Another problem that can be solved by sentence combining is that of fragments. In the last unit, you learned that run-ons and comma splices are not always long, and in this unit, you’ll learn that fragments are not always short.

What is a fragment? As you might expect from the name, it is a piece or a part of something. A fragment is only part of a sentence, but it’s “pretending” to be a whole sentence. In what way does it pretend to be a sentence? It does this by starting out with a capital letter and ending with a period. A fragment is a group of words that is set up between a capital letter and a period even though it does not meet all three of the requirements of a sentence. To be a sentence, a group of words must have three things:

1. a subject

2. a predicate

3. a sense of independence

In other words, a fragment might have one or two of these ingredients, but it doesn’t have all three. If it did, it would be a sentence, not just part of one.

The problem of fragments is not one that all students have. In fact, many more students have a problem with run-ons and comma splices. But when adult writers do have a hard time with fragments, their fragments usually take a number of different forms, and that fact, of course, makes working with fragments a bit of a challenge. We’re going to take a look at the four types of fragments that appear most often in the work of college students.

Type 1: Dependent clause set up as a sentence

A type 1 fragment is the simplest type of fragment, and it should be especially easy to spot now that you’ve worked with complex sentences. This fragment has a subject and a predicate, but it does not have a sense of independence. It lacks that because a conjunction has been attached to it. When we say that it lacks a sense of independence, we mean that it can’t stand on its own as a unit of communication. The conjunction makes the reader expect to be told more than the information in the dependent clause. Here are some examples of dependent clause fragments:

(a) Because goldfish were supposed to bring love and harmony to an Egyptian household in ancient times.

(b) If the color red really does scare witches away.

(c) Although the word bride comes from an Old English word for “cook.”

Items (a), (b), and (c) are perfectly good clauses, but they are not whole sentences. That’s why they cannot be set up between a capital letter and a period. Once you add a subordinating conjunction to the beginning of a clause, that clause has been “marked” for combination with another clause. Then you have two choices: You can combine the dependent clause with an independent one, which will give the sentence its sense of independence, or you can remove the conjunction and make the clause a simple sentence. Here are possible revisions:

(a) Goldfish were supposed to bring love and harmony to an Egyptian household in ancient times.

(b) The color red really does scare witches away.

(c) Not all newlywed brides are talented in the kitchen, although the word bride comes from an Old English word for “cook.”

Special note: Whenever you start a sentence with one of the subordinating conjunctions, you can be sure that if the sentence has only one clause, you’ve got a fragment. But you do not always have a fragment if you start a simple sentence with one of the coordinating conjunctions. Sometimes those seven— and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet—are used as transitions at the beginning of a simple sentence.

For instance, there’s no fragment here: “I told him never to come here again. And I meant it.” And I meant it has been written as a separate sentence to give it strong emphasis, and that’s fine. If the writer did not want the emphasis that comes from a new sentence, he or she could have written, “I told him never to come here again, and I meant it.” Either way is acceptable.