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In an English essay, I wrote:

What am I looking at? People enjoying themselves?

I lost points for using a sentence fragment. Is it truly incorrect to use a sentence fragment this way?

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I don't see either of of those sentences as fragments. They are well formed. – horatio Jun 3 '11 at 21:19
It is fine to use sentence fragments, even in formal prose. But it is not fine to use them in an essay for a teacher who specifically instructs you not to use them. – Robusto Jun 3 '11 at 21:31
@horatio -- How can "People enjoying themselves?" not be a sentence fragment? It's a non-finite clause... – Andrew Flanagan Jun 3 '11 at 21:33
@Robusto -- agreed... It's use could be fine, but it IS a sentence fragment and knowing this, I would think should be avoided in an English essay. You can break all sort of rules in writing (and it's fine -- even desirable), but it seems a bad idea in writing something like this. – Andrew Flanagan Jun 3 '11 at 21:37
@Andrew Flanagan Isn't the whole fragment a noun phrase? And 'enjoying themselves' a non-finite clause. – z7sg Ѫ Jun 3 '11 at 21:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

There's nothing at all wrong with OP's two sentences as written, but that doesn't necessarily mean the teacher was ignorant. I don't know what other factors might be involved, but in general teachers should be respected (not a morality issue - you just won't learn so well if you don't).

There is no 'rule' saying exactly what constitutes a valid utterance. Much depends on context. In this case the first sentence is more than enough context to make the second one valid.

Personally I think it reads very fluently.

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Sorry, I was just being snarky. I'll edit the question to make it more formal, since the real question I'm asking is whether it is correct or not. – no one special Jun 3 '11 at 21:19
@no one special: Don't misunderstand me. It may be your teacher really is ignorant (or at least, prone to over-generalise linguistic conventions). On the basis of just what you posted, your language is fine. But maybe the context of the rest of the essay or some other factor means it wasn't exactly okay from the teacher's point of view. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '11 at 21:24
...plus I'd have to say there's a certain freshness about both your example sentences and the rest of your text that I find quite striking lol. So don't change it on my account! – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '11 at 21:27
Wow, how flattering. Thank you very much. – no one special Jun 5 '11 at 0:17
@no one special: Ah well. Apparently JS Bangs thought your style was a little too fresh for our platform here. I'm not going to argue the point though. It's supposed to be a reference source in the making rather than a 'chat room', so we must at least endorse a more formal tone in the questions, if not the comments! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 0:53


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Haha! +0.5 for being correct, and +0.5 for the sly way you got round EL&U's requirement that an answer should contain at least 30 characters! Have an upvote on me! – FumbleFingers Jul 11 '11 at 16:51
To give credit where due, it was Stuart P. Bentley who edited this down to three characters. My original answer contained 26 characters of useless fluff. – James McLeod Jul 11 '11 at 17:33
The EL&U moderators will come down on Stuart like a ton of bricks if they think he's promoting ways to circumvent site standards! We'd best all keep quiet! – FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 0:05

Replace the first question mark with a comma. Bam! [I] Just blew your mind, eh? But seriously, "What am I looking at, people enjoying themselves?" would be much more, uhh, 'liked' by teachers and professors (and the public in general). Well, at least I so assume.

(p.s. I dislike how this site will not allow two spaces after a period. It looks werid having only one.)

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