Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Common Problems (Part 50 of 50)

Watch those fragments. A sentence must have a subject or a verb and it must be able to stand alone as a complete thought. After I waited for Tom contains a subject and a verb, but it's not a complete thought.

Careful use of fragments can add meaning and power to your writing. For example: I was absolutely happy. For now. Those last two words are a fragment but they raise a question or produce doubt. The fragment is also closely connected to the full sentence it follows.

In the following paragraph, notice the fragments, and yet they make sense:
They missed the people from whom they had fled. They missed the sight, the sound, even the smell of Africans. The sing-song chanting of workers in the fields. The tangy smell of wood smoke in the early evening.
The fragment also works well (when used cautiously) in action scenes.
In what follows Jason is running his first marathon: He pushed past the first group of runners and was only a dozen yards behind the two leaders. He pushed forward. Too fast. He had to control his pace to win the race. Easy. Easy now. Sneak up behind them.
I used fragments. The first is Too fast. I could have written: It was too fast or he moved too quickly. But the purpose is to make readers feel as if they're running with Jason and are inside him. The same for Easy. Easy now. Sneak up behind them.

It's all right to use sentence fragments occasionally 
—as long as the meaning is clear.


  1. Cec,

    I notice that this is the last of your 50-part series on common problems. Hooray!!! I am very grateful to you for fine-tuning my writing skills - I'm in my first few months of getting pieces published. I'm thankful you've explored principles that are usually caught than taught. You're an awesome teacher.

    You took a complex body of knowledge and broke it down into disgestable bits. A fine feast it has been. Thank you for reaching across the miles and tutoring me via the series. I'm deeply grateful for you!

    Lynn Hare
    Portland, Oregon

  2. We're already at #50? Thank you for taking the time to teach us these nuggets of writing wisdom. We're better writers because of you.



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