Frequent use of incomplete sentences (or sentence fragments) is a style that many Dutch writers and readers like: they find it punchy and snappy. English readers, by contrast, find texts with lots of fragments difficult to read. They experience them as jerky rather than lively. In English, fragments are mainly used for special effects – in advertisements, slogans and literary works, for instance. In normal writing, fragments are usually considered to be poor style. So how do you know whether a sentence you’ve written is complete or incomplete? And how can you cut down on fragments in your writing?
Here are some examples of sentence fragments (shown in italics). They come from the English version of a Dutch company’s website.
Delivering safety will always be a challenge. Making investment in trends like automation and controls systems crucial.
Change brings opportunity. But requires new skills.
We add real value. Whether you need a designer, a systems engineer or a project manager.
So how do you know whether a sentence is a fragment? Just ask yourself three things:
- Is there a finite verb?
When looking for the finite verb, ignore any verb forms ending in -ing, any past participles [deelwoorden] in -ed or -en, and infinitives.
- Is there a subject?
To find the subject, ask who or what is ‘doing’ the action expressed by the verb.
- Is it a clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun?
These include after, although, as if, because, before, if, once, since, until, while, how, that, which, who, whom, whose.
Getting rid of fragments
You can get rid of sentence fragments in various ways:
- Join the fragment to the preceding complete sentence:
Delivering safety will always be a challenge, making investment in trends like automation and controls systems crucial.
- Make the fragment a proper sentence:
Change brings opportunity. But it also requires new skills.
- Add information you want to highlight by using a dash:
We add real value – whether you need a designer, a systems engineer or a project manager.