The Scoop on Sentence Fragments

Mar 16, 2008 | Grammar and Usage, Proofreading

The Scoop on Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments pop up in everyone’s writing from time to time. For formal writing, it’s important to be able to write complete sentences: sentence fragments must be avoided at all costs. But in creative writing, fragments can be okay—if you know what you’re doing.

There are many situations in your creative writing when you will want to deliberately use a sentence fragment. Sure, your inner third grader might hear echoes of your teacher’s voice demanding that a sentence have a subject AND a verb. But with creative writing, those rules fly out the window.

Some examples of sentence fragments in creative writing:

Sentence fragments are often successfully used in poetry, such as this haiku by Basho.

an old pond-

the sound of a frog

jumping into water

Advertising agencies and copywriters also make frequent use of sentence fragments to add “punch” to their copy. It lends a conversational tone and makes the message more personal, less formal.

Cockroaches in the pantry? Try Roach-Away!

Silk sheets in all the brightest colors. Soft pastels in every hue.

Everything you need for spring!

Political slogans also make use of sentence fragments.

Bob Dole. A better man for a better America!

Submit to Review Board

Creative writers often use sentence fragments in dialogue, as this more accurately depicts the patterns of our natural speech.

“Is that you, Mr. Jones? Why don’t you pull up a chair and join me?”

“No can do. Too much work to do. Terrible, really.”

“I see you’re using sentence fragments. Aren’t you afraid of retribution?”

“Hardly! Retribution from whom? My high school English teacher?”

To emphasize a point:

“Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous!”

Or as an afterthought:

“I’ve searched everywhere,” she said, defeated. “Except, perhaps, the drugstore on Main Street…”

The conclusion? Sometimes sentence fragments can be effective in creative writing (as opposed to formal writing). The important thing is to use fragments deliberately instead of accidentally, and to do that, a writer must be able to recognize the difference between complete sentences and fragments.

Also, be careful to use sentence fragments sparingly—otherwise, your writing may sound choppy or, worse, you could face a visit from your high school English teacher.

Our proofreaders are ready to check YOUR manuscripts for unnecessary sentence fragments!