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8.8 Sentence Fragments: Fun with Grammar

Lost & Found in Translation

We often speak in sentence fragments:
"You coming?"
"One minute."
"Coffee for the road?"
"Please, no sugar."
"Thanks, pay you back later."
"No problem."
"Hey, the bus!"
"Just in time."

People used to write in fragments when they sent telegrams (once upon a time before e-mail and fax). Since writers had to pay for their telegrams by the word, the fewer words the better:

Flight cancelled, landslide. Five days. Janice took bags, no word. Please money? Hotel Khyber, Peshawar, Pakistan. Tom, Rashid

After sending this message, Tom and Rashid probably watched the mail at the Hotel Khyber for the response, a merciful envelope of money, also sent from bank to bank through fragmentary messages on telegrams.

There are whole stories behind these fragments, and people listening to the conversation or receiving the telegram above must compose the stories in their own minds, filling in imagined details for each and probably stumbling on some of the truth.

We still use fragments in writing for several purposes, including advertisements and notetaking. Find a partner for this game, and name yourselves A and B.


  1. Each partner will study a passage built of fragments, guessing at missing information and writing a clear translation built of complete sentences.

  2. Next, trade translations and check each other's work for complete sentences. If you find any fragments, make your partner fix them. Then, at the bottom of the page, reduce your partner's complete sentences to effective fragments again. Don't look at your partner's original set of fragments until you've finished.

  3. Finally, look at the original passage that your partner translated and compare your fragment version with the original fragment version. See what's been lost and what's been found in the process of translation out of and back into fragments.

To start, click on the appropriate link below. Don't click on your partner's icon until step 3.


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