Avoid sentence fragments

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Fragments are a common mistake. A sentence must have a subject and a verb.

A group of words that does not have a subject and a verb of its own cannot be a sentence. It is merely a sentence fragment or a phrase. Note that a sentence fragment cannot stand on its own. It must be attached to a sentence.

The subject of a sentence is usually a noun or a pronoun. Infinitives and gerunds can also act as subjects.

Verbs can be confusing. There are mainly two types of verbs: finite verbs and non-finite verbs. A non-finite verb is an incomplete verb. It cannot make a sentence. Examples of non-finite verbs are: infinitives (to work, to sing, to break, to walk), participles (working, singing, breaking, walking) and gerunds (dancing, waiting, reading etc.)

As you can see, participles and gerunds look alike, but they have different grammatical properties. Participles act like adjectives. Gerunds, on the other hand, act like nouns.

Study the group of words given below. It does not make a sentence because the verb (playing) is incomplete.

To make the verb playing complete, we have to add a suitable auxiliary verb.

An English verb has four forms: the infinitive, the past simple, the present participle and the past participle.

The infinitive

Infinitives are forms like sing, dance, read and write. They are used to make the simple present tense. The infinitive is sometimes preceded by the marker to. In this case, they are called to-infinitives. Note that a to-infinitive is a non-finite verb. It is an incomplete verb. Without the marker to, the infinitive can function as a complete verb.

The past simple

This is the form of the verb used to make the simple past tense. Examples are: sang, danced, read and wrote. The past simple is a complete verb.

The present participle

The present participle ends in -ing. Examples are: singing, dancing, playing, working etc. The present participle is an incomplete verb. To make it complete, you have to add a form of be (is, am, are, was, were).

Examples are: was writing, were playing, am working, is singing etc.

The past participle

The past participle is an incomplete verb. It usually ends in -ed or -en. Examples are: worked, written, broken etc. To make it complete, you have to add a form of have. Note that in the case of most verbs, the past simple and past participle forms look alike.

The verb forms given below are complete.

See also

Adjective clauses
Relative clauses
Relative pronouns
Identifying relative clauses
Adverb clauses
Noun clauses
Synthesis of sentences
Transformation of sentences
The adverb too