Clauses, phrases and sentence fragments

What is a phrase?

Phrases are parts of sentences and they do not have a verb that has a tense.

……in the afternoon……

Once upon a time …….

…… under the settee.

Having decided on a course of action, …..

What is a clause?

A clause contains a subject and a verb that has a tense.

Not everyone agrees with me.

… because I love you.

While she was in the shower ……..

The play represents a revolutionary new approach to drama; however, ….

What is the difference between a clause and a sentence?

There's some disagreement on the definition of a sentence, but it may be best to describe a simple sentence as an independent clause that can stand alone. A simple sentence is made up of one clause:

She was very beautiful.

A complex sentence will have more than one clause:

She was very beautiful, and there's no doubt in my mind, she turned the

head of every man that she met.

Dependent clauses cannot normally stand alone, and so cannot be full sentences. They often start with words like this:

Because it was so cold, ………..

While I was waiting for the train, …………….

Although he was ten years older than I was, ……………

If you come in the afternoon, ……………

Something that is not a complete sentence, and cannot stand alone, we call a fragment. We use these all the time in speech, and sometimes in notes, emails and letters, but we must avoid them in our writing. Look at this dialogue:

Where've you been?

Out.

Where to?

The shops.

Get anything?

Some milk and cereal.

Any bread?

No. Forgot it.

Conversations are full of fragments but as long as the context or the relationship provides a basis for the words, we understand without difficulty. Some writing can also contain fragments:

Hi John!

Just a note. I'm out tonight. Got a date! Back at 11 maybe. Lock the back door. Don't forget the cat. Food in the fridge. At the bottom.

See you

Tom

But in academic writing, fragments are certainly not acceptable and you will certainly get marked down if they appear in your essays.

Task

Can you find the fragments in these examples?

  • A Black Widow spider is one of the most venomous creatures in the world and one bite can kill a child. Or even a large adult.
  • A larger percentage of the population is now following a first-degree course than ever before. Despite the cost.
  • Today many people are returning to education after some years of working. Many of them find it difficult. Because they have been away from an educational environment for some years.
  • The invaders regarded themselves as superior. While other groups were seen as inferior. The invaders maintained their power by their cruelty and repressive laws.
  • This paper will consider two groups. The Arakaw Indians and the African slaves. The former were the original inhabitants while the latter were brought in by the plantation owners.
  • The essay will examine why slaves were introduced into the islands. Firstly, by the Spanish later by the British.

Notes on the Task

The fragments are in bold.

  • A Black Widow spider is one of the most venomous creatures in the world and one bite can kill a child. Or even a large adult.
  • A larger percentage of the population is now following a first-degree course than ever before. Despite the cost.
  • Today many people are returning to education after some years of working. Many of them find it difficult. Because they have been away from an educational environment for some years.
  • The invaders regarded themselves as superior. While other groups were seen as inferior. The invaders maintained their power by their cruelty and repressive laws.
  • This paper will consider two groups. The Arakaw Indians and the African slaves. The former were the original inhabitants while the latter were brought in by the plantation owners.
  • The essay will examine why slaves were introduced into the islands. Firstly, by the Spanish. Later by the British.

How can fragments be corrected?

There are two main ways:

1. by adding the fragment to the sentence that it is linked with

2. by making the fragment into an independent clause, in other words, a sentence

that can stand alone

With either of these two approaches, the order of the words can be changed if it the change makes the language sound more academic and professional, but retains the original meaning. For example:

Original sentence:

The results of this research have yet to be published but the impact on the young people is likely to be significant. Whatever the findings of the research.

This example could be corrected in a range of different ways.

The results of this research have yet to be published but the impact

on the young people is likely to be significant, whatever the findings

of the research.

or:

The results of this research have yet to be published. The impact on

the young people is likely to be significant whatever the findings of

the research.

or:

The results of this research have yet to be published. Whatever the

findings of the research, the impact on the young people is likely to

be significant..

Which do you think sounds more professional? In some ways, the final example suggests a more professional writing style.

What changes can be made to these short passages below?

1. A lecture given by John Heath on 23 January at Jordan College, London. In which he talked specifically about the condition 'autistic spectrum disorder', provided the framework for this essay.

2. When the students left school they found it very difficult to find a regular job. One with prospects and good pay. Some of them tended to gravitate towards petty crime and general anti-social behaviour. They caused trouble too.

3. Having spent most of his career dealing with young offenders the director of the centre was realistic about his chances of success. Also his ability to solve the problems that they had. The young offenders certainly wanted to.

Here are two possible solutions for each example:

1. A lecture given by John Heath on 23 January at Jordan College, London, in which he talked specifically about the condition 'autistic spectrum disorder', provided the framework for this essay.

A lecture on the condition 'autistic spectrum disorder' given by John Heath on 23 January at Jordan College, London provided the framework for this essay.

2. When the students left school they found it very difficult to find a regular job with prospects and good pay. Some of them caused trouble as they gravitated towards petty crime and general anti-social behaviour.

When the students left school they found it very difficult to find a regular job with prospects and good pay. The result was that some of them tended to cause trouble because they gravitated towards petty crime and general anti-social behaviour.

3. Having spent most of his career dealing with young offenders, the director of the centre was realistic about his chances of success in solving the problems that they had, despite their willingness to try.

The young offenders certainly wanted to ' go straight' but having spent most of his career dealing with such cases, the director of the centre was realistic about his chances of success.

Task

Remove the fragments from these examples using both methods outlined above with each sentence:

  • The city has developed beyond recognition and now the centre is full of theatres and thriving restaurants. Because of the funds that came from the European Union.
  • A well-organised paragraph should start with a topic sentence. A paragraph is a unit is a unit of thought. Not a unit of length.
  • A safe car will be able to protect the passengers in the event of a crash. It will have seat belts for every passenger. Also side impact bars and an air bag.
  • A well-written academic essay will present an argument in a logical way. Also there will be quotations. And clear references.
  • Although Woolf wrote some of the most imaginative novels in the period between the two world wars. Her depression and ultimate suicide meant that she never achieved her full potential.
  • Now look at the paragraph below and edit it carefully to remove any fragments and make any other changes necessary to achieve a more academic style.

Supporters of environmental groups say that they are trying to save the world. Because someone has to do it. And because it's very important. Other people say that they use inappropriate methods. And sometimes they use dangerous methods. They say that a solution can only be found by a major world organisation. Like the United Nations. Because the United Nations has the authority. Many people seem to believe that the problems are someone else's fault. Not their fault. It's everyone else who is using too much oil. Or too much of the world's other resources. Like timber and fresh water. People are aware that fish stocks are declining. And there are limited stocks remaining throughout the world's seas. And the sea levels are rising. Perhaps because of global warming. It sounds like no one is taking responsibility. Or thinking the problem through properly.

Notes on the Task

(a) The city has developed beyond recognition and now the centre is full of theatres and thriving restaurants. Because of the funds that came from the European Union.

The city has developed beyond recognition and now the centre is full of theatres and thriving restaurants because of the funds that came from the European Union.

The city has developed beyond recognition. The centre is full of theatres and thriving restaurants because of the funds that came from the European Union.

(b) A well-organised paragraph should start with a topic sentence. A paragraph is a unit of thought. Not a unit of length.

A well-organised paragraph should start with a topic sentence because it is a unit of thought, not a unit of length.

A well-organised paragraph should start with a topic sentence. It is a unit of thought, not a unit of length.

(c) A safe car will be able to protect the passengers in the event of a crash. It will have seat belts for every passenger. Also side impact bars and an air bag.

A safe car will be able to protect the passengers in the event of a crash because it will have seat belts for every passenger as well as side impact bars and an air bag.

A safe car will be able to protect the passengers in the event of a crash. It will have seat belts for every passenger as well as side impact bars and an air bag.

(d) A well-written academic essay will present an argument in a logical way. Also there will be quotations. And clear references.

A well-written academic essay will present an argument in a logical way with quotations and clear references.

A well-written academic essay will present an argument in a logical way. There will be quotations and clear references.

(e) Although Woolf wrote some of the most imaginative novels in the period between the two world wars. Her depression and ultimate suicide meant that she never achieved her full potential.

Although Woolf wrote some of the most imaginative novels in the period between the two world wars, her depression and ultimate suicide meant that she never achieved her full potential.

Woolf wrote some of the most imaginative novels in the period between the two world wars, although her depression and ultimate suicide meant that she never achieved her full potential.

  • Now look at this paragraph and edit it carefully to remove any fragments and

make any other changes necessary to achieve a more academic style.

Here is one suggested approach:

Supporters of environmental groups say that they are trying to save the world. They say that someone has to do it and it's very important. Other people say that they use inappropriate and dangerous methods. They say that a solution can only be found by a major world organisation with authority, such as the United Nations. Everyone seems to believe that the problems are someone else's fault, not their own. Everyone else is using too much oil or too much of the world's other resources such as timber and fresh water. There is clear evidence that fish stocks are declining and limited stocks remain throughout the world's seas. The sea levels are rising too, in part because of global warming. It is clear that no-one is taking responsibility orfully analysing the problems.


 

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