Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sentence Fragment Thing

Okay, yes, I am ranting about sentence fragments AGAIN, just like I did back _in July_. Clearly the author of the self-published novel I am currently reading missed that blog post. What? You say he never saw it because he is one of the millions who never read this blog? Oh. I see.

But you are reading this right now, so while I've got you, I'm going to take another opportunity to air my point of view.

In July, I posted links to several sites where you could read about sentence fragments. Here they are:
As I mentioned in July, I believe sentence fragments can be effective tools in a piece of writing, for example, when the writer wants to emphasize or dramatize something. The sentence fragment acts like a "punch line" in a joke. The reader instinctively notices it because "it's not right" (not a complete sentence), and the message hits home.

Another reason a writer might deliberately use sentence fragments is to build tension.

All of this refers to narrative, not dialogue or character thoughts. We all speak and think in sentence fragments. I have no problem with that.

Let's get back to the narrative part of a piece. A sentence needs to have two things: a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually a noun (with or without modifers). The predicate needs to include a verb in its basic form: past, present, or future. The sentence also needs to express a complete thought.

The bottom line here is that a sentence fragment cannot stand alone. To the ear, it *sounds* like it is unfinished, like something more is needed to complete the statement. For example, here is a sentence fragment: birds flying south for the winter. This could be the title of a painting, no problem. However, it is not a sentence. To make it a sentence, you could write "Birds fly south for the winter" or "Birds are flying south for the winter" or "Birds were flying south for the winter" or "Birds flew south for the winter." You could also write "He saw birds flying south for the winter." But birds flying south for the winter cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is a sentence fragment.

I do not consider myself some kind of grammar "purist." I simply think authors should realize the effects their wording choices have on readers. There may come a time when sentence fragments are so commonly used in writing that nobody notices any longer. I don't think that time has arrived yet.