Core Grammar #2: First Look at Sentence Structure

What is a Sentence?

In simple terms, a sentence is a set of words which contains:

  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 is structurally complete. Here are some examples of complete and incomplete structures:

    complete structure?
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

Danger point!

Some grammar textbooks (and teachers) say that a sentence expresses a "complete thought." That notion will get you into trouble because the question is not whether you can understand it; the question is whether the pieces are all there.

This is not a sentence, but you can figure it out:

sentence fragment
subject predicate
verb  
Lasagna (no verb) my favorite food.

You cannot figure this sentence out because the pronouns refer to things outside the sentence itself, but it is a complete structure:

sentence
subject predicate
verb  
Each wants the other one.

One more thing

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

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 later in the course.


This page was adapted from:

"What Is a Sentence?" EnglishClub: Learn or Teach English, 2018, www.englishclub.com/grammar/sentence/what-is-a-sentence.htm. Accessed 15 May 2018.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 8/14/18 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.