Avoiding Fragments with Dependent Clauses

* Although some students bring laptops to class.

* The fundamental issue, which relates to the financial crisis.

The sentences above contain a grammatical problem, called a fragment. Do you know what a fragment is and how to make sure that your sentences are not fragments? This handout will help you find out.   


In academic papers, writers use complete sentences rather than phrases. Every complete sentence in English consists of at least one independent clause. What is a clause?

A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a main verb. For example:

A beautiful picture – not a clause because there is no main verb

A beautiful picture is hanging on the wall – a clause because a beautiful picture is a subject and is hanging is a main verb.

In addition to a subject and verb, as you might have noticed, a clause may optionally contain other elements (e.g. on the wall which adds more information about the main verb). Also, a clause might have one subject and multiple verbs (e.g. He was running, jumping, and singing.).

 If there is no subject or no verb in a clause, this sentence is incomplete, and it is considered a fragment. Avoid fragments in academic writing. 

In general, a sentence can consist of multiple combinations of independent and dependent clauses, and most often fragments happen when there is a dependent clause in it. Let’s learn about the difference between an independent and dependent clause:


Independent Clause

Dependent Clause

some students bring laptops to class

although some students bring laptops to class

that some students bring laptops to class

expresses a complete thought

does not express a complete thought


starts with a subordinating conjunction (although, because, if, after, as, as soon as, before, once, when, while, where)


or a relative pronoun (that, who, which, whose, whom)


can be a sentence by itself


cannot stand on its own and should be attached to an independent clause


If no independent clause follows or proceeds a dependent clause, a sentence is considered a fragment.1


1 A dependent clause can also be embedded in an independent clause. For example:



The fundamental issue,

which relates to the financial crisis,

was overlooked.

Subject of

Independent clause


Dependent clause

Verb of

Independent clause


As you can see, The fundamental issue was overlooked is an independent clause, and which relates to the financial crisis is a dependent clause. Because the verb was overlooked does not immediately follow its subject The fundamental issue, it easy to forget to add it after the embedded clause. You already know that if we do not add a verb in a clause, a fragment is created.

Also, note that in this example the relative pronoun which functions as a subject of the dependent clause – this is possible when a subject in the dependent clause is the same as in the independent clause. In other words, the sentence can be paraphrased as The fundamental issue was overlooked, and the fundamental issue relates to the financial crisis.

Ways to Fix Fragments


- Although some students bring laptops to class.

- The fundamental issue, which related to the financial crisis.


1) Delete a conjunction/relative pronoun

+ Although Some students bring laptops to class.

+ The fundamental issue which relates to the financial crisis.

2) Add an independent clause

+ Although some students bring laptops to class, only a few of them use laptops for studying.


3) Add a verb to the independent clause


+ The fundamental issue, which relates to the financial crisis, was overlooked.



Strategies for Finding Fragments

- Underline a subject (one line) and a verb (two lines) in every clause in a sentence. If the paper is an electronic document, highlighting can also work well. Make sure that every subject has a verb and vice versa.

- Circle clauses that start with a subordinating conjunction (because, although, if etc.) or a relative pronoun (who, that, which etc.) and identify if these dependent clauses are attached to independent clauses.

- To complete a sentence, which contains a dependent clause only, ask yourself some content questions (e.g. What happened when the meeting resumed?).



Underline all dependent clauses in the text and explain how you identified them.


From A Critique of A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education

As higher education enters a period of tremendous growth and change, it is more important than ever to have a national understanding of the mission, goals and accomplishments of many institutions and academy in its entirety. If no adjustments are made, American higher education will fall victim to much scrutiny and criticism, and our nation will be divided on one of our most important and prized possessions.

Fortunately, we have highly educated leaders at the helm of our institutions in America as well as effective national leadership who focus on the United States education system as a whole. Their combined knowledge, experience and understanding of this nation's system of higher education is unique and immeasurable, which results in a powerful team to guide academe during periods of insecurity. One group, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, has such members. This commission set out to evaluate the current state of higher education and recommend higher education reform in an effort to secure our position as a world leader in education. Their conclusion is clear: Change is necessary, and it is needed now. The report outlines the challenges that higher education will likely face in the coming decades and offers recommendations to secure our position in an increasingly globally aware society. However, despite the commission's efforts to perform a comprehensive critique, it repeatedly fell short, repeatedly lacking both scope and focus.

Practice passage adapted from Michigan Corpus of Upper-level Student Papers. (2009). Ann Arbor, MI: The Regents of the University of Michigan.

Last updated 9/1/2017