Grammar Wednesday

Sentence Fragments!

I haven’t seen a whole lot of bloggers who suffer from fragmentation – at least, not in their grammar; their lives are another story entirely – and I don’t read fanfic, so I’ve got no references there, but my students? Goodness, but those children can write fragments all day long and never think twice about it!

There are five things that make a sentence complete. When I teach these five things, I give my students the Vulcan salute and hope that the gesture will help them to remember. First, a complete sentence must have a capital letter at the beginning. Second, a complete sentence has to have some form of end punctuation. Next, a complete sentence has both a subject and a verb (though the subject isn’t always a word in the sentence – we’ll get to that in a minute). Finally, a complete sentence must express a complete thought.

Jayson doesn’t like pea soup.

RUN!

In the first sentence, Jayson (capitalized both because it’s a proper noun and because it appears at the beginning of a sentence) is our subject. Does like is our verb (not is an adverb and is not part of our verb; does is a helping verb that needs, in this case, like to have the sentence make sense). There’s a period at the end of the sentence and, when we’ve reached that period, we know not to put a bowl of pea soup in front of Jayson because he likely won’t eat it; our thought is completely expressed.

The second sentence is, indeed, a complete sentence, even though we’ve only got one word. We’ve got the requisite capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. We’ve got a subject, too, even though it’s not expressed in a word; our subject, in this case, is the “you, understood” that often comes with commands. Our verb is pretty clear, and the thought expressed is likewise complete – you need to get out, and fast!

The problem my students seem to have is with the final requirement for complete sentences. They’re pretty good with capital letters, and most of the time there’s punctuation that indicates the end of a structure. They’ve gotten pretty good at putting subjects and verbs in their sentences, though they continue to have s/v agreement issues. No, their problem comes from not being able to always express complete thoughts. More often than not, I’ll see sentences like:

Because she knew it was wrong.

or

Even though I did what you asked.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, I tell my students not to start their sentences with conjunctions. If we take the “because” off of the first sentence, we’ve got a lovely structure; She knew it was wrong. While we don’t know what “it” was, we do know that she knew it was wrong, and really, that’s enough. The “because” complicates things, though; did she do something because she knew it was wrong? Did she choose not to do it because she knew it was wrong? Did she report it? Cover it up? What?

The thing is, there’s a subject (she) and a verb (knew) and a capital letter and end punctuation. The problem comes from the writer assuming we know the rest of the story.

The second sentence is even worse, in my opinion. Even though I did what you asked really only begins to express a thought; what we need is a comma and the rest of that thought:

Even though I did what you asked, you still recorded a failing grade.

Even though I did what you asked, you continue to refuse to take my calls.

Even though I did what you asked, I got in trouble with our boss.

Again, we’ve got a subject (I) and a verb (did), but we’re missing some essential information to help us find out what the consequences were of doing what I asked.

Recognize, please, that this is only something I’m picky about in formal writing. I use sentence fragments all the time in blogging or when I speak – it’s a natural part of conversation, really, because you already have the information necessary to make the fragment make sense. In formal, turn-it-in-for-grades writing, or for formal business writing or for submitting entries to newspapers or magazines, though, every sentence should be complete.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone. Live long, and prosper.

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4 Comments

Filed under about writing, frustrations, Grammar, great writing

4 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. M-Dawg

    Great lesson – as usual! 🙂

    Happy Hump Day! 🙂

  2. Whew! I’m glad you put that disclaimer in about formal vs. informal writing/speaking…’cause I’m one of those writers who uses [Ahem, note the singular verb, please!] fragments a lot in my scribblings.

  3. I’m so glad that someone else appreciates good grammar! I just graduated with my degree in special education. I love meeting other teacher bloggers. I don’t blog about teaching much, as I don’t have a job yet (December is a hard time to graduate), but it can be rather amusing at times just the same.

  4. Julia

    I taught composition and I was amazed at what my students thought were complete sentences!

    I would ask, however, that the teachers of the world explain why they are asking students not to start a sentence with a conjunction. And once the students have eliminated the conjunctions, perhaps there could some discussion of when they CAN be used and why. I remember my younger years and having teachers tell us never to start sentences with conjunctions. Period. Never any discussion of when they can be used correctly. I’ve been collaborating online in some classes and I’ve gotten in some heated arguments about this. They never believe me when I tell them I’ve used a conjunction correctly at the beginning of a sentence and they will demand that it be rewritten.

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