Column: Fermenting thoughts on fragments


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

What is kombucha, anyway? I know you were already thinking about it. Kombucha sounds like either someone sneezing or the thing someone says after someone sneezes. Kombucha is like the kale of liquids. Does anyone really enjoy it? If you take a swig of this fermented swill, you’ll get a mouthful of vinegary, yeasty tea fungus. Sign me up.

I guess I don’t like my teas fermented in the same way I don’t like my sentences fragmented. Or do I?

The grammar gods strongly advise against writing sentences in fragments. “Sentence fragments” is industry-speak for “incomplete sentences.” A complete sentence includes a verb, makes sense on its own and communicates a complete idea. After all, writing is all about communication.

Here’s an example of a sentence fragment: “Because he lives near the ocean.” If the sentence read, “He lives near the ocean,” we’d be in good shape. However, adding “Because” to the beginning makes this fragment a dependent clause. We need the “why” to follow the “because.” Let’s finish that sentence: Because he lives near the ocean, he collects shells that look like Abraham Lincoln. That’s completely strange; it’s also a complete sentence.

Using complete sentences shows that you have a grasp on proper writing rules. Poet Robert Graves said, “Every English poet should master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them.” I agree with this sentiment. Once we comprehend the “proper” way to write, we can break the rules if it helps us better or more accurately express our ideas.

We speak in fragments. Constantly. We use them either to express a casual style, to create rhythm in your writing or to emphasize a point. I agree with Bob Graves, though — you’ve got to know the rules before you break them. Seriously.

While grammar purists will probably beg to differ, I will throw them this bone: Avoid using sentence fragments in formal writing. If you’re writing your law dissertation, stay away from sentence fragments. However, when you are writing in a conversational, informal forum, feel free to play with the rules.

Just like some people like their tea slightly fermented, some people like their sentences lightly fragmented. It adds an interesting flavor to an otherwise conventional cup of language libation. While I don’t prefer kombucha, I don’t have a problem with those who fancy effervescent fungus tea.