Today we’re going to talk about sentence fragments (incomplete sentences). They’re a common problem with students and inexperienced writers. We English teachers hate them (with good reason!), and often we spend huge amounts of time trying to teach students how to avoid them. Which only creates confusion and anxiety.
And there, my friend, you have a sentence fragment: Which only creates confusion and anxiety.
You can’t start a sentence with which. (Questions starting with which are ok, of course, but not sentences.) I suppose it’s possible that someone could come up with a legitimate sentence that starts with which, but I don’t recommend making a habit of it.
As an English teacher with decades of experience, I could give you a long spiel about avoiding fragments. But why not make it simple? Here are three tricks that will help you avoid most fragments:
1. Start every sentence with a person, place, or thing.
I tell police officers and other public safety workers to use this strategy for their reports. You won’t end up with fancy sentences, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Many everyday tasks don’t require fancy writing. What you will end up with are complete sentences – no fragments.
2. Memorize this list (it’s short!) of no-no ways to start a sentence: which (you know that already!), like, who, and such as.
Honesty compels me to add that yes, you can write a perfectly good sentence that starts with like. I often do it myself. But please don’t unless you’re sure you’re doing it correctly. Fragments starting with like are very common.
Like my cousin Jane who works in a big hospital. FRAGMENT
Like many children, Blake loves to play with his Legos. CORRECT
3. Avoid starting a sentence with an -ing word unless (again) you’re sure what you’re doing.
Jumping up and down with joy when her father walked in the door. FRAGMENT
Molly jumped up and down with joy when her father walked in the door. CORRECT
Are you thinking I should include a correct sentence starting with an -ing word? OK, here’s one:
Dancing never fails to bring me joy. CORRECT
There’s not a lot here to remember – and these tips can be a great confidence builder. Here they are again! When in doubt:
- start every sentence with a person, place, or thing
- avoid starting sentences with which, who, like, and such as
- avoid starting sentences with an -ing word