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In linguistics, the term T-unit was coined by Kellogg Hunt in 1965.[1] It is defined as the "shortest grammatically allowable sentences into which (writing can be split) or minimally terminable unit." Often, but not always, a T-unit is a sentence.

More technically, a T-unit is a dominant clause and its dependent clauses: as Hunt said, it is "one main clause with all subordinate clauses attached to it" (Hunt 1965:20). T-units are often used in the analysis of written and spoken discourse, such as in studies on errors in second language writing. The number of error-free T-units may be counted, as in Robb et al. (1986),[2] or changes in accuracy per T-unit over drafts of compositions may be measured (Sachs and Polio, 2007).[3]

Young (1995)[4] gives some examples of what a T-unit is and is not:

"The following elements were counted as one T-unit: a single clause, a matrix plus subordinate clause, two or more phrases in apposition, and fragments of clauses produced by ellipsis. Co-ordinate clauses were counted as two t-units. Elements not counted as t-units include backchannel cues such as mhm and yeah, and discourse boundary markers such as okay, thanks or good. False starts were integrated into the following t-unit." (Young 1995:38)


  1. ^ Hunt, K. (1965). Grammatical structures written at three grade levels. NCTE Research report No. 3. Champaign, IL, USA: NCTE.
  2. ^ Robb, T., Ross, S., & Shortreed, I. (1986). Salience of feedback on error and its effect on EFL writing quality. TESOL Quarterly, 20, 83–93.
  3. ^ Sachs, R. and Polio, C. (2007).Learners' uses of two types of written feedback on a L2 writing revision task. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 29:67-100.
  4. ^ Young, Richard. "Conversational Styles in Language Proficiency Interviews". Language Learning. 45 (1): 3–42. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1995.tb00961.x.

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