ACT English: Sentence Fragments

The ACT English portion is unlike the SAT Writing in that it requires a more holistic understanding of English grammar. The SAT’s single-question format is conducive to formulaic errors that, while tricky, can be narrowed down to a handful of inconspicuous grammar mistakes. The ACT English, on the other hand, features a wider variety of errors that aren’t so formulaic. As a result, the ACT requires a more fundamental understanding of how sentences work. One common error that effectively tests this fundamental understanding is the sentence fragment.

Sentence fragments are sentences that lack one or more of the necessary components of a sentence. What are the necessary components of a sentence, you ask? A subject and a verb. (Please notice that the sentence I just wrote, “A subject and a verb,” is a fragment and would be totally wrong on the ACT).

To demonstrate how essential the subject and the verb are, here is a very simple sentence that is grammatically correct.

“I run.”

How is that a sentence, you ask? It’s only two tiny words! The sentence does, however, have a subject (I) and a verb which corresponds to the subject (run). You’ll soon learn that “fragment” does not mean that the sentence is too short to be a sentence. The ACT will prey on this misconception and use long, complicated sentences as fragments.

Test your skills with this ACT English question from Grockit!

There are generally two ways the ACT will test you on fragments:

1. Attach a fragment to an adjacent sentence: You may encounter a fragment that needs to be integrated into an adjacent sentence; attach the fragment with the appropriately placed comma and/or place the fragment at the beginning or the end of the sentence.

The actor was under enormous pressure. Even though he was lauded by fans and critics.

“Even though…critics” is a fragment because the subordinating conjunction “even though” renders the would-be sentence a dependent clause.

Here’s how to fix it: Even though he was lauded by fans and critics, the actor was under enormous pressure.

 

2. Identify and fix fragments that look like sentences: This is the more difficult of the two types. These sentences will often be long and complicated so that, once you reach the end of the sentence, you overlook the fact that it lacks a subject or verb.

An entertaining and complex novel that combines the great storytelling of nineteenth century romanticism with the philosophical density of modernism, subverting the suffocating propriety of its age with startling realism.

Yikes. This sentence is so long, complicated, and messy that you may overlook the fact that it lacks a subject and a verb. There are a few ways to fix it. (The added subject and verb are in bold).

Fix 1: An entertaining and complex novel that combines the great storytelling of nineteenth century romanticism with the philosophical density of modernism, Lady Chatterley’s Lover subverts the suffocating propriety of its age with startling realism.

Fix 2: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an entertaining and complex novel that combines the great storytelling of nineteenth century romanticism with the philosophical density of modernism, subverting the suffocating propriety of its age with startling realism.

Fix 3: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, an entertaining and complex novel, combines the great storytelling of nineteenth century romanticism with the philosophical density of modernism, subverting the suffocating propriety of its age with startling realism.

As you can see, there are many ways to turn a fragment into a sentence. Fix 1 transforms the first clause into a modifying clause. Since we are describing “an entertaining and complex novel,” we must place the subject of that description, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (or whatever novel is discussed) after the comma. To make the second clause an independent clause, I simply changed “subverting” to “subverts,” so it properly corresponded to the subject.

In Fix 2, I added my own subject and verb. Though making the verb “to be” makes this a less rhetorically effective sentence, it is still a sentence. Since it seems like I’m describing the novel, why not put “Lady Chatterley’s Lover is” at the front?

Fix 3 is a bit more effective than Fix 2. I set off the phrase “an entertaining and complex novel” with commas, rendering it a nonessential phrase. I inserted the subject at the beginning of the sentence and removed “that” so the verb “combines” corresponded to my subject.

On a side note, beware of the words “that,” “which,” and “who.” The sentence “My friend who walks with me to school every day” is a fragment. Remove the “who” and it becomes a sentence: My friend walks with me to school every day.

Finding multiple ways to fix a fragment may seem superfluous since there will only be one right answer on the test. We practice this way, however, so you become familiar with many different sentence structures. When you read anything–a novel, newspaper, magazine, web article, etc–always keep an eye out for fragments. They may be accepted practice in certain publications, but they are not acceptable on the ACT.

Try out some ACT English questions on Grockit and have some fun while you’re at it!

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