How can you differentiate a sentence from a fragment?

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vmoriarity | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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There are several ways to differentiate a sentence from a fragment. 

First of all, a sentence must have a subject, a noun or a pronoun.  You can determine the subject by asking yourself, "Who or what is this sentence about?"

For example:  Our country's birthday is celebrated each July 4th.  Who or what is this sentence about?  Our country's birthday.  If we narrowed this down to the simple subject, you would ask yourself which word the sentence is mainly about, which is "birthday".

Second, you must locate the predicate.  You can determine the predicate by asking yourself "What is the subject doing?" or "What about the subject?"

For example:  Our country's birthday is celebrated each July 4th.  What is the birthday doing or what about the birthday? The birthday "is celebrated each July 4th."  The verb or main linking or action word in this predicate is "is".

One problem my students frequently have is this final step.  You must then ask yourself, "If someone came up to me and said these words, would the thought feel finished?"  A sentence must express a complete thought. 

Look at the following examples.  Do they express complete thoughts if someone came up to you and said them?

1.  Our country's birthday  (No - What about it? I would be waiting for you to finish that thought, so this is a fragment.)

2.  Is celebrated each July 4th (No - What is celebrated each July 4th?  I would be waiting for you finish that thought, so this is a fragment.)

3.  Because our country's birthday is celebrated each July 4th   (No - I would be waiting for you to finish your thought.  This indicates another thought is coming.  Maybe, Because our country's birthday is celebrated each July 4th, families watch fireworks together.  Now, this thought feels finished and makes sense. 

Number three is an example of a complex sentence because the first part is a dependent clause (or fragment) that cannot stand along and the second part of the sentence is and independent clause or complete sentence that can stand alone.  

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