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Sentences in English

Sentences are the largest complete and independent units of grammar, containing a verb that can stand on its own. In English, a sentence will always begin with a capital letter and end with a punctuation mark, which can be a full stop [.], an exclamation mark [!] or a question mark [?].

Classification of sentences

There are four basic sentence structures:

  • the simple sentence = a sentence with only one independent clause, containing the minimum number of words (a subject and a verb.) ~ [Dogs bark.] [The children were sleeping.] [It's raining.]
  • the compound sentence = a sentence that contains at least two independent clauses. ~ [It was a fine summer day] and [the village was peaceful.]
  • the complex sentence = a sentence that contains an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. ~ [When the my uncle won that fortune last year], [perhaps it was] [because he knew the winning horse very well.]
  • the compound-complex sentence = a sentence with two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. ~ "[In America everybody is of the opinion] [that he has no social superiors], [since all men are equal], but [he does not admit] [that he has no social inferiors], for, [from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine [that all men are equal] applies only upwards, not downwards.]" (Bertrand Russell)

What makes a sentence great in context?

So we looked at sentences and clauses so far and at some elements of syntax. But now the question is how exactly do we build a great sentence – one that is a pleasure for the reader to read and the listener to receive? Because sentences are sequences of words, but just adding words together does not create a sentence.  

For the meaning of our ideas to make sense to the receiver of our message, we need to have what is called a proposition, in the sense of a statement about reality that can be accepted or rejected by the receiver.    [Read more]

Sentences without a verb [exceptions from the rule]

Having said that the minimum a sentence must contain is the subject and the predicate (verb), we do have exceptions, like the verbless sentence, (also called broken sentence, minor sentence) which is a construction that lacks a verb but still functions as a sentence.

Examples are: [No problem.], [No comment.], [O.K.], [I hope the market improves]+[It better.]

We can also encounter verbless clauses, which are clause-like constructions in which a verb element is implied but not present. Such clauses are usually adverbial, and the omitted verb is a form of be.

[The jury believed the prisoner innocent] = [The jury believed [the prisoner to be innocent.]]

[Whenever in trouble, he used to call his best friend.] = [Whenever he was in trouble, [he used to call his best friend.]]

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