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Fragments

November 19, 2012

Published here on August 19, 2012

It’s the start of the semester. Classes have resumed, meaning, yes, there will be writing. A lot of writing. In honor of your future hand cramps I would like to tell you of my love affair with fragments (yes, you read that right).

I adore fragments. No, not the fragments that look as if someone took a shotgun and sprayed periods over what should be a sentence. Those rapid fire strings of words are reserved for the hyperventilating—Oh. My. Gosh. I just. Wrecked. My car.

The family of fragments that I have fallen for are the emphatic fragments— the fragments that can sum up a point so well, they don’t need a subject and verb. You’ll most often find these fragments answering a rhetorical question. How often will this take place? Quite often. There is a tremendous amount of swaying power in forcefully answering your own question because it effectively shuts down all other responses—it’s so quick it’s as if you’re learning multiplication tables. Here’s the question. Then the answer. Patrick Henry’s highly effective “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech is wrought with rhetorical questions that are then answered immediately (seriously, go Google it right now).

The other likely place you will find fragments is at the end of a long, complicated sentence filled with commas, semicolons, and perhaps colons—even a dash or parenthetical insert could be involved—because after all of this, putting a fragment to sum it up again emphasizes the point you were trying to make. Very effectively, too. The long sentence gives all the background information, the charts, graphs, statistical analyses; the fragment is the abstract. It’s that thing you read when you don’t really care to read the entire scholarly journal, because all you need is one quote.

Why are these strings of words—I guess that’s what I’ll have to call them since I can’t call them sentences—so effective ? Well, first, there’s the less is more deal. People get tired of long-windedness; a short, abrupt response is much more likely to earn their full attention. Secondly, since fragments break the rules (gasp!) then our subconscious is more likely to pay attention because they are out of the ordinary. For the most part, our grammar teachers were right in warning us from breaking the almighty rules of English (comma splices are never a good idea, and please, for goodness sake, don’t ever use the non-word “irregardless”), but every now and then a good rule breaking can leave us with a positive after-effect. Fragments. They are employed by good writers all the time. And can be used by you.

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