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What is a Sentence?

What is a sentence?

In simple terms, a sentence is a set of words that contain:

  1. a subject (what the sentence is about, the topic of the sentence), and
  2. a predicate (what is said about the subject)

Look at this simple example:

subject predicate
You speak English.

The above example sentence is very short. Of course, a sentence can be longer and more complicated, but basically there is always a subject and a predicate. Look at this longer example:

subject predicate
Ram and Tara speak English when they are working.

Note that the predicate always contains a verb. Sometimes, in fact, the predicate is only a verb:

subject predicate
Smoke rises.  

So we can say that a sentence must contain at least a subject and verb.

There is one apparent exception to this – the imperative. When someone gives a command (the imperative), they usually do not use a subject. They don't say the subject because it is obvious - the subject is YOU! Look at these examples of the imperative, with and without a subject:

subject predicate
  Wait a minute!
You look!  
Everybody look!  

Note that a sentence expresses a complete thought. Here are some examples of complete and incomplete thoughts:

    complete thought?
sentence He opened the door. YES
Come in, please.
Do you like coffee?
not a sentence people who work hard NO
a fast-moving animal with big ears

Note also that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop (AmE period) or a question mark or an exclamation mark (AmE exclamation point). Look at these examples:

  • People need food.
  • How are you?
  • Look out!
Actually, it is not easy to define a sentence. Grammarians do not all agree on what is or is not a sentence. For the purposes of introduction, this page describes rather simple sentences. Of course, sentences can be much longer and more complex, and these will be covered on other pages.

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Contributor: Josef Essberger