Sentence Fragments

As an instructor for introductory English courses at a variety of colleges, I have seen many students use incomplete sentences, otherwise known as sentence fragments. These are very common, but can be easily fixed. Unfortunately, many students struggle with this issue.

A sentence fragment occurs when a sentence is missing an essential element necessary for the sentence to be complete. In order for a group of words to be a sentence, it has to contain three things:

  1. A subject
  2. A verb
  3. A complete thought, object, or main clause

If a group of words does not have all of three of these components, it is not a sentence. This seems easy, but can sometimes be tricky when you have a dependent clause.

One way you can see if your sentence is complete is to read it by itself, out of the context of the words around it. If a sentence says something like, “Such as fiberglass, plastic, or glass,” what does this tell you? Essentially, it says nothing. We have no idea what these items are describing. We have no verb and we have no subject, just a clause.

Likewise, if you have a sentence that says, “Making a big impact on the classroom,” you should realize this is an incomplete sentence. What is the subject? What is the verb “making” referring to? Who or what is “making” in this situation?

More rarely, some students might forget to include the verb. An incomplete sentence like this might look like: “The new Smartboard a big impact on the classroom.” In this situation, what is going on here? What is “the new Smartboard” doing? Without a verb, we don’t know exactly what is going on.

Take a look at the two short videos about sentence fragments, and then take the short quiz game and see how well you can avoid sentence fragments.



Quiz Game:

These great resources can help you easily learn to identify sentence fragments so you can avoid them in your writing.

Jenny Mark

Jenny Mark is a graduate of California State University of San Bernardino and lives in Southern California. She is a part time professor for Baker College, Southern New Hampshire University, Vista College, and Baker College. She teachs composition, creative writing, and essential college skills. Check out her blog at

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