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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)
  2. a predicate (what is said about the subject)

Look at this simple example:

sentence
subject predicate
verb  
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:

sentence
subject predicate
verb  
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:

sentence
subject predicate
verb  
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:

sentence
subject predicate
verb  
  Stop!  
  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:

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.

What is a Sentence? Quiz