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Fretting about fragments

October 9, 2013

Jhumpa Lahiri makes frequent use of sentence fragments in her new novel, The Lowland.  Starting with the first paragraph:

East of the Tolly Club, after Deshapran Sashmal road splits in two, there is a small mosque. A turn leads to a quiet enclave. A warren of narrow lanes and modest middle-class homes.[1]

My high school English teachers would have marked, “verb missing,” or have corrected the “error.” Like so:

quiet enclave., A a warren of narrow lanes

According to style gurus Strunk and White, “It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly.” [2] However, they caution that writers must, “be certain that the emphasis is warranted, lest a clipped sentence seem merely a blunder in syntax or in punctuation.” [3]  They believe that fragments are best used in dialogue, which is by nature, more grammatically fractured.

Editor Anne Stilman says, “Some fragments can stand independently because they don’t need anything added to add meaning.” [4] Obviously. More complex sentence fragments may be used intentionally for a specific effect.

They heard the doors slam shut, the engine starting up again. The van containing the body driving away.[5]


[1] Jhumpa Lahiri. The Lowland. Toronto: Knopf, 2013. p.1.
[2] William Strunk and EB White. The Elements of Style. Fourth Edition. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon. 2000, p.7.
[3] Strunk and White. p. 7.
[5] Lahiri. p. 105.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2013 5:29 pm

    Lovely to see you if only for a second! I am looking forward to talking to you next week.

  2. October 11, 2013 11:08 pm

    Rules are meant to be broken and advice like yours is always helpful in deciding when to do so (with a fervent hope that my comment is grammatically correct)

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