Sentence (linguistics)

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A sentence is a grammatical unit consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. A sentence can include words grouped meaningfully to express a statement, question, exclamation, request, command or suggestion.[1]

A sentence can also be defined in orthographic terms alone, i.e., as anything which is contained between a capital letter and a full stop.[2] For instance, the opening of Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House begins with the following three sentences:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.

The first sentence involves one word, a proper noun. The second sentence has only a non-finite verb. The third is a single nominal group. Only an orthographic definition encompasses this variation.

As with all language expressions, sentences might contain function and content words and contain properties distinct to natural language, such as characteristic intonation and timing patterns.

Sentences are generally characterized in most languages by the presence of a finite verb, e.g. "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".

Components of a sentence[edit]

Clauses[edit]

A clause typically contains at least a subject noun phrase and a finite verb. While the subject is usually a noun phrase, other kinds of phrases (such as gerund phrases) work as well, and some languages allow subjects to be omitted. There are two types of clauses: independent and subordinate (dependent). An independent clause demonstrates a complete thought; it is a complete sentence: for example, I am sad. A subordinate clause is not a complete sentence: for example, because I have no friends. See also copula for the consequences of the verb to be on the theory of sentence structure.

A simple complete sentence consists of a single clause. Other complete sentences consist of two or more clauses (see below).

Classification[edit]

By structure[edit]

One traditional scheme for classifying English sentences is by clause structure, the number and types of clauses in the sentence with finite verbs.

  • A simple sentence consists of a single independent clause with no dependent clauses.
  • A compound sentence consists of multiple independent clauses with no dependent clauses. These clauses are joined together using conjunctions, punctuation, or both.
  • A complex sentence consists of one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
  • A complex-compound sentence (or compound-complex sentence) consists of multiple independent clauses, at least one of which has at least one dependent clause.

By purpose[edit]

Sentences can also be classified based on their purpose:

  • A declarative sentence or declaration, the most common type, commonly makes a statement: "I have to go to work."
  • An interrogative sentence or question is commonly used to request information — "Do I have to go to work?" — but sometimes not; see rhetorical question.
  • An exclamatory sentence or exclamation is generally a more emphatic form of statement expressing emotion: "I have to go to work!"
  • An imperative sentence or command tells someone to do something (and if done strongly may be considered both imperative and exclamatory): "Go to work." or "Go to work!"

Major and minor sentences[edit]

A major sentence is a regular sentence; it has a subject and a predicate. For example: "I have a ball." In this sentence one can change the persons: "We have a ball." However, a minor sentence is an irregular type of sentence. It does not contain a finite verb. For example, "Mary!" "Yes." "Coffee." etc. Other examples of minor sentences are headings (e.g. the heading of this entry), stereotyped expressions ("Hello!"), emotional expressions ("Wow!"), proverbs, etc. This can also include nominal sentences like "The more, the merrier". These do not contain verbs in order to intensify the meaning around the nouns and are normally found in poetry and catchphrases.[3]

Sentences that comprise a single word are called word sentences, and the words themselves sentence words.[4]

Sentence length[edit]

After a slump of interest, sentence length came to be studied in the 1980s, mostly "with respect to other syntactic phenomena".[5]

By some definitions, the average size length of a sentence is given by "no. of words / no. of sentences".[6] The textbook Mathematical linguistics, written by András Kornai, suggests that in "journalistic prose the median sentence length is above 15 words".[7] The average length of a sentence generally serves as a measure of sentence difficulty or complexity.[8] The general trend is that as the average sentence length increases, the complexity of the sentences also increases.[9]

In some circumstances "sentence length" is expressed by the number of clauses, while the "clause length" is expressed by the number of phones.[10]

A test done by Erik Schils and Pieter de Haan (by sampling five texts) showed that any two adjacent sentences are more likely to have similar lengths, and almost certainly have similar length when from a text in the fiction genre. This countered the theory that "authors may aim at an alternation of long and short sentence".[11] Sentence length, as well as word difficulty, are both factors in the readability of a sentence.[12] However, other factors, such as the presence of conjunctions, have been said to "facilitate comprehension considerably".[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "'Sentence' - Definitions from Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  2. ^ Halliday, M.A.K. and Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. Arnold: p6.
  3. ^ Exploring Language: Sentences
  4. ^ Jan Noordegraaf (2001). "J. M. Hoogvliet as a teacher and theoretician". In Marcel Bax, C. Jan-Wouter Zwart, and A. J. van Essen. Reflections on Language and Language Learning. John Benjamins B.V. p. 24. ISBN 90-272-2584-2. 
  5. ^ Těšitelová, Marie (1992). Quantitative Linguistics. p. 126. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Calculate Average Sentence Length". Linguistics Forum. Jun 23, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  7. ^ Kornai, András. Mathematical linguistics. p. 188. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ Perera, Katherine. The assessment of sentence difficulty. p. 108. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  9. ^ Troia, Gary A. Instruction and assessment for struggling writers: evidence-based practices. p. 370. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  10. ^ Reinhard Köhler, Gabriel Altmann, Raĭmond Genrikhovich Piotrovskiĭ (2005). Quantitative Linguistics. p. 352. Retrieved December 15, 2011. "Caption):Table 26.3: Sentence length (expressed by the number of clauses) and clause length (expressed by the number of phones) in a Turkish text" 
  11. ^ Erik Schils, Pieter de Haan (1993). "Characteristics of Sentence Length in Running Text". Oxford University Press. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ Perera, Katherine. The assessment of sentence difficulty. p. 108. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  13. ^ Fries, Udo. Sentence Length, Sentence Complexity, and the Noun Phrase in 18th-Century News Publications. p. 21. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 

External links[edit]