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Basic Grammar and Punctuation

An AARC writing resource

How To Check for Sentence Fragments

When you identify incomplete sentences in your writing, you are also identifying incomplete or unclear ideas. Correcting sentence fragments will make your writing clearer.

Just because a sentence begins with a capital and ends with a period does not make it a complete and grammatically correct sentence. Every sentence must have a subject and a verb AND be a complete thought. 

Sentence Fragment Check #1
Every sentence must have a verb – the action (read, walk, run, learn), or state of being in the sentence. For example:

Wrong – A scene of horror with papers scattered everywhere and chairs overturned. (The scene did what?)

Right – A scene of horror with papers scattered everywhere and chairs overturned greeted the students. (Added the verb 'greeted')

Every sentence must also have a subject – who or what is doing the action in the sentence. For example:

Wrong – Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and wound up drinking all night. (Who did this?)

Right – Jimmy Buffet ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and wound up drinking all night. (Added the 'who' to the sentence.)

Sentence Fragment Check #2
Sometimes students mistake a ing-word (a gerund) or the to-form (infinitive) for the verb. Both the ing-word and the to-form can act as subjects, but they are not verbs.

Check that any ing-word or to-form is part of a complete idea. Your sentence should answer the question who does what and shouldn't leave a question remaining.

Wrong  Studying late into the night. (Who studied?)

Right – We studied late into the night. (Added a subject) 

Wrong – We ran to the store. To buy soda. (Who bought the soda?)

Right – We ran to the store to buy soda but forgot to get chips. (Added to the subject and verb)

Sentence Fragment Check #3

A subordinating conjunction is sometimes called "a heart word" because it turns two sentences into one. Even though both sentences contain a subject and verb, one becomes dependent on the other and cannot stand alone. One sentence becomes the explaining idea for the main idea.

Any time you see words like since, because, although, while, when, where, before, or after, check that your sentence doesn't leave a question remaining. For example:

Wrong - Since he came late to class. (What happened when he was late?)
Right - He forgot to give the teacher his homework since he came late to class.
 
Wrong - When she noticed it missing. (What happened when she noticed?)
Right - The teacher asked for his homework when she noticed it missing.

How to fix sentence fragments #1:
Read the words between each capital and period out loud.  Do you see a subject and verb – can you determine who does what? If you're missing either subject or verb, rewrite your sentence to add them.

Wrong – Searching for my lost shaker of salt. (Who is searching?)

Right – I searched for my lost shaker of salt.

Wrong – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool lake, fish biting. (What is the verb?)

Right – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool lake, and fish biting are great!

How to fix sentence fragments #2:
Read the words between each capital and period out loud.  Do you see a subject and verb – can you determine who does what? If you have a sentence fragment, check to see if it belongs with the sentence immediately before or after. 

Wrong – I had to study over the weekend. Because it was finals week next week.

Right – I had to study over the weekend because it was finals week next week.

Wrong – Getting into the car, driving through the forest, and feeling the wind blowing in my hair. It is the best experience ever.

Right – Getting into the car, driving through the forest, and feeling the wind blowing in my hair is the best feeling ever.