Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Top 20 Grammar Errors: The Sentence Fragment

Day Off
I took yesterday off. I mean: I didn’t have to deliver pizzas; I didn’t vacuum; I didn’t do dishes or laundry; I ignored the kids; I left my wife to her own devices. I read a few Raymond Carver short stories, watched some TV, and played way too much Candy Crush. I hate that game, but it was a glorious day off from everything, and I certainly didn’t get any writing done. Any thoughts on grammar yesterday evaporated with my morning coffee, that is for sure.

But shall we continue? Today’s grammar error is number 12: the sentence fragment.

And we all remember what a sentence is, right?

A sentence has to have at least two elements: a subject and a verb. Without either the subject or the verb, you don’t have a sentence. Instead, you have a fragment.

·         The dog the cat.
·         The dog.
·         The chased the cat.
·         Chased the cat.
·         The cat.

All of that above, sentence fragments. They’re wrong.  Don’t do it.
7 Types of Fragments

There are actually seven different types of fragments.

·         Prepositional Phrase
·         Appositional Phrase
·         Participial Phrase
·         Gerund Phrase
·         Infinitive Phrase
·         Adjective Clause
·         Adverb Clause

These are all elements found within a complete complex sentence. All of them are potential sentence fragments.

We’ve already talked about what a preposition word is. The prepositional phrase includes the prepositional word and the phrase connected to that word.

In spite of having done nothing yesterday, I enjoyed my day.

An appositional phrase is a noun-based element lacking a verb.

On my day off, yesterday, I did nothing.

A participial phrase is a non-restrictive element, usually beginning with a past tense verb and acts like an adjective.

I enjoyed my day off, covered in awesome sauce.

A gerund phrase begins with a verb ending in ing. Note that this ing verb or gerund is not a verb. The gerund acts like a noun.

I earn money on the weekends, delivering pizzas.

An infinitive phrase uses the infinitive form of a verb (to eat, to walk, to run, to sleep, etc.)

I deliver pizzas to earn money.

An adjective clause begins with who, which, or that and describes the noun or the subject of the main clause of the sentence.

I had the day off from my pizza delivery job that I normally work on weekends.

The adverb clause begins, normally, with because, if, although, and when and describes the sentence’s verb.

When the weekend rolls around, I go to work.
All of these, if left alone, are fragments:

·         In spite of having done nothing yesterday.
·         Yesterday.
·         Covered in awesome sauce.
·         Delivering pizzas.
·         To earn money.
·         That I normally work on weekends.
·         When the weekend rolls around.
So don’t do any of the above.

Famous Fragments

But check these out:

·         Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain
·         Memory … All alone in the moonlight –from Cats!
·         Farewell, fair cruelty – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
·         LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. –Charles Dickens, Bleak House
·         Scared sick looking at it. – Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
·         Above all Lucy. A risk to own anything: a car, a pair of shoes, a packet of cigarettes. Not enough to go around. Not enough cars, shoes, cigarettes. Too many people, too few things. –J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
·         The preflight pep talk.  – James Ellroy, The Cold Six Thousand

There’s a common thread running through the above examples: they’re all from fiction authors: not academic writing, not newspaper writing, and not technical writing. For example, how many sentence fragments can you find in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! ?

And, can you think of another style of writing that utilizes fragments to a great effect? Here’s a hint:

The Better Picker-upper!

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