At TextRanch, it happens every day…
If we were to make a list of the most common writing mistakes that we see at TextRanch, incomplete sentences (also known as sentence fragments) would be at the top of that list. An incomplete sentence is one that doesn’t have enough words to form a full, grammatically correct sentence. For editors, it is hard to fix an incomplete sentence because we usually have no way of knowing what the missing words are supposed to be.
An incomplete sentence is missing a subject, a verb, or both.
Today, we will focus on sentences that are missing a subject. We will look at other types of incomplete sentences in a later article.
Here are some examples of sentences that are incomplete because the subject is missing:
Received an email from Jeff.
Provided Amy with all of the resources she needs to complete this project.
Will be delivered before noon.
Got lost somewhere in the storage room.
A reader who is very familiar with the context might be able to fill in the missing words and make sense out of these incomplete sentences. However, most readers will be confused. Who received an email from Jeff? Who provided Amy with the resources she needs to complete that project? What will be delivered before noon? What got lost somewhere in the storage room?
The subject is the “who” or “what” of a sentence.
The subject of a sentence is the noun– the person, place, or thing– that is either doing something or being something. If there are other words that modify the noun (such as “the yellow house” or “the winner of the contest“), then those words are part of the subject as well. A pronoun– I, you, he, she, it, we, they– can be used in place of the noun. In some cases, a “dummy subject” is necessary. (You can read about dummy subjects here.) Two or more people (for example, “Maria and Brian” or “all of the teachers at my school”) can also be the subject of a sentence. However, either a noun or a pronoun must be there. Without it, the sentence is incomplete.
To make things clearer for you, here are the same sentences that we looked at earlier, except now a subject has been added.
We received an email from Jeff.
Professor Hassan and her assistant provided Amy with all of the resources she needs to complete this project.
Patsy’s birthday cake will be delivered before noon.
His backpack got lost somewhere in the storage room.
These sentences are now full and complete. With a subject, each sentence is clear and easy for the reader to understand.
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