Hanging Phrases and Fragments

In public speaking, phrases are sometimes strung together at the end of a sentence for effect. This is done in some more poetic and informal styles of writing as well. However, these should be avoided in scholarly writing. Here are some examples:


Example 1

Incorrect:

According to May (1981), the goal of therapy is to help clients embrace their freedom, to no longer be bound.

Corrected:

According to May (1981), the goal of therapy is to help clients embrace their freedom, or to no longer be bound.

Explanation:

In the incorrect version, “to no longer be bound” is tacked on the end of the sentence, but not connected to it. Public speakers will often do this for effect and, while still not grammatically correct, the speaker can help clarify the connection through aspects of nonverbal. In the spoken form, pauses are used to help the listener interpret the meaning. In written form, the stranded phrase is confusing because it is not clear how this phrases is connected. The intent is for “to no longer be bound” to be connected with “the goal of therapy is to help clients…” Yet, without the conjunction to hold these together, this is not clear and the reader is left looking for a new and complete idea after the comma. When expecting the whole, and getting the fragment, the reader may become confused and need to reread the sentence. With the conjunction, the reader is expecting something connected to the first part of the sentence.


Example 2

Incorrect:

He was treated unfairly by his supervisor, criticized for every small mistake, put down for being less than perfect.

Corrected: 

He was treated unfairly by his supervisor, including being criticized for every small mistake and put down for being less than perfect.

Explanation:

Hopefully, this does not need explanation, yet I see phrases hung together like this often in scholarly papers. If you read this out loud putting a longer pause after each comma and softening your voice with each subsequent phrase, you might be able to see how this could be used for dramatic effect in public speaking. Yet, in written form it is likely to confuse your reader.

 


“Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”

— Paul Tillich, as quoted by Rollo May, in “Paulus: Tillich as Spiritual Teacher”