Sentence Fragments- To Use or Not To Use…

I’m working on a small book on evaluating writing, so in my last e-mail newsletter, I asked if anyone had questions on the subject. One mom sent in the following question, and I thought I’d share it, along with my answer.

Q- My children read quite a bit and enjoy it. I see that even good writers may at times use fragments instead of a full sentence. They use that for effect. This brings questions to my children, as their composition book tells them not to.

A- I think this question is best answered with an analogy. Briefly, though, there are two things to remember: 1- A professional may do many things that a student should not try at first; and 2- Composition books provide guidelines, rather than absolute rules, in most cases. These may be judiciously bent by competent practitioners!

As an example, when learning to cook, it is best to follow a recipe. The recipe provides a step-by-step blueprint for how to achieve a tasty result. By following recipes, a student chef learns what ingredients work reliably together; how to mix them for the best effect; and eventually, what ingredients can be changed or substituted to make the dish more interesting or suitable to individual taste. A student chef who uses ingredients without a good understanding of how and why they work as they do is unlikely to produce an outstanding meal.

The same principle works with writing. Sentence fragments can be powerful in experienced hands, but they can be terribly confusing if not used purposefully and with understanding. As your children read, they’ll gain an understanding of how to use sentence fragments properly, and you’ll find that at some point, they will use them naturally and effectively.

If you have a question about evaluating student writing, please feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to answer!

1 Response

  1. Belinda says:

    A great analogy, Janice. We have had the opportunity to spend one on one with some highly recognised Australian published authors and they all say – the rules are to be broken!

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