Microsoft Word loves underlining things I am typing with a green squiggle.

One thing which I find rather annoying is its labelling of sentences as "fragments". Here are two which it catches:

Things of this sort.

Bad timing though.

I am rather puzzled where this strong objection to fragments arose from. They seem quite normal parts of English to me. What does anybody else think?

(PS I don't need answers telling me how to switch off the grammar checker etc, I can do that already).

  • 1
    MS grammar checker is frankly idiotic. Your sentences are perfectly grammatical (assuming they derive content from the sentences around them).
    – Christi
    May 21, 2012 at 12:28

6 Answers 6


Sentences generally need a verb. Neither Things of this sort nor Bad timing though contain a verb. Although timing may look like a verb form, but it is a gerund in this example. Both of these are examples of nominal groups (noun phrases).

  • 11
    And are perfectly acceptable in some registers (eg informal writing). What Microsoft Grammar checker has no notion of is register, so it takes a narrow view and warns you of anything which might be a problem in formal writing. Irritating.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 17, 2010 at 9:57
  • 1
    @Colin the original question asks why these are fragments and claims they are not. This is a question of grammar and not on of register or frequency of use.
    – Chris
    Aug 17, 2010 at 13:07
  • 2
    No, it is precisely a question of register. These are not full sentences, and many people think that inappropriate for formal writing. "Fragment" is a reasonable word for such partical sentences.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 17, 2010 at 15:55
  • no, my question is why Microsoft Word objects to fragments so much.
    – delete
    Aug 18, 2010 at 2:18
  • 1
    It doesn't object to fragments - it just highlights them as something which may be bad grammar, depending on register, as @ColinFine pointed out.
    – Rory Alsop
    May 21, 2012 at 7:48

I don't think it would be appropriate to use a sentence fragment such as also known as or which should be on their own, because they don't refer to anything in particular. It would be correct to say it like this: James, also known as Jim, was at the meeting (or something like that). But if you simply write James, also known as Jim, I would be asking myself, "What did James, also known as Jim, say or do?"

As someone who writes fiction, however, I find it annoying that grammar checker often "corrects" things I put inside quotes. People do use fragments (rightly or wrongly) when they speak to one another, and so portraying realistic dialogue will require you to do this. I have also noticed that it dings me for certain contractions, even when I have the correct contractions feature turned off.

And don't even get me started about spell checker's complete inability to recognize scientific, medical or technical terms or words that are not common but are still part of the English language.


Neither of those sentences makes any sense on its own, particularly the first one. I can picture how you would use the second one, but it wouldn’t be a complete sentence — it would be a lead-in to a follow-up sentence. Something like:

He left the restaurant immediately. Bad timing though: his date arrived a minute later.

Can you provide some context for the “Things of this sort” ‘sentence’?

  • 1
    "Neither of those sentences make any sense on their own" - ironically enough, that doesn't make any sense on its own either. Do you claim that these are unnatural in English? Have you ever had anything labelled as a fragment in Microsoft Word which you had doubts about?
    – delete
    Aug 17, 2010 at 5:24
  • 9
    I suppose it depends on the type of document you're writing. If I were writing something more formal than an answer on a forum, I wouldn't want to include any sentence fragments, and would rewrite the first sentence as, "Neither of the sentences listed above make any sense on their own." Aug 17, 2010 at 5:36
  • OK that is the beginnings of an answer, so thank you.
    – delete
    Aug 17, 2010 at 6:36
  • @Shinto I'd still like to see a broader context for using "Things of this sort" as a sentence. Can you update your question? Aug 17, 2010 at 8:43

It is our notion of a 'prescriptive' grammar that is wrong here. Put simply, the fixation that there is such a thing as 'correct' grammar. As Colin Fine above points out, this is a question about register and style. I fail to see how formality dictates fragments as either permissible or not. They are a naturally occurring feature of English and it is clearly madness to pronounce them as 'not correct'. On whose rules? Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, et al?

It is the assumptions of the Word grammar checker that are 'wrong' here. In the same way that it assumes that use of the passive is somehow less clear than the active (see: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/181863). Try telling that to passive-wielding science report writers, where clarity is paramount.

The best way the Word grammar checker can be viewed is as another pair of imperfect editing eyes.

  • I agree with your point (which uses several sentence fragments, by the way), but I take issue with the suggestion that the use of the passive in science writing is something to do with clarity. It has very little to do with clarity, and (in my view) everything to do with a (somewhat bogus) objectivity.
    – Colin Fine
    May 21, 2012 at 9:13
  • Primarily, I think its use shifts the reader's focus to the recipient of the action or process, away from the agent of the action. In this sense, interest is clearly focussed on the thing being acted upon. It is in this sense that I suggested clarity.
    – Qube
    May 21, 2012 at 12:19
  • You’ve earned my upvote, but I disagree with the last sentence. The best way to view MicroFMHsoft is as a pestilence and a curse.
    – tchrist
    May 21, 2012 at 20:48

MS Word grammar check does not flag (correct) sentences as fragments.

What the OP presents are not sentences, but indeed fragments:

Things of this sort.
Bad timing though.

However, Word does often flag apparently grammatical sentences as 'fragments' -- too often to be annoying. This happens when the sentence structure is such that it fails to parse correctly.

If you are confident it is correct and not an unintentional error, you can 'Ignore' it. Else you can benefit from the flag.

  • Some people — not good writers, mind you, just people — have problems with sentence fragments. Not me. :)
    – tchrist
    May 21, 2012 at 20:45
  • @tchrist Well I do have issues with fragments -- those borne of words 'eaten' in the middle, verbs spelt where nouns were meant, ...
    – Kris
    May 21, 2012 at 20:53

It's easy enough to go into preferences and tell Word which types of grammar to pay attention to, and which parts to ignore. Just uncheck "fragments and run-ons" if you don't want to be bothered by this.

As to the discussion about what is and what is not a fragment, or whether they are acceptable or not, that determination is up to the person writing the text. Word simply provides users with the options to automatically check for certain items if they are so inclined. It is true that many of the rules we learned in school about proper English were arbitrarily created in Victorian England. It's also true that every language has multiple forms, and usually some of those differ in terms of formality and politeness. We all know that we should use language appropriate to a situation, and that applies to grammar as well as vocabulary. You may as well ask who decided it's bad to say m---r f---r. If it means almost the same thing as 'jerk,' why can't those words always be substituted for each other? Situations and context matter.