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A pro-sentence is a sentence where the subject pronoun has been dropped and therefore the sentence has a null subject.[1]


Languages differ within this parameter, some languages such as Italian and Spanish have constant pro-drop, Finnish and Hebrew for example are partial pro-drop languages and Japanese and Tamil fall into the category of discourse or radical pro-drop languages.[2] There are also languages such as English, German and Swedish that only allow pro-drop within very strict stylistic conditions.[3] A pro-sentence is a kind of pro-form and is therefore anaphoric.

In English, yes, no and okay are common pro-sentences. In response to the question "Does Mars have two moons?", the sentence "Yes" can be understood to abbreviate "Mars does have two moons."

Pro-sentences are sometimes seen as grammatical interjections, since they are capable of very limited syntactical relations. But they can also be classified as a distinct part of speech, given that (other) interjections have meanings of their own and are often described as expressions of feelings or emotions.

Yes and no[edit]

In some languages, the equivalents to yes and no may substitute not only a whole sentence, but also a part of it, either the subject and the verb, or the verb and a complement, and can also constitute a subordinate clause.

The Portuguese word sim (yes) gives a good example:

Q: Ela está em casa? A: Acredito que sim. — Q: Is she at home? A: I believe that she is (literally, that yes).
Ela não saiu de casa, mas o John sim. — She didn't leave home, but John did (literally, John yes).

In some languages, such as English, yes rebuts a negative question, whereas no affirms it. However, in Japanese, the equivalents of no (iie, uun, (i)ya) rebut a negative question, whereas the equivalents of yes (hai, ee, un) affirm it.

Q: Wakarimasen deshita ka (Did you not understand?)
A: Hai, wakarimasen deshita (No, I didn't — Literally That's right, I didn't understand)

Some languages have a specific word that rebuts a negative question. German has "doch"; French has "si"; Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish have jo, Hungarian has "de". None have a clear English translation.

Q: Bist du nicht müde? (Aren't you tired?)
A: Doch. Ich gehe bald schlafen. (Yes. I'm about to go to sleep.)

In philosophy[edit]

The prosentential theory of truth developed by Dorothy Grover,[4] Nuel Belnap, and Joseph Camp, and defended more recently by Robert Brandom, holds that sentences like "p" is true and It is true that p should not be understood as ascribing properties to the sentence "p", but as a pro-sentence whose content is the same as that of "p." Brandom calls " . . .is true" a pro-sentence-forming operator.[5]


  1. ^ Holmberg, Anders (2005). "'Is there a little pro? Evidence from Finnish.'". Linguistic Inquiry. 36: 533–564.
  2. ^ Hannukainen, E-A. 2017. Third person referential null subjects in Finnish and Hebrew. Undergraduate thesis, Newcastle University.
  3. ^ Holmberg, Anders (Forthcoming). "Null subjects in Finnish and the typology of pro-drop.". In Tamm, Anne; Vainikka, Anne (eds.). Uralic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  4. ^ Grover, Belnap, Camp. "The Prosentential Theory of Truth", Philosophical Review 1970.
  5. ^ Brandom, Making it Explicit, 1994.
  • Holmberg, A. 2001. 'The syntax of yes and no in Finnish.' Studia Linguistica 55: 141- 174.