## These look like fragments. Help me to understand why they are okay to use

19

“How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure. ”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

I recently found out that when writing lists, items in a list don't have to be complete sentences, like "You might write to: Inform".

After this writer utilizes a question mark, it seems to get written, "With difficulty". That's not a sentence. Maybe I don't get how sentences utilize a subject, a verb, and an object. Some writers don't seem to utilize this. I don't think I understand. When can I write a complete sentence or not, when some writers seem to write things like this?

Is he writing with respect to what he formerly wrote? May these things get specified as fragments? May writers utilize fragments? Why are fragments sometimes utilized, sometimes not?

12The idea that one can write only in complete sentences is something that teachers teach to children, so that they will form good writing habits. But as these children get older, they will find out that they do not always have to write in complete sentences. And often they will discover this the same way that you have: by encountering real written English. – None – 2015-05-08T04:29:54.447

5They are fragments. To expand on pazzo's comment, complete sentence are typically expected in formal writing such as nonfiction books or many literature. Everyday conversation, web blogs and personal email frequently use slang or do not adhere strictly to formal writing expectations. In stories, dialogue represents everyday conversation, so is not required to adhere to all the formal language rules. Consider- "First learn the rules, then learn when and how you can break them." – nickalh – 2015-05-08T08:39:38.787

3

As for You might write to: Inform, you can't do that. Colons are used to introduce lists of items, and a list needs to have more than one item. So, you could say, You might write to inform, or you could say, You might write for any of the following reasons: to inform, to persuade and convice, or to entertain. Take a closer look at the rules for colons. There is more to this than whether what follows the colon is a sentence or a fragment.

– J.R. – 2015-05-08T09:17:55.530

@J.R. Except, of course, that in some cases introducing a list and then having only one item might serve as an excellent device for emphasizing there being only one option. Though of course there are more options for why one might write, so that particular example isn’t a good use of the device. – KRyan – 2015-05-08T14:48:48.877

2By the way, you seem to be misusing the phrase "seem to" (both in your question and in one of your comments on the answers below). "Seems to be" means that something appears one way, but the reality may be different. But here, "with difficulty" is written. You could, for instance, have written, "After this writer utilizes a question mark, he wrote, 'With difficulty.'" – Kyle Strand – 2015-05-08T16:23:49.590

@KRyan - You're correct, and your comment shows that this is even more complicated for the learner. In a case like the one you describe, when applied to this writing example, I think the word to might show up after the colon, like this: There is only one good reason for a reporter to write: to inform. – J.R. – 2015-05-09T00:42:04.323

@nickalh The quoted text is literature. And the use of fragments like this is not necessarily informal. For example, it's easy to imagine Churchill using constructions like these and one wouldn't generally describe his speeches as "informal". – David Richerby – 2015-05-09T10:39:32.603

@J.R.: I imagine the OP's "Inform" example was intended to be read as if excerpted from a longer list. ("You might write to: - Inform - Entertain - Distract yourself from the fundamental emptiness of existence") I base this judgment on the example in the linked question and on OP's use of the plural, "items in a list". – Tim Pederick – 2015-05-10T04:05:09.640

@saySay: I'm curious - what is your native language? – CocoPop – 2016-01-31T16:36:09.190

34

There's no rule that utterances have to be complete sentences. What they have to do is communicate.

Alice: How did you escape?
Bob: I escaped with difficulty.

Bob doesn't need to say I escaped here. Alice already knows she's asking about how Bob escaped. It's obvious from context.

Alice: Hello!
Bob: #With difficulty.

Now Bob isn't making any sense. If Bob wanted to say that he escaped with difficulty, he'd have to use a complete sentence:

Alice: Hello!
Bob: I escaped with difficulty.

He has to use a complete sentence because there's no context to allow the fragment as an answer. The fragment doesn't make sense here; Alice needs to know what Bob did with difficulty.

How did I escape?
I escaped with difficulty.
How did I plan this moment?
I planned this moment with pleasure.

It doesn't matter that it's in a list. It'd be fine with just one question and answer. The repetition is pleasing to the ear, though.

In this answer, the # symbol means "This utterance doesn't make sense in this context."

"The repetition is pleasing to the ear, though." It definitelys is, and I have only now realized, based on your answer, that although I watched the movie, I really should read the book! – Sabuncu – 2015-05-10T17:32:24.877

22

This is conventionally called ellipsis, the supposed "omission" of words which are not necessary to understand the semantic and syntactic meaning of an utterance.

I put omission in quotation marks because nothing is in fact omitted unless you hold to the theory that only utterances which constitute a full sentence are acceptable, coherent, and meaningful. That this theory is in fact wrong is evident in virtually every actual conversation. For instance:

Going to Bryan's?
Nope. Homework.

This can be expanded by inference to two formally complete sentences:

Are you going to Bryan's home? No, I have homework I must do.

But that is a paraphrase. In fact, the two participants in that exchange know exactly what is meant, and have said everything that needed to be said, omitting nothing.

In the same way, the two questions posed in your example do not require a response framed as two complete sentences. Ignoring the device of having both the question and answer spoken by the same speaker: The interrogative how directs the hearer's attention to the speaker's lack of a particular datum, an adverbial, and the hearer replies by supplying what is wanted; he is not required to tell the questioner what the questioner already knows:

I escaped with difficulty. I planned this moment with pleasure.

"Utterances". Interesting. I think I like this. I don't think I got informed upon this, formerly. When you seemed to write, context, sailboat, I maybe seem to somewhat get it! I got that thing where you seemed to utilize a fragment that did not seem to go. "Hypophora". Interesting.

I may not get what an, "interrogative" seems like. "Ellipsis", "datum", "adverbial". Interesting! Somewhat, maybe, arduous, to me. I think it seems interesting. I got information! I think I thought, "ellipsis" seemed like, ". . .". I think I got information. Interesting! – saySay – 2015-05-08T02:40:20.220

2

@saySay The three dots (...) is called ellipsis. It is the punctuation used to explicitly represent an omission of words, which is the concept of ellipsis.

– DCShannon – 2015-05-08T03:00:32.850

1"That this theory is in fact wrong" is making we want to downvote, even though the rest of this is useful. That's not evident at all. Everything else in the answer supports this theory, from my perspective. The context makes them full sentences, but without it they are not "acceptable, coherent, or meaningful". – DCShannon – 2015-05-08T03:02:27.493

5@DCShannon: The theory is disproven by the fact that they are (in that context) patently acceptable, coherent, and meaningful — indeed ubiquitous. If they were in fact meaningless no one would use them nearly as much. It is precisely the recognition that the context does exist and can provide what's needed that drives elisions of this sort. – Nathan Tuggy – 2015-05-08T03:35:59.653

"Elipsis" may seem a punctuation, or a, "concept"? Interesting. I think I, maybe, thought they seemed mostly punctuation. Interesting. I don't think I may get, "elision". I think I may get, in context, they may seem liked: "Utterances"! Interesting! – saySay – 2015-05-08T03:56:01.597

4@DCShannon But language only exists in contexts. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-09T02:04:49.157

@StoneyB You're talking about a theory concerning words without context, and trying to disprove it by talking about words in context. This is all completely beside the point of the question though. You could remove that bit and have a perfectly good answer, so why include some unrelated potentially controversial opinion? The point is that the extra information is from context, does it really matter whether that's an 'omission' or not? – DCShannon – 2015-05-09T02:19:36.067

@DCShannon I put it this way because OP evidences, here and in previous questions, a concern with what constitutes an acceptable "sentence", and it is clear (from that 'context'!) that 'a has been led to confuse the concepts sentence, an abstract linguistic tool, and utterance, what people actually say and write. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-09T12:52:16.620

10

Why no.

Fragments good?

Sometimes.

When fragments good?

Emphasis. Sense of speed. Rhetorical impact. Sense of action. Rapid response.