He ate too much and got a stomachache.
- He forgot the password for his e-mail address.
Finally, a sentence might be missing a verb. This most commonly occurs when someone mistakes an adjective for a verb, so make sure that you understand parts of speech fully. For example:
- They confused about the new rules.
- He knowledgeable about this sort of problem.
- The movie interesting but a little hard to believe.
Of course, we just add an appropriate verb to fix the problem:
- They are confused about the new rules.
- He is knowledgeable about this sort of problem.
- The movie is interesting but a little hard to believe.
See if you can figure out the correct answer to this sentence fragment test:
Sentence fragments are one of the biggest mistakes that you can make in the IELTS writing test, so it is imperative that you avoid them. Thankfully, they are easy to spot and easy to fix. Just figure out what is missing from the sentence and then add the missing part!