What are fragments and why are they so bad?

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When is casual writing okay?

A full sentence consists of both a subject and a verb. It must also convey a complete thought:

  • “I went to the store because we needed milk,” is a full sentence.

I is the subject and went is the verb. It also expresses a complete thought.

You likely use fragments dozens of times a day. For example, when you send a text or leave a note on the fridge, do you write, “I went to the store,” or do you write, “Went to the store, needed milk”?

Unless you’re a stickler for grammar, you probably leave off a subject. And even if you are a stickler for grammar, you still might. I’m a definite stickler for grammar and I use fragments all day in casual conversations, text messages, and when taking notes.

Sentences Without Subjects

While the notes and texts I send are often fragments because there is no subject, it is possible to write a complete sentence without a visible subject (as long as it has a verb). Consider the shortest sentence in the English language:

  • Go.

Even though it’s one word with no visible subject, it’s a full sentence. How can this be? Well, the verb is go and the subject is you. Because the sentence is an imperative (meaning it gives a command), you don’t need to write you. “Run,” “take it,” “leave,” and “get out,” are also sentences.

But this only applies when the subject is you. If you change the subject to he, she, or it, the sentence becomes a fragment because all you have is “goes,” and it is unclear who or what is performing the action.

Why does Microsoft tell me it’s a fragment when it’s not?

In many cases, Microsoft reads imperative sentences as fragments. For example:

  • “Read it aloud before turning it in.”

The sentence is complete but because there’s no visible subject, Microsoft might consider it a fragment.

In other cases, the sentence might really be a fragment but because we’re so used to speaking in fragments, we might not realize. If Microsoft alerts you of a fragment, find the subject and the verb and make sure it expresses a complete thought.

Pro-tip: Always read your sentences aloud; it will allow you to catch any errors you might have missed.

Are fragments really that bad?

It depends on your style of writing. Are you a food blogger or a novelist? If you use a fragment, it is probably okay. Are you writing about what to do if a loved one was injured in a car accident? You should probably use complete sentences.

As always, it’s your choice, just don’t overdo it.

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