What’s in a fragment? Not a lot. A fragment usually is missing an essential item, such as a verb or a subject. A fragment, specifically a subordinate clause, simply could be missing its complete sentence counterpart (Poor thing. Play matchmaker and connect it immediately.).
Fragments are dangerous things because they often are accidents. The fingers can’t quite keep up with the brain, and a subject or verb is lost. Those subjects and verbs then never are found during the proofreading or editing phase. Voila! Instant fragment. Fragments also occur when an introductory clause is separated from its sentence. Such a mistake is easy to make; the “comma,” which should set off the clause, is accidentally exchanged for an end stop (It’s simple to do when the two punctuation marks reside next to each other.). Unfortunately, it can be easy to miss those mistakes during proofreading and editing.
Fragments also are dangerous because they often aren’t accidents. They’re used for effect, as they were in the preceding paragraph with the phrase, “Voila! Instant fragment.” Using fragments in such a manner is allowable in most informal writing; however, it’s usually looked at askance in more academic or professional writing. The problem is that some writers become “fragment happy.” They forget that fragments should be used sparingly, in much the same way that salt is used. Too much salt tends to ruin a dish. Similarly, too many fragments ruin good writing.
Perhaps the best rule of thumb regarding fragments is “moderation in everything.” It’s important to remember, too, that using fragments artfully comes from practice. If the fragments seem stilted or cause an interruption in the flow of the writing, it’s best to rid the writing of them. Fragments aren’t a necessity; they’re an accessory.
What are your thoughts regarding fragments? Leave a comment, or let me know of a writing wrong in need of righting either here or on the Facebook page.