“It is possible to overuse the well-turned fragment …, but frags can also work beautifully to streamline narration, create clear images, and create tension as well as to vary the prose-line.”

~Stephen King’s On Writing

Fragments are bad when they are unintentional. To use them intentionally, you break a chunk off a sentence into its own separate sentence, usually short, in order to make that chunk stand out more. It might be a quick image or simply an extra point broken off to give it the resounding emphasis of someone saying, “The end. Period.”

Professional Examples

  • Disturbing? Sure.

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • To get the discussion moving, they usually require a joke, an anecdote, an off-the-wall question — When you were a kid, were your Halloween getups ego costumes, id costumes, or superego costumes? That sort of thing.

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • Am I blaming advertisers for everything now? No.

~from Jean Kilbourne’s “‘Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt’: Advertising and Violence”

  • [Jime Rome] writes, “Yes, OK, soccer is the most ‘popular’ game in the world. And rice is the most ‘popular’ food in the world. So what?

~from Franklin Foer’s “How Soccer Explains the World”

  • One of my great-uncles once led a cavalry charge against a machine-gun emplacement, armed with a sword. Brave? Or just foolhardy?

~from Anthony Appiah’s “Moral Disagreement”

  • During the day, while electricity demand is peaking, the buildings will silently, automatically produce energy. No power plants or transmission lines necessary. No greenhouse emissions. No need for oil, coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. No risk of blackouts. No spiking electricity prices.

~from Amanda Griscom and Will Dana’s “A Green Ground Zero” in The Nation

  • Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.

~from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

  • He walked through the world like a chameleon. Never revealing himself, never appearing not to. Emerging through chaos unscathed.

~from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

  • The boat was thirty feet of sleek white fiberglass with gray trim. Tall masts, the sails tied. Satori painted on the hull in black script edged with gold.

~from Jonathan Kellerman’s Survival of the Fittest

  • So.

~from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

  • However. There was this one tiny little problem.

~from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

  • Time was, women athletes were seen as class acts. Stateswomen and achievers. Type A girls you’d want to bring home to meet Mom and Dad.

~from Allison Glock’s “The Selling of Candace Parker,”
ESPN Magazine, March 23, 2009

  • If you recall the twelve shame categories (appearance and body image, money and work, motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, and being stereotyped or labeled), the primary trigger for women, in terms of its power and universality, is the first one: how we look. Still. After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough.
  • I can neither confirm nor deny using the word horseshitTwice.

~from Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly

How Fragments Work

Fragments create emphasis by “breaking the rule” that demands a full clause. The missing pieces are implied, generally because of the context before or after the fragment. The fragment, generally short, forces the reader to pay more attention to it because the full stop of the period draws attention to it.

Keep them as brief as possible and make the intention obvious. Teachers rant about fragments when they are long, awkward and unintentional, breaking a sentence in a way that makes no sense and hurts the flow.

Also note that the level of formality of the writing impacts how acceptable fragments might be. Fiction and conversational nonfiction would be more likely to use multiple fragments while strict academic essays would use very few at most and strictly technical or legal writing would avoid them altogether.


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