Avoiding sentence fragments

Editing_and_proofreading_blog_212Microsoft Word is very good at pointing out faults to us, but it isn’t always clear what they are getting at.  The idea of sentence fragments often has people cursing their screen.

A sentence fragment is missing one of the signs of a whole sentence:

  • a subject,
  • a verb,
  • a complete thought.

This can make the logical progression of your writing unclear to the reader.

Incomplete sentences are a regular feature of creative writing and journalism, but it is not formal enough for academic writing, apart from tables, figures, & brief summaries.

Sentence fragments may be more difficult to identify when they consist of a dependent clause that has both a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone. For example:

  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased. Whereas sales of strawberry have dropped.
  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased. And the sales of strawberry have dropped.

Both examples have a complete sentence first, followed by a fragment. The second sentence makes no sense on its own. If you are asked to update the board briefly, saying the first sentence makes sense in each case. If you just read them the second sentence of the pair, they would think you were mad.

Both second sentences begin with conjunctions, so you can fix the problem by replacing the first full stop with a comma:

  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased, whereas sales of strawberry have dropped.
  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased, and sales of strawberry have dropped.

You now have 2 complete sentences, each made of 2 clauses.

The other way to fix the problem is to rewrite the second sentence, so that the link with the first sentence is completely clear:

  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased. In contrast, sales of strawberry have dropped.
  • Demand for chocolate ice cream increased. Additionally, sales of strawberry have dropped.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader. I work with a wide range of clients, from companies to self publishing authors. I can help you to communicate clearly in print or on line by providing a fresh pair of eyes, carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas to improve the flow of your message.
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