I'm beta reading a book with a lot of chopped sentences. I understand that this writer would like to make their sentences short and punchy. But it is disturbing when sentences are either lacking in a subject, object or verb.

Here are a few examples:

John looked away. Removed the cigar from his mouth and spat.

The man returned and killed the gorilla. The gorilla at the cusp of graduating from the cackle.

Are there grammar rules against this that I can point the writer to?

  • 2
    These are called sentence fragments; there should be plenty of style guides referencing them!
    – Kitkat
    Sep 22, 2020 at 15:34
  • This is very common, but the examples you provided are exceptionally bad uses and read terribly. Sep 23, 2020 at 16:58
  • Kitkat, thanks for providing the name of it.
    – user191110
    Sep 24, 2020 at 13:03
  • Lt. Commander, I agree.
    – user191110
    Sep 24, 2020 at 13:04
  • 1
    Kevin, in what context do you think that 'Removed the cigar from his mouth and spat.' might be a good sentence?
    – user191110
    Sep 26, 2020 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


In fiction writing, grammar can be fast and loose. It's not as though there's a grading board that must rubber-stamp a book before it's allowed on shelves. More or less anything goes - as long as it's easy to understand what's being said, and the use (or lack thereof) of grammar does not distract from the story.

So on the one hand, there's a long tradition of fiction writers occasionally inserting a grammatically incorrect sentence in order to get a particularly visceral or spicy moment to punch through the text. It seems to me that this might be what the writer you're reading is doing. Those short sentence fragments might be taking some of the more unsavory details in their world and couching them in a rebellious tone so that they read as uncouthly as they are.

But on the other hand, you've seen this enough that it doesn't sit well with you. If these sentence fragments are jumping out at you enough to prevent you from getting lost in the story, then grammar is being misused. A little bit of creative grammar goes a long way.

As you think about what to say to your friend, I think these are the two competing ideas you should keep in mind. It's up to you as the beta reader to decide which side you think the author's sentence fragments fall on.


There is no official rule.

Common sense says it may fit at times but normally it would be put offing to the reader.

Your examples grate so badly that I would not read any of that book.

That said, in dialog you rarely need complete sentences as people do not talk to each other that way. But those example fragments would not fit any normal dialog either.

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