When Fragments Look Like Sentences

When is a sentence not a sentence? When it’s really a fragment (like this fragment).

What is a fragment?

A word or words posing as a complete sentence (also a fragment). 

Are fragments not sentences just because they are too short?

No (not a fragment — more on this later).

Fragments can be long and look like sentences.

The following long thought is actually a fragment:

Although I really thought she shouldn’t be so sad because she had won the award and the admiration of the cutest guy in our class.

How is that a fragment?

Two reasons: (1) The sentence begins with a subordinating conjunction (although) which always leads a dependent clause and (2)that dependent clause is not attached to an independent clause. At least one independent clause is required to make any complete sentence.

Fragments with so many words may be less obviously fragments. Fragments are obvious if they need more words to make sense, but sometimes, fragments seem to make sense or look a lot like sentences! Fragments can look like sentences when they have verbs with subjects.

When Sentences Look Like Fragments

What are the minimum requirements for a complete sentence?

A complete sentence must contain at least one verb and its subject plus express at least one complete thought and no incomplete thoughts.

Jessica cried. (a sentence)

Can sentences be just one word?

Yes. (a sentence)

A subject and a verb are two words: How can sentences be one word (like “Yes.”) if at least a verb and its subject are required? 

A sentence can be just one word if the words that are omitted are clearly understood and if all of the words, including those which are omitted, create a sentence:

Who cried?


“Jessica” is a complete sentence here because it is understood to mean “Jessica was who cried.”

What did Jessica do?


“Cry” is the answer to the question but it’s also part of an understood complete statement: Cry is what Jessica did.

When To Use Fragments Over Sentences

Are fragments always wrong?

Not always!

In fact, “fragments” are quite natural and necessary in speech whether spoken, written down, or in the form of thoughts. Conversations wouldn’t go very smoothly if we couldn’t speak in fragments.

Nobody thinks most of their thoughts in complete sentences.

Fragments are quite natural and necessary in poetry in most forms, including lyrics. Poetry wouldn’t likely exist if fragments were forbidden.

If you know why you are using a fragment, a fragment is not incorrect.

When should we avoid fragments?

Always avoid using fragments as sentences in very formal writing such as research papers or official documents except when quoting. Always quote verbiage exactly as it is presented.