Can you spot the sentence fragment?

From this weekend’s New York Times Magazine:

Adderall wiped away the question of willpower. Now I could study all night, then run 10 miles, then breeze through that week’s New Yorker, all without pausing to consider whether I might prefer to chat with classmates or go to the movies. It was fantastic. I lost weight. That was nice, too. Though I did snap at friends, abruptly accessing huge depths of fury I wouldn’t have thought I possessed. When a roommate went home one weekend and forgot to turn off her alarm clock so that it beeped behind her locked door for 48 hours, I entirely lost control, calling her in New York to berate her. I didn’t know how long it had been since I’d slept more than five hours. Why bother?

Something may look like a complete sentence because it contains a main verb, goes on for a bit, and sports a certain amount of complexity (e.g., an embedded clause). But, as Catherine and I discuss in our book–and in those forthcoming fluency exercises that Catherine mentions below–that doesn’t make it a complete sentence. True, sentence fragments can be effective. But sometimes–as this one did for me–they lead you down the garden path to the edge of a cliff. You expected more words, and here you are at the end of a sentence, having to go back and re-read it. At which point you realize, say, that it doesn’t express one more advantage to Adderall, but rather that it brings up the first of three downsides.

Speaking of advantages and disadvantages, did you spot my sentence fragment? Did I bring you up short and confuse you?

9 thoughts on “Can you spot the sentence fragment?

  1. I started the “Though I did…” expecting we would have a positive statement after that clause.

    However, I read it as a misuse of ‘though’ rather than a sentence fragment. If she’d said “however”, there would have been one noun phrase and one verb phrase, no?

    Is your “Something may look like” the sentence fragment? I’m bothered by the change to “you” sentences, and by the “At which point”, but I don’t see anything structurally wrong with the sentence.

    What am I missing?


  2. What’s tricky is that something can contain a subject and predicate and still not be a complete sentence if it begins with certain function words. “Which” (and various which-phrases) is one example (see“which).

    So is “though” (–unlike “however”.

    Another is “if”: “If I win.” Note that “I win” is a complete sentence. Add “if”, and it becomes a sentence fragment. Sure, there’s a certain arbitrariness to all this, but such is language.


  3. I think we talked about this one day on Kitchen Table Math —- sentence fragments like “though I did snap at friends” are hard for students to see. I’ll have to dig up that sentence fragment diagnostic I always give students ….

    Students can always tell that a fragment like “walking down the road” is a fragment.

    They can’t tell that a fragment like “although I don’t like kale” is a fragment.

    I should dig up my “Is this a complete sentence” test, too….


  4. That’s because we were taught a noun phrase and verb phrase make a sentence. So that’s false–a noun phrase and verb phrase are required but insufficient.

    Even when taught there are such things as complex sentences, we were taught there were independent clauses and dependent clauses.

    I don’t know what a sentence fragment is. Is it a dependent clause which lacks an independent clause?


  5. Wow, my head just exploded, not because of the “Though…” sentence fragment that everyone above has been discussing, but because of what I found when I Googled the fragment I was about to point out.

    But, as Catherine and I discuss in our book–and in those forthcoming fluency exercises that Catherine mentions below–that doesn’t make it a complete sentence.

    I was going to say Stripped of the subordinate clause (“as … book”) and the parenthetical content (“and … below”), this reduces to “But that doesn’t make it a complete sentence.”, which is a sentence beginning with a coordinating conjunction.

    Imagine my surprise — shock? — when I discovered that the consensus is that it’s okay to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction! One article I found begrudgingly admitted that perhaps this usage should be limited to informal writing, but by and large, grammar writers were in favor of allowing it.


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